Taking the High Road: #MyUK2USA Exchange Group Visits NYC High Line

The Embassy took a group of UK climate & clean energy experts on our Single Country Program in order to give them an idea of what we’re up to in the states. A few days ago, they got to visit the New York City High Line, a great example of repurposed green infrastructure that has revitalized the community around it – both economically and culturally.


The High Line’s Rickety Past

The High Line (also known as the High Line Park) is a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) linear park that goes through the heart of New York City. Originally opened to trains in 1934 as part of the West Side Improvement Project, The High Line was used to carry goods to and from Manhattan’s largest industrial district. In full scale operation for over 20 years, traffic started to slow with the advent of the trucking industry in the 1960s.

In 1980, 46 years after its creation, the last train ran on the High Line – pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.

It was slated for demolition in the 1990s under then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, but luckily the High Line experienced a much greater fate.

Fast forward to 2009, and the High Line was as busy as ever. This time, with pedestrians instead of train cars. Since its opening, the park has attracted tourists and locals alike. So much so that additional sections were added in 2011 and 2014 and there are even further plans for expansion.

A Green Project by Nature (forgive the pun)

Converting each section of the High Line from an out-of-use railroad trestle to a public landscape was no easy task. Not only did it entail years of planning, community input, and work by some of the city’s most inventive designers, but also more than two years of construction per section.


With every decision, green issues were kept at the heart. For instance, the species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness and sustainability, focusing on native species. Nearly half of the plant species and cultivars planted on the High Line are native to the United States and many of species that grew on the High Line’s rail bed originally are also incorporated into the landscape. Additionally, the landscape functions essentially like a green roof. The roof system is designed to allow the plants to retain as much water as possible. Open joints in the pathways allow water to drain between plants and water the planting beds. This cuts down significantly on the amount of storm water that runs into the sewer system.

The High Line also has on-site composting facilities, which process much of the garden waste and help reduce the amount of material entering the waste stream and simultaneously recycling nutrients back into the soil. As a result, the soil does not require commercial fertilizer.

Future Plan(t)s

This large success has led to talks of similar projects in other cities as well as equally unique projects in New York City itself.

The Lowline, a new proposed park, takes the idea of the High Line and flips it upside down. Literally. The Lowline would be the world’s first underground park. “Remote skylights,” or natural light that has been directed below ground using fiber optics, will be used to grow grass and trees beneath the city streets.

(Rendering of proposed Lowline Park design)

New York City has myriad green projects in the works. Cities across the United States are implementing equally exciting projects. We at the Embassy look forward to watching our home country make us proud by being at the forefront of innovation and taking an on-the-ground approach to combat environmental issues.