Guest blogger Gail Sachson is the founder of Ask Me about Art, a service offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is also Vice-Chair of the Dallas Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee. She grew up in New York.
The four flights of metal stairs left me somewhat winded, but when I reached the elevated platform of The High Line, New York’s newest take on an urban park for the 21st century, it took my breath away.
The High Line, an abandoned and neglected elevated railway, is now a park, a place to picnic and share a slice of pizza, straddle a park bench with a partner, pause to photograph the flowers, watch the traffic below from the glass-walled mini amphitheater or ponder the Hudson River.
Two New York locals, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, founded Friends of the High Line about nine years ago and were able to raise about $81 million to make the railway accessible and aesthetically pleasing in a wild way.
The nine blocks, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street in West Chelsea, once the heart of the meat-packing industry, is now the heart of the people-packing industry – only four flights up and one third complete.
While promenading or pausing, one now overlooks trendy restaurants, retail shops and recent creative architectural wonders in spaces snapped up by savvy developers.
The towering buildings share air space with abandoned factories, walk-ups and lofts with fire escapes, where spontaneous cabaret performances occasionally occur, delighting the unsuspecting High Line audience below.
Dallas has the opportunity to mimic the relaxed energy of the High Line with Woodall Rodgers Park. The park, comprising four blocks and five acres of an elevated urban oasis across from the Nasher and the DMA, opens in 2011. As successful and beloved as the nearby Katy Trail is, it is mainly a place to exercise, not exhale. (Although new and proposed overlooks offer inviting rest stops.)
The High Line works because it doesn’t appear to be too pristine, too perfect or too permanent. The flowers are sturdy – sculptural and wild. The European-style park chairs are easily moved. Some of the lounges (yes-lounges) slide along the abandoned tracks. “Keep off the Grass” signs are non-existent. Instead, strollers are urged to “stay wild.”
New Yorkers are used to walking outside and relish a park bench. Is Dallas ready to park itself and stop running? Is Dallas ready to give up jogging, roller-blading or biking and congregate in quiet camaraderie?