Sometimes when I’m missing the cool green-and-grey landscapes of Scotland, I sing the Loch Lomond song* to myself: “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road…” If I lived in New York, I could go to the High Line, which would replace Edinburgh and Iona with a wonderful circus of jostling people and tall buildings.

This article saves me the bus fare with a quick description of the High Line today, a selective history of how it became, and some quick thoughts on industrial history and development. Check it out for the great historic photos, if not the worthy prose. For example:

Much of the High Line’s present magic stems from its passing though an historic industrial cityscape roughly the same age as the viaduct, supplemented by private tenement backyards and the poetic grunge of taxi garages. It would make a huge difference if High Line walkers were to feel trapped in a canyon of spanking new high-rise condos, providing antlike visual entertainment for one’s financial betters lolling on balconies. The High Line exemplifies a preservation conundrum: how do you protect not only the older structure itself, through intelligent adaptive re-use, but also retain the flavor of its original surrounding context? A certain amount of luxury high-rise will inevitably occur along this route: the question is how much. Only strict zoning regulations might prevent a forest of new apartment buildings from flanking the High Line, but the city seems to be encouraging more, rather than less, high-rise residential development in the Far West Side. We can only pray that the current recession, which has temporarily brought a halt to some of the new construction, will last as long as possible.

While wringing our hands, we should also remember that when the High Line was built, one of its initial purposes was to spur “air rights” development over the site. Living cities change and grow; they cannot remain picturesquely frozen in time. Whatever happens, the High Line will still afford spectacular unobstructed views eastward, at street corners, and westward, at a good many spots, to the river.

* Did you know that “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” refers to a creative range of gory deaths? Execution after a failed revolution, heads on pikes, fairy escorts of dead souls… Wow. Thanks, Wikipedia.

[Photo at top – of the guy who was clearly taking the high road in 1934 – is from The Design Observer Group]

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