Years ago during the bad old days of recession and the crumbling of the Great American Cities there was a highway on the west of the Gotham that had originally been a rail line. The structure had been modified and replaced in area and close to the end, when it descended into madness and surface roads, the cobblestone jouncing along would wake us kids out of whatever car stupor slumber we had been rocked unbuckled and laying on the bench seats of the old station wagon.
This cobblestone road and the iron decorations, the seal of New York or something like that, instilled a strong interest in history and while the race riots and the Southeast Asian war but were a few years prior, the ruined city may as well have stood that way a thousand years.
On certain rare occasions we would drive through what was then called the meat packing district when the streets still ran foul with drippings from actual meat and the large dirty trucks and angry men filled the streets punctuated by the occasional Ladyboy.
In that area was an elevated section of rail that grew trees. We knew, I know not how since our parent wasn’t into such things, that raves and parties and happens and muggings and rape took place in that secret garden above the roadway. I always wanted to climb up there and to sneak about.
For years I was relegated to the surface. I had to be content to wander under the elevated railway that was to become the High Line and sample certain views of the field that was the rail bed and the bushes and the paths of the adventurers that went above my head. The Highline is project initiated by concerned citizens and fought against by all the landowners until they finally were shown that it would make them all billions of dollars. When I was there the High Line was but a whisper when I was attending art openings back when I still believed in art… or was it free piss-tasting white wine… Someone would say, bray, or exclaim, “they’re making a walkway there.”
Back in those days oh so ten years ago, the days were long and the above line was rusting away to provide us art kids a ruined urbanscape with with to pose and smoke Chesterfields and discuss Leben and Kunst until the morning light assumed its rightful place in the sky.
And suddenly, last few years, the Highline appeared and it caught us off guard. The stupid thing someone claimed was happening while bombed out on bad Artgallerywine was actually happening? What next from a cocktail conversation would I now have to believe? This new project is a dreamline of a trail that cuts through formerly industrial areas now becoming the trendy home to museums, blue chip art galleries, high end hotels, and the rich and super rich who now stroll down the parkway looming at trees and gazing at the view of 20 million dollar condo interiors, glimpses of Hudson river, and slices for Meatpacking District, today named after nothing that goes on there unless one makes a tasteless remark about what older executives do to their younger companions after a night of bills and bar tabs that mimic the income of what many American families make in a week. Yet, for all the potential Raceclassgender of this project, it must be recognized that the Highline is the fucking coolest thing that has happened in the city since… since so long.
In a city of never-ending change constant flattening of character and traditional beauty, of the loss of texture as churches and cultures vanish to make way for condos, ethnic enclaves make way for condos, and multi-generational businesses shutter to make way for condos, it is nice to see an institution such as the elevated rail get a second lease on life not as condos… even if surrounding this parkway in the sky are new and ever growing battalions of … structures built to house foreign investors and whatever wealthy the city can attract.
Walking this pathway still has a magic that cannot be properly plotted on a map. A simple path, true we could have walked sun bleached 11th avenue or gone to the newly created park on the West Side Highway, been ever closer to the Hudson River, but this place is apart from the city and yet wanders through these buildings, a few dating back to the industrial time of the American Century and most growing up to touch the sky in the New American Normal of frosted concept towers and soon-to-be finished international investment instrument.
The grass blows in the wind as the sun sets. The lights come on and the security guard wheels by. Everyone on this path is happy. They smile and selfie with gusto. The flowers are planted among rails and sleepers realigned and re-imagined by an army of Art Skool Kids and industrial designers and New Urbanists who wear only linen and listen only to David Byrne’s world music phase and perhaps a little Enya when no one is looking. The elevated railway no longer carries products and produce and handmade-factory-parts, the raw materials of Empire and the finished products of Capital, but is a creative and partially-digital public space where blah blah blah blah-d blah blah can somethingsomethingsomething and in linen and with David Byrne [world music phase], those who can afford those little $20 drinks and who balk at the thought of blood and gore today just in time for sunset flock to a place where animals were once hacked apart in rude and dripping pieces but now we sit on a bench designed to remind us of an industrial age now gone [in this country at least] and create those clean lines the wealthy pay a lot for and the condos growing up along the Highline fit in with this ethos.
In a city that is more and more expensive, this free thing is here. All this greenery and references to blood, sweat, and tear is here for us. Until perhaps one day there is an entry fee….