New York is a city filled with unusual job opportunities. If you’re lucky enough to get someone to actually respond to your cover letter and resume, one of those opportunities could turn out to be the job of your dreams. In the meantime, though, you’re more likely to cobble together a meager existence with a survival job or two. Or seven.
One of the survival jobs I’ve held for a while here in NYC is at the High Line. Built on the remaining section of an elevated freight railway, the High Line is an urban park that’s really more of a strolling garden. Originally built in the early 1930s, the High Line removed train traffic from the street level, where it earned 10th Avenue the nickname “Death Avenue,” and put it over 30 feet into the air. Unlike the elevated subway lines that ran directly over functioning thoroughfares, the High Line ran alongside and across the active city streets, and actually into and through the buildings themselves, allowing freight to be loaded and removed without disturbing the flow of traffic below. The Line opened to trains in the mid-’30s; and at that time, it extended from Spring Street at the southern end, along the West Side, roughly along 10th Avenue to 34th Street, where it connected underground to a rail system that served the northern part of the Hudson Valley. The last train run was in 1980, however, and after that time, the southernmost portion of the Line, from Spring to Gansevoort Street, was demolished.
What’s left is a roughly-1.5 mile portion that extends from the intersection of Gansevoort and Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District, all the way north to the West Side Rail Yards between 30th and 34th Streets. When the railway fell into disuse, the structure was essentially abandoned. Property owners in the areas around the railway pushed for its demolition in the late ’80s, though, only to be blocked by Chelsea resident Peter Obletz, who won a court battle to save the structure and restore rail service on it.
But that service restoration never happened. The structure remained unused, and nature reclaimed what she could. Flora grew wild up there, as you can see in images by photographer Joel Sternfeld (scroll to about the middle of the page, and you’ll find them, or just go here on the High Line site). The High Line took on an almost mythic stature in the neighborhood; and even now, people tell stories about secretly climbing up on the structure back then to take advantage of this strange urban oasis. In 1999, two more Chelsea residents, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, formed the Friends of the High Line, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the structure; and their efforts to repurpose it as a public space have led to the cool new park we have today.
The design of the park celebrates the connection of the urban and the natural, with concrete planks linking the garden areas, and the actual train tracks running throughout. The horticulture of the landscaping reflects the self-seeding plants, trees, and flowers that once grew wild here, and it features some of those original species. And it’s gorgeous. Seriously. Poke around on the High Line website and their blog. They even have a Flickr page where visitors to the park can post their own pics.
Here are some that I took in the fall, before the snows came.
Y’all, ain’t that something? I swear, even in the middle of winter, with snow everywhere and most of the plants “not dead, only sleeping,” it’s still beautiful. It’s even got spectacular views of New Jersey, if you can believe that. I took some shots with the not-great camera on my Droid Incredible. Again, these were taken in the fall, but New Jersey still looks basically the same:
Wow, right? Even with my crappy camera. So what do I do there?
I’m a park ranger.
We patrol the park on foot to track attendance figures and to help keep the park safe from plant-trampling, bikes-skateboards-scooters, and um, dogs.
Yeah, no. No dogs allowed. But, ya know, it’s not that kind of park, really, and when you see it, it makes perfect sense. Most people are great about it. So, yeah, that’s what I do. I mean, that’s not all I do. I write quite a bit, and I send out resumes and cover letters that a lot of recipients completely ignore, but then there’s this for a few hours a week. And it’s not such a bad thing.
If you’re ever in NYC, check it out. If not, check it out online. I mean it. You’ll love it.