The Friends of High Line

By Juliette Perry

Friends of the High Line was founded in 1999 by two neighbourhood residents, Joshua David and Robert Hammond. The non-profit advocated for the High Line’s preservation when the structure was under threat of demolition. 

Clearly, the people who orchestrated this "miracle" must have been well-connected, experienced, savvy operators, lawyers or financiers? Not even close. 

Robert Hammond was 30, living in Greenwich Village, working for start-up Internet companies and painting in his spare time. The group's co-founder, Joshua David, was a 36-year-old freelance writer who lived near the mid-section of the unused railroad line. The two men met at a community board hearing in 1999 about the future of the railroad, and, when everyone else at the meeting spoke in favour of tearing it down, they decided to join one another to save the High Line.

They have made The High Line what it is today, a 1.45 mile-long, elevated freight rail structure on Manhattan’s West Side, known as the Miracle Above Manhattan. New Yorkers love the idea of being able float over the busy streets in an innovative park. The park stretches from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. 

"Neither one of us had any background in rail-trails, and in some ways I think that was an advantage," Robert Hammond, Co-founder of Friends of the High Line says. "If we had known all the hurdles in front of us, it might have been a little more daunting.”

From the maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line work endlessly to raise the essential private funding thats needed to complete and continuously develop the High Line’s construction. They raise 98% of their annual budget. No wonder Robert may refer to this as a little daunting. But the opening of The High Line has been the saviour of declining west Chelsea, the impact of gentrification has bought over 30 new projects to the neighbourhood transitioning it to an upcoming hub of New York City. 

The High Line used to be a secret spot for some in the neighbourhood. Many didn't know what it was and, if they did, the only way to see it was to trespass. Now over 20,000 people visit the park each weekend, so needless to say its perhaps no longer a secret spot. Plus, The High Line is open all year round so even if its snowing, your unlikely to be the last man standing on the renovated rail line.

Besides plants, whom Friends of the High Line recruited James Corner Field Operations, Diller Sco dio + Renfro, and planting designer Piet Oudolf to design and manage, the other features include movable benches set into the surviving railway tracks and a water-covered pathway where visitors cool off their feet. There are also different sculptures, murals, installations, and performances. 

The high line has in fact become one of the City’s hottest spots for outdoor Art Installations. Dozens of exhibits line the sides and the pathway, from architecture Lego sculptures to water tower condos. The high line has now exhibited over 120 artists from around the world through commissions, video projections, billboards, and performances bringing a lot of attraction from tourists. It would seem Artists are taking advantage of the space and the constant traffic.

If what Friends of the High Line have already achieved wasn't enough, they also host more than 450 public programs and activities a year. These encourage community engagement and are aimed at supporting the diverse communities that surround the High Line. From sustainable food vendors and salsa dance parties to kids’ activities and historical tours, Friends of the High Line curate experiences that highlight the individuality of the space.

In order too accomplish everything they set out to do, volunteers play a critical role at the High Line. Not only do they help facilitate all of the activities and uphold the keep of the plants and park, they connect people who share similar values and become exposed to new opportunities and skills. 

With out the volunteers, advantages such as having the park open all year round wouldn't be possible. New York is known for their snow blizzards and cooling temperatures which means when it snows, Friends of the High Line need all the help they can get to remove the snow fall. Because of their green standards and the delicate pathways, the Friends of the High Line team can't use chemical ice-melting techniques. Traditional ice scrapers would also damage the surface, which means the staff must use brushes to sweep away the snow. This would take a while wouldn't you agree?

Our opportunity to walk the high line with Piet Oudolf and Dr Noel Kingsbury wouldn't have been possible without Friends of the High Line. All of us at Learning with experts are grateful for all the hard work they do and they deserve every bit of recognition and thanks they receive. 

Members keep The High Line vibrant! Purchase a membership today and you will help hire the gardeners and custodians who keep the entire High Line beautiful, clean, and welcoming to all.

Friends of the High Line raises the funding to maintain and operate the High Line and its programs from both private and public sources, please donate here.

Support and follow Friends of the High Line @highlinenyc.

To learn more about Perennial Management on The High Line from two Plant Masters, click here.

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