High Line at the Rail Yards

On a recent March weekend while visiting New York City, I had the opportunity to walk the newest section of the High Line that opened last September. This half-mile long segment wraps around a large storage yard for commuter trains, between West 30th and West 34th Streets, with a nice view of the Hudson River along part of its length. The final 1/3 mile of this new phase is currently open as an interim walkway, to be completed once the neighboring Hudson Yards mixed-use development is built on a platform over the train yard.

One can now walk the entire 1.5-mile length of this former freight train trestle. It’s become a very popular place for both locals and visitors, with a steady stream of walkers even on the cool and windy day when I was there. The High Line ranks as one of my favorite urban parks, with a creative design that incorporates many references to its historic railway usage. I also enjoy the numerous interesting views of the city from 30 feet above the streets.

Be sure to check out my other two blog posts on this terrific linear park: Up on the High Line and The High Line, Section 2.

High Line at the Rail Yards 1
The Grasslands Grove features a variety of “peel-up” furnishings, including benches, a picnic table, a see-saw rocker, and a chime feature for children. This signature style of site amenity can be seen along many parts of the High Line.

High Line at the Rail Yards 2
Stacked seating borders the section that parallels West 30th Street, near a new building that is under construction to the north. The landscape near the High Line in this area will be changing over the next few years as tall buildings transform the low-lying rail yards site.

High Line at the Rail Yards 3
The high line’s original rail tracks are exposed and now function as walkways in three places along the route, referencing the park’s former use. Aggregate bonded with an adhesive was installed between the ties, creating a very firm and level surface, accessible to wheelchairs.

High Line at the Rail Yards 4
A row of benches flanks the 11th Avenue “Bridge” (to the left of the photo), a section of walkway that arches somewhat above the surrounding surfaces. The rail yards can be seen to the right.

High Line at the Rail Yards 5
The Pershing Square Beams: A children’s play area featuring an exposed portion of the High Line’s original framework, and also including entertaining elements such as periscopes and a “gopher hole”. In the warmer months, perennial plantings sprout up in the spaces between some of the beams.

High Line at the Rail Yards 6
The interim walkway includes the original tracks with self-seeded plants (as the High Line had appeared for many years after the trains stopped running in 1980). It becomes a lush green linear meadow during the warmer seasons. The walkway portion is surfaced with bonded aggregate, flush with the intersecting rail lines. The High Line curves to the right to run parallel with the Hudson River in the distance.

High Line at the Rail Yards 7
Large stacked timbers serve as seating at this section of the interim walkway, somewhat reminiscent of oversized railroad ties.

High Line at the Rail Yards 8
The interim walkway slopes down to its terminus at West 34th Street.
 
Photos by Alice Webb

Public Art in Outdoor Spaces, Part II

I’ve encountered a variety of interesting art pieces in landscape settings ranging from urban to natural. Some are in parks and nature preserves, others are along city streets and alleys, and a few are in small town centers. Some integrate visually and thematically with their surroundings, and others stand alone. Below are a few favorites.

1 - Art on the High Line 1
Cut-outs in a small panel (viewed through a scope) on New York City’s High Line transform this view of buildings into abstract shapes.

2 - Art on the High Line 2
More art on the High Line: A modernistic wire structure with houses and seed/fruit trays for birds and insects seems to represent the intersection of city and nature, as does much of the High Line. A similar structure faces the opposite direction on the other side of the walkway.

3 - Garden in the Woods
These transparent facial profiles at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, appear to symbolize the connection between people and nature.

4 - MSU art museum
Juxtaposition of “natural” and built forms – Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing

5 - Felice Varini - New Haven
Painted optical illusion in New Haven, Connecticut, by Felice Varini – this shape is only visible when one stands at a specific point. As one progresses further down the alley, it no longer appears as four circles within a square.

6 - Cambridge granite sculpture
Sculpture composed of various types of stone in Cambridge, Massachusetts

7 - Sculpture in Eastport ME
Granite sculpture in Eastport, Maine – a town whose principal industry is commercial fishing

8 - CityGarden bas-relief
Bas-relief piece in CityGarden – a sculpture park in St. Louis, Missouri

9 - Sculpture in Montreal
A deep discussion taking place in Montreal, Quebec

10 - Belfast ME bench
Colorful bench in Belfast, Maine

11 - SLCH healing garden
Whimsical piece in the Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

See also Public Art in Outdoor Spaces (Part 1)

Photos by Alice Webb

Mid-Century Playgrounds – Imaginative Fun

Starting in the 1950s and extending into the ‘70s, playground design took a creative turn, away from the galvanized steel structures of yore. Instead of specifying manufactured pieces, designers began to customize entire play areas. Concrete, brick, and other hard materials were used extensively. Several playgrounds built in this style can be found in Central Park, New York City, (photos below). Some of these have been upgraded, maintaining the integrity of the original designs, while complying with today’s safety standards. I like the sculptural qualities and connectivity of the climbers and other features, in addition to the water play areas incorporated in several of the playgrounds. However, I found the spaces to be rather cold and drab in appearance. In my opinion, interspersing some low- and mid-sized plant materials throughout these playgrounds, (not just along the perimeters), would turn them into more inviting spaces and add play value to the sites.

