YEARS AGO, ONLY trespassers knew the secret of the High Line in New York City. They would steal onto the abandoned viaduct and find something New Yorkers on the street below couldnt imagine: a wilderness of horsemint and cherry trees hanging among the skyscrapers.
Now, anyone can take a stroll there. Last month, the High Line reopened as an industrial-chic park -- 10 years after nearly being demolished for scrap. And cities saddled with their own rusting rail bridges have watched this transformation closely.
NYCs High Line opened in 1934 as a freight link rumbling two stories over the streets of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, but it went silent in 1980 as trains lost the shipping war to trucks. Then, it stood untouched for two decades. As the sumac grew topside, people below groused about the eyesore, which blocked out the sun on 10th Avenue. In 1999, the tearing down of the High Line was imminent.
But locals (and trespassers) Joshua David and Robert Hammond couldnt bear the thought. So they founded Friends of the High Line and rallied green advocates and businesspeople alike -- as well as celebrities like Kevin Bacon and Edward Norton -- to save it. The organization raised $81 million from public and private sources to incorporate walkways, stairways, and several ecosystems along a third of the 1.5-mile line. (Similar development is planned for two other sections.)
The inspiration for the project was Promenade Plantée in Paris, a railway-turned-park that reinvigorated surrounding neighborhoods in the city. That same effect is now being seen in New York: The new 19-story Standard Hotel opened this spring and straddles the High Line on stilts.
These cities are also transforming their industrial workhorses of the twentieth century into greenways of the twenty-first.
The Bloomingdale Trail Chicago
Three unused miles of the elevated Canadian Pacific Railway will, over the next decade, be reborn as a ribbon of green throughout some of the citys most park-starved neighborhoods. Florida Keys
Overseas Heritage Trail Florida
A $35 million face-lift is underway on the historic Overseas Railroad. In the Lower Keys, pedestrians will enjoy red mangrove forests and spot the occasional crocodile; in the Upper Keys, theyll gaze upon turquoise waters and sport boats at Islamorada.
The Trestle St. Louis
Currently, the completed portion of the Trestle at Branch Street connects the McKinley Bridge Bike Trail to the North Riverfront Trail. Soon, a new 1.5-mile extension of the Trestle will open that continues south toward downtown St. Louis, connecting the downtown area to the North Riverfront.
Harsimus Stem Embankment Jersey City, New Jersey
When this railroad ceased to transport freight, a six-block swath of downtown reverted to nature. Now, city and park activists are working to create an enclosed, elevated park while maintaining the corridor for a possible future light-rail as well.