High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park in the Sky

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How two New Yorkers led the transformation of a derelict elevated railway into a grand—and beloved—open space

The High Line, a new park atop an ele-vated rail structure on Manhattan’s West Side, is among the most innovative urban reclamation projects in memory. The story of how it came to be is a remarkable one: two young citizens with no prior experience in planning and development collaborated with their neighbors, elected officials, artists, local business owners, and leaders...

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How two New Yorkers led the transformation of a derelict elevated railway into a grand—and beloved—open space

The High Line, a new park atop an ele-vated rail structure on Manhattan’s West Side, is among the most innovative urban reclamation projects in memory. The story of how it came to be is a remarkable one: two young citizens with no prior experience in planning and development collaborated with their neighbors, elected officials, artists, local business owners, and leaders of burgeoning movements in horticulture and landscape architecture to create a park celebrated worldwide as a model for creatively designed, socially vibrant, ecologically sound public space.

Joshua David and Robert Hammond met in 1999 at a community board meeting to consider the fate of the High Line. Built in the 1930s, it carried freight trains to the West Side when the area was defined by factories and warehouses. But when trains were replaced by truck transport, the High Line became obsolete. By century’s end it was a rusty, forbidding ruin. Plants grew between the tracks, giving it a wild and striking beauty.

David and Hammond loved the ruin and saw in it an opportunity to create a new way to experience their city. Over ten years, they did so. In this candid and inspiring book— lavishly illustrated—they tell how they relied on skill, luck, and good timing: a crucial court ruling, an inspiring design contest, the enthusiasm of Mayor Bloomberg, the concern for urban planning issues following 9/11. Now the High Line—a half-mile expanse of plants, paths, staircases, and framed vistas—runs through a transformed West Side and reminds us that extraordinary things are possible when creative people work together for the common good.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Manhattan's High Line, a half-mile park located on an abandoned elevated rail line running along the city's West Side, is a remarkable example of urban planning. More amazing is the fact that the endeavor was shepherded by two citizens with zero experience in navigating the rabbit warrens of committees, permits, organizations, and city departments that would have to sign off on the planned renovation, not to mention finding funding. Here, project leaders David and Hammond (winners of the 2010 Jane Jacobs Medal) share their long, challenging experience in urban renewal. Written in alternating anecdotes, the duo trace their path from the neighborhood meeting that spurred them to action all the way through incorporation, legal hurdles, and celebrity endorsements thathelped raise awarenessand funds. While the duo's commitment and drive is certainly laudable, it's the material around their narrative that will interest readers most: a timeline of key dates in the High Line's history and over 180 photos of the evolution of the High Line from its state of disrepair to its vibrant present. Curious New Yorkers and armchair urban planners will find a number of takeaways in terms of logistics, planning, and managing a non-profit. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“This lushly illustrated volume showcases the range of imaginative designs [Joshua David and Robert Hammond] explored and, in some cases, rejected. In recounting their decade-long experiment, they provide an inspiring primer for grass-roots urban planning.” —Sam Roberts, The New York Times

“This account by the founders of the nonprofit responsible for the groundbreaking reclamation project chronicles the struggles and successes that led to the realization of what was deemed a far-fetched dream—and resulted in a new Manhattan landmark.” —Travel + Leisure

“A fascinating first-person tale.” —The New York Observer

“The High Line is not only a great work of design—surely the most important addition to the public realm of New York in this century; it is also a great saga. In this book Robert Hammond and Joshua David, who led the grass-roots movement to rescue the High Line from demolition, tell with energy, passion, and refreshing candor the story of how this industrial artifact became, against all odds, a magnificent park.” —Paul Goldberger

“This book is the record of a bright and in fact heroic part of New York City’s history. The story of the struggle, against very long odds, by two young men to create the High Line is a story of perseverance, determination and courage, and the photographs which accompany it show the brilliance of their achievement.” —Robert A. Caro

