If any of you are planning a trip to New York make sure to put aside time to visit The High Line, http://www.thehighline.org/ I’ll explain why in a moment — and why that is a subject for a column on nonfiction for younger readers. The High Line is a stretch of old elevated railroad track that had fallen into disuse. What should be done with it? the obvious idea was to tear it down — more sunlight on the streets, it was rusting eyesore which, I half recall, featured garbage, rust, and surely vermin. But instead two guys, and then a group, had the vision of turning into a park, a walkway where you would experience the city from a whole new angle. That plan was accepted, and about half of it has been built. The result is the most magical experience. You walk along amidst plantings — but the plantings themselves have a touch of the wild — thatches of grass puff out from seemingly every crack — both carefully placed and unkempt. the blowing grasses soften the straight lines of the old track, adding an edge of nature’s curves to the relentless arrow of concrete and steel. The setting has this meditative effect, as if you were in a Zen garden. And that is only the decorative success.
The High Line gives you the city from a new sightline, a new angle. Once again it is a kind of Zen exercise — if you shift how you see things, everything changes. The city, which may be the most familiar place to you, looks entirely different. And that leads back to this column. When I was growing up, we saw elevated walkays like this — in The Jetsons. In that vision of the future there were walkways at higher levels because people flew around in jetpacks and little rockets. The High Line is the first place that I’ve seen that actually treats the city that way — as an opportunity for living and walking at different vertical heights. But it is the opposite of the Jetsons. We came to have that magical outcome not by tearing down the old, not by building anti-gravity ramps or zooming around with personal rockets, but by creatively re-using what we already had. Respect for the past, a passion for re-use, an awareness of the possibilities contained in what we already have brought us up, into the air.
The High Line makes everything seem possible — you look at the warehouse at one end, and you can imagine the wheatfield they could grow across the roof. You begin to see New York as a chess board built in two dimensions that is just beginning to grow into the third dimension, you envision a city like the the Jetsons cartoon, but all somehow built out of better use of the buildings we already have. And that takes us back to history — knowledge of the past. The past can be the most magical foundation — if instead of sweeping it away, you think of fresh ways to see and use it today. That’s the lesson of the High Line — learn the past so you can re-use it — and build the most wondrous future.