1 - Ancient Playground A
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

2 - Ancient Playground B
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

3 - Adventure Playground A
Adventure Playground in Central Park, NYC

4 - Adventure Playground B
Water play in the Adventure Playground

5 - Adventure Playground C
Water play in the Adventure Playground

6 - Heckscher Playground A
Hecksher Playground in Central Park, NYC

7 - Heckscher Playground B
Hecksher Playground in Central Park (water play section)

Photos by Alice Webb

Columbus Circle – An Urban Oasis

Columbus Circle 1

The central islands of most traffic circles in the U.S. are just planted areas, at best, with no consideration for public use. To be fair, the majority are either too small or in areas with too little pedestrian activity to work well as park spaces. Columbus Circle in New York City, however, has neither of these limitations. It also has the benefit of traffic signals at its three crosswalks/entrances. This century-old site underwent a major transformation in 2005, when a barren traffic island with a tall monument to Christopher Columbus was reshaped and expanded into a much larger circular park. It’s truly an oasis in the city, where traffic noise is muffled by the sound of the fountains that border the pedestrian space, and groups of trees along the perimeter provide some visual separation from the surroundings.

Columbus Circle 2
View toward Columbus Circle’s central monument

Columbus Circle 3
Long, wide benches arc around the perimeter of the central plaza.

Columbus Circle 4
Terraced plant beds form the circle’s boundary.

Columbus Circle 5
One of three entrances into the circle

Photos by Alice Webb

Since I was only able to photograph the space from the ground and in daylight hours during a brief visit to the city, here are links to two sites with impressive photos from above, showing the entire circle during the day and also at night:

Columbus Circle in daylight
Columbus Circle at night

Teardrop Park – Nature in the City

During a recent trip to lower Manhattan in NYC, I had the opportunity to visit Teardrop Park. This little urban oasis in the Battery Park City neighborhood is situated between several high-rise residential buildings. It includes natural play areas in its southern half, and lawns and walkways to the north.

Much of the park was designed to represent a northeast forest environment, with rock outcrops, rolling hills, and lush (mostly native) vegetation. One of its prominent features is a vertical wall of stacked bluestone, arranged to resemble natural rock strata. This design includes water seepage through a section of the wall, forming icicles in winter.

In the middle of the children’s play area, a long slide is anchored into a rocky hillside and terminates in a large sand area. Nearby, there is a small sand play area for pre-school children, in addition to a water play zone for kids of all ages. Children and adults alike can also explore a wetland play path, where I observed a number of birds during my visit.

The sloping lawns to the north of the play areas are pleasant spaces for relaxation, and include several seating areas along the perimeter. There are also some more isolated seating/gathering spots along paths throughout the park. Despite the secluded nature of those areas, I felt very safe while there.

I was at the park on a Tuesday morning, so it was not packed with visitors. I would imagine that it attracts a lot more users during weekends and summer evenings, especially residents of the surrounding high-rises. The park provides many opportunities for imaginative play for kids, and serves as a pleasant environment for all.


Hillside slide with rock steps and overlook


Pre-school sand play area


Water play area


Wildlife in the water play area – the robin and the littlest boy are color-coordinated!


A seating area above the water play zone


Rock wall resembling natural strata


Portal through the rock wall


South (back) side of the rock wall portal


People relaxing in one of the lawn areas


The northern-most lawn area slopes toward the south to take advantage of the sun.


A small nook for imaginative play at one end of the wetland path

Photos by Alice Webb

Hudson River Park, Chelsea Section

New York’s Hudson River Park has been built in phases, extending for several miles along the west edge of Manhattan. In mid-March I visited the Chelsea section, from Pier 62 to 29th Street.


Entrance area of the Chelsea Cove section of the park – this section includes extensive lawn areas, a concrete skate park, carousel, and walkways.


Picnic area near the entrance to Chelsea Cove


View of Pier 62, including a carousel with a green roof


Seating area on Pier 62 with “floating” lights


A walkway near the skate park (fenced area to the right)


The 11-mile long Hudson River Greenway runs adjacent to the park


Pier 64 features lawns, walkways, and seating


Linear section of the park north of Pier 64


Sculpture at 29th Street

Photos by Alice Webb

The 9/11 Memorial

I visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on a gloomy, gray day in mid-March, but the monochromatic colors of the pavement, buildings, leafless trees, and sky seemed fitting for this solemn and contemplative space. In warmer months, with the greening of the trees and lawn areas, the site is certain to have a somewhat different feel to it – one of renewal amid the remembrances of tragedy.

The 8-acre Memorial Plaza is punctuated by two reflecting pools, each an acre in size, in the locations of the former twin towers. Each pool is framed with dark bronze parapets which are inscribed with the names of the victims. On all four sides of each pool, water continuously falls 30 feet down into recessed areas, and then flows into smaller 30’ x 30’ voids in the center of each pool – in total, a representation of loss and absence.

Once the numerous trees in the plaza grow large enough so their canopies merge, visitors’ views will be directed horizontally, toward the memorial pools and elsewhere on the site. The plaza will then feel more enclosed, with the trees obscuring the distraction of the surrounding tall buildings as people approach the pools.

The Memorial is beautifully poignant, and the abstract minimalist design of the pools works very well in this case. I hope to return during a warmer time of year, to experience the site when the green hues complement the grays.



Names of victims are inscribed in bronze parapets surrounding the pools. This section of the South Pool includes the names of the first responders.


Water flows into a void in the center of each pool. At night, the waterfalls on the sides of the pools are lit from behind.


A portion of the Memorial Plaza with the South Pool in the background


The North Pool


The Memorial Glade is located to the left – a break in the tree canopy for gatherings and special ceremonies


Seating areas in the plaza


Part of the 9/11 Museum can be seen in the background. (The museum continues beneath the plaza.)


The trees, paving, lighting, and seating throughout the site are arranged in a visually-pleasing linear fashion.

Photos by Alice Webb