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The High Line

02 May 201503:44PMusa-2015travel

We got home this morning, but there are still a couple of posts left in the story. Stay tuned.

I think one of my favourite things about New York and New Yorkers is their love of public space. It would be so easy for this place just to be a total concrete jungle, devoid of anything living but some over-evolved chimpanzees and their associated vermin. It's not, though.

The most obvious is Central Park, which is massive. It's got several lakes, and at least one forest. Plus a couple of museums, some Little League pitches, a running track, and a zoo, as well as a whole bunch of New Yorkers - and yet it doesn't feel crowded or full. It's ruthlessly functional and carefully gardened, but still feels wild.

Just in case you were worried that Central Park was a one off, they've managed to keep doing it. There is a really lovely boulevard in Brooklyn Heights that overlooks the Manhattan skyline and is just full of people walking dogs. There's a really nifty converted container pier on (literally on!) the East River which is a whole load of basketball courts. I think my favourite example is the High Line.

The High Line was a pretty ballsy idea in its original form. Basically, a whole bunch of people were getting hit by freight trains back when freight trains were a thing, and so they lifted the entire freight network to the third storey, with a set of titanic elevated heavy rail lines and (presumably) a whole bunch of converting of loading docks to be two floors above the ground. It was a kickass idea, and one that only makes sense in a city which is this densely populated. Eventually trucks and containerisation took over the role that the trains used to play, and the High Line fell into disuse.

And things started growing there. Not just, like, moss. Bushes. Trees. For a good few years, there was reclaimed, untamed wilderness growing on a disused elevated rail track above New York. In the early 2000s, in response to a concerted effort to pull the thing down and a successful campaign to save it, the city's parks and recreation department took it over, and now it's this amazing semi-wild botanical garden come walking track. Again - it's not just an unshaped blob of green, like a lot of parks end up being. This has benches, and overlooks, and installation art. It is very specifically designed to invite a) walking along (it's a decent couple-mile walk to the end of the tracks) and b) eating your lunch in. There is laserlike focus on being these two things, and no attempts to coerce the space into being things it doesn't need to and can't support, like a dog area or a concert venue.

There is a cool webcam at http://highlinelive.nyc/, which some folks who own an apartment looking over a section of the line have set up on their fire escape. I'm seriously considering live streaming it to a photo frame or something as a project.

Speaking of walks, we did the Guggenheim Museum the same day. The Guggenheim is another great bit of functional design, because you can just walk through the whole thing, with a couple of little pit stops, and be confident that you've adequately experienced the museum. Also a bloody cool building.

Their exhibition was interesting, and I think particularly well suited to being on that spiral-y structure. It was a guy called On Kawara, who was obsessed with... well, time, for want of a better word, although that doesn't quite cover it. All his artworks are these very meditated, mindful, purely descriptive imprints of a particular day. Meticulous sans-serif renderings of the day's date. Postcards sent to random friends declaring that I Got Up, telegrams simply declaring, "I Am Still Alive." Maps of where he went, and lists of who he met. Newspaper clippings, selected almost at random.

This stuff isn't careless though. You very much get the feeling that producing these things is his way of reminding himself, and I guess his audience, that days only happen once, and of forcing himself to be fully aware of them. I didn't get it at first, but as I walked up I sort of started to figure it out, and I think I kind of dig it.

Also the typography on his date paintings is just beautiful. Mmmm.

It was a good way to spend an afternoon, and the space really helped shape it into a curated journey with a satisfying sense of completion, rather than just wandering a gallery, which was really nice. This is so far the only art museum we've done, and I think it was a good pick.

< "We hope you have a meaningful visit." Spectacular >