Living the high(line) life

It’s no secret that as our cities expand we are forced to become more creative when it comes to incorporating green space. 

Now there's a growing movement, particularly in North America, to reclaim  under-used public areas and infrastructure to repurpose and reimagine them into parks and public recreation spaces. 

The most famous example is arguably New York's Highline - which has been bringing tourists to Chelsea in their droves since 2009.  Its creators, Robert Hammond and Joshua David, are now supporting similar projects through the High Line Network.

 New York's renowned Highline through the Chelsea area.

New York's renowned Highline through the Chelsea area.

The High Line, completed in September 2014, turned a disused railway line on the lower Westside of Manhattan into a public garden. While the first and second sections of the line cost around $153 million to build, they generated an estimated $2 billion in new developments. 

It’s also eco-friendly: full of native species, the planting was inspired by what had naturally grown after 25 years of no trains. The High Line essentially functions like a green roof, with water draining to adjacent planting beds, therefore reducing the volume of stormwater filtering into New York’s sewer system. 

However, not everyone benefitted from the buzz the High Line brought to Chelsea. The series of luxury developments it was the catalyst for saw rents in the area skyrocket, and many small local businesses were forced out.

This is partly why the creators of the High Line established the High Line Network, aiming to nurture projects that “reclaim infrastructure and reimagine it as public space,” while avoiding some of the pitfalls of the gentrification such developments can cause in urban neighbourhoods.  

 Philadelphia's Rail Park is due to open later this year.

Philadelphia's Rail Park is due to open later this year.

Some of the dozens of projects in the Highline Network include the Philadelphia Rail Park - with phase one set to open later this year, it is twice the length and width of the High Line.  There's the Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit repurposed from an historic railroad corridor and set for a 2030 completion; and the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago - named The 606, the first phase opened on 6 June 2015, and it creates an original park space for residents and visitors alike.

 Atlanta's Beltline is due for completion in 2030.

Atlanta's Beltline is due for completion in 2030.

Internationally, in Seoul, Dutch studio MVRDV has turned a former overpass into a plant-covered walkway. Named Seoullo 7017, it took a 1970s highway destined for demolition and added cylindrical planters filled with 24,000 trees, shrubs and flowers. The project is part of Seoul’s aim to make the city more pedestrian-friendly, and the walkway has a network of stairs and bridges which connect it to hotels and shops. 

 Seoullo 7017 in South Korea is repurposed from a road which had to be closed for safety reasons

Seoullo 7017 in South Korea is repurposed from a road which had to be closed for safety reasons

In 2011, William Rogers, the then president and chief executive of the Trust for Public Land, said that “cities recognise parks are good for their economies. They’re no longer a nice thing to have, but a must.”  As cramming more and more people into urban areas becomes more and more difficult, cities will have to look for unused nooks and crannies in which to create their green spaces.

See more about the Highline Network here