“This is a fundamentally uplifting story of two young men with a dream who scythed through red tape and skepticism, summoning a village to help reimagine what a park could be in the twenty-first century. Thanks to their vision, and to the dedication, enthusiasm, and brilliance of their collaborators, a walk in the park has been transformed into an exhilarating urban experience that helps all of us to see our extraordinary city with new eyes.” —Anna Wintour

“If God is in the details, then few projects can be more divine than the High Line. Christo, the man who wraps bridges and the Reichstag, once said that for him the creative part of his work is not the finished product but the seemingly frustrating process of getting all those permits and raising funds and convincing ecologists and city planners. This careful account of how the High Line came to exist despite all the odds proves just how creative and suspenseful realizing a plan can be; it’s a real cliff-hanger.” —Edmund White

“The story of the High Line is one of the great encouraging improbable stories of New York life in the past few decades. This book should read by anyone who cares about New York, or green and urban life.” —Adam Gopnik

“There is no more miraculous and important and gratifying piece of new American urban design than the High Line. What’s more, how it was conjured into existence is a compelling story, and here’s that story—with pictures!—told lucidly and charmingly by the two extraordinary ordinary guys who pulled it off.” —Kurt Andersen

Library Journal
A behind-the-scenes look at the movement to save the elevated rail structure on New York City's West Side and its conversion into the popular park, this book alternates between text by David and Hammond (cofounders, Friends of the High Line) and photographs illustrating the park's past and present. The authors met at a 1999 community board meeting; they had little experience with community organization, development, or design but a large passion for the onetime busy freight transit system dating to the 1930s. Their story of the next decade's ups and downs will appeal to those in historic preservation, landscape architecture, and development, but it will also find a wider audience among the park's many fans. Readers looking for more on the design and plantings will also want to check out Designing the High Line, edited by the Friends of the High Line. VERDICT A well-deserved celebration of the successful efforts to create the park and a surprisingly good read. Armchair visits are easily achieved courtesy of the wealth of images, e.g., Joel Sternfeld's photographs and Friends of the High Line mailings, which have played important parts in the ongoing saga of the High Line.—Amy Trendler, Ball State Univ. Libs., Muncie, IN
Kirkus Reviews

The chronological metamorphosis of an abandoned railroad into an urban park, and the two men behind the process.

When David and Hammond first began thinking about saving the High Line, an elevated rail structure on New York City's West Side, they had no idea they were embarking on a 10-year journey. They just wanted to save this "tremendous sense of space" full of "waist-high Queen Anne's lace" from being destroyed, to transform the abandoned rail bed into a "place where people would come to stroll just for the sake of strolling." Split into two parts--one part interview, one part photographs--the narrative leads readers from the inception of the nonprofit group the Friends of the High Line to the ribbon-cutting ceremony a full decade later.The authors had to jump through substantial bureaucratic hoops in New York and Washington, D.C., to obtain legal control of the deserted rail bed. Along the way, David and Hammond give recognition to the numerous famous and not-so-famous people who contributed their efforts and money to the cause. To push the concept ever forward, they held an idea competition that drew 720 entries from around the world and a design competition that pit several top New York agencies against each other. Chronicles of the numerous fundraising events flesh out this recounting of two men and their improbable dream.

"Few people who come to the High Line know what it took to make it possible," writes David. Thanks to this book, readers now know the tremendous energy and effort that went into turning what some saw as "a relic and an obstacle" into a viable park for all to enjoy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374532994
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/11/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 311,145
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Joshua David and Robert Hammond cofounded Friends of the High Line in 1999. David has written for Gourmet, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Wallpaper, and other magazines. Hammond was awarded a Rome Prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2009. In 2010 they were awarded the Jane Jacobs Medal for their work on the High Line.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

    Great book

    We learned about this trail from National Geograhic in time for our trip this summer. Finding out here was also a book (thanks to New York Times) made it a perfect Christmas gift for my partner. Great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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