The Team that Saved the High Line
Two New Yorkers led the fight to transform a long-abandoned railroad
By Elizabeth McNamara | From Preservation | September/October 2009
Nearly a decade ago, the High Line seemed like nothing more than a reminder of Manhattan's bygone industrial past. Rising 30 feet above the Lower West Side and winding around dilapidated warehouses and modern apartment buildings, the elevated railroad sat abandoned and rusting, slated for demolition. It might have quietly vanished, if not for Joshua David and Robert Hammond.
Though neither considered himself a preservationist (Hammond was an entrepreneur, David a travel writer), they envisioned how the steel tracks—built during the Great Depression to carry cattle and other goods—could be saved and reinvented as a city park. "At first, it was a real uphill battle," says Hammond. "Nobody knew anything about the High Line or what it was. Our initial goal was to stop it from being torn down. There was not a lot of support, so we started building awareness in the community."
David and Hammond, who both live near the railroad in the Chelsea neighborhood, persuaded the city to halt demolition, launched a design contest, and even got the actor Edward Norton to dedicate his time—and $100,000—to the cause.
This summer, after an $86 million restoration, the High Line reopened to effusive acclaim as New York's newest urban oasis. Crowds took in city views as they strolled amid gardens dotted with prairie grasses, wildflowers, and the remains of the rusted tracks—a perfect union of old and new, urban decay and natural beauty. "Our goal was to preserve Manhattan's industrial heritage," says Hammond. "It's things like the High Line that make New York and other great cities interesting."
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