Welcome to the Javits Center and the endlessly transforming neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen/ West Chelsea/ Hudson Yards. Things have changed considerably since last you donned your sensible convention shoes. Get thee to the High Line for a restorative promenade through Manhattan’s favorite “garden in the sky” and have a look for yourself. Here are just a few threads in the ongoing narrative of this beautiful and exceptional place.
Step outdoors and you’ll see a massive construction project unfolding in the new district known as Hudson Yards. It embraces 360 acres, stretching north to 43rd Street and extending from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, but its beating heart is the rail yards that wrap around the northern end of the High Line. Michael Bloomberg called this patch of real estate, which is twice as big as Rockefeller Center, Manhattan’s “last frontier.” Look closely, and memorize what you see. The project will unfold over the next two decades, but today you can witness a single, distinct moment in the ancient cycle of urban reconstruction that has defined New York City since the Dutch first arrived. Says Joshua David, co-founder of Friends of the High Line: “You could come back every year over the next 20 years and each time you came, you would see things entirely differently.” The High Line at the Rail Yards, when it opens later this year, will offer the best platform from which to view all this change. As Rick Darke observes in the new edition of On the High Line, the elevated park “is now this city’s greatest runway through time.”
By the time the nation’s booksellers storm Manhattan, the gardens of the High Line will be exploding in color. Plants here, unlike most gardens around the world, are not trimmed back at the onset of chilly weather in autumn, but are left to shape-shift and transform throughout the colder months, when they create a starkly beautiful winter landscape. But in the spring, the High Line gets a haircut. This year’s annual Cutback ended on April 4, and while the grasses, shrubs, and perennials are growing like mad, you can still clearly see the tracks and sleeper beams in the garden beds, a reminder that this place was once a busy, working railroad. A few favorites to look out for: Allium Mt. Everest (in the Chelsea Grasslands), which towers above the others with its distinctive large, round white globe; Cotinus ‘Grace’ smokebush (at 10th Avenue Square), a little tree that grows so wild and crazy by September that one of the High Line gardeners describes it as “Dr. Seuss-y”; and Magnolia macrophylla, bigleaf magnolia (at the Flyover), a tropical-looking plant, with its elephantine leaves, that looks like it comes straight from the set of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
An essential feature of the High Line is the public art program run by Friends of the High Line. As if in anticipation of BEA, this month’s installation on the 18th Street billboard—where some of the most transporting graphic art and photography have appeared since the park opened five years ago—is Groovin’ High, Faith Ringgold’s vamp on the 1945 Dizzy Gillespie hit. Ringgold reworked her 1986 story quilt for the High Line, and it’s a gift to us all. The piece exudes happiness and the joy of community; in its presence you may find yourself unable to resist the urge to start dancing, particularly as the sinuously gorgeous IAC building, a piece of architecture with its own irresistible rhythm, beckons nearby. Hey, you’re on the High Line; enjoy yourself.
Annik LaFarge is the author of On the High Line: Exploring America’s Most Original Urban Park, Revised & Updated Edition, preface by Rick Darke, published by Thames & Hudson (May). She will guide two walking tours of the High Line for BEA attendees, on Thursday, 4 p.m., and Friday, 4 p.m. Register at Thames & Hudson booth (1826). Free, but space is limited to 10 per walk. Walk attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the book.