Befriending the Friends of the High Line

While engaged in the bustle of the busy New York City, it can feel as though concrete is the only surface around. From what meets the eye, daily life in the city can feel as if there is no grass, no flower beads, no gardens. The pavement can feel confining, and finding a place to truly connect with nature a struggle. I often found myself walking the streets of New York, reveling in the trees sporadically planted within slotted concrete sidewalks. I wondered how one could live in this great industrial urban setting without wanting to take a step into the green nature of our world. I soon found the oasis I was looking for, a spot where nature and the city meet: the High Line.


Art installation by Dorothy Iannone I Lift My Lamp Beside The Golden Door; seen during one of my rainier trips to the High Line.

The High Line is an abandoned freight rail line on the west side of NYC that has been recycled into a public park. It spans 1.45 miles of the west side, and ends at the culture filled Whitney Museum of American Art. The High Line is home to artwork and local businesses (such as Melt and their yummy ice cream sandwiches), as well as a place for New York residents and visitors to learn about sustainability and connect with nature through their greenery.

The High Line is a special place because of their sustainable gardening practices as they follow the lead of dutch planting designer Pier Oudolf. While designing the park, Oudolf surveyed the greenery already growing on the abandoned rail line, and catered his plant design to the flora he saw could be best grown in that specific site. Due to the varying growth conditions along the High Line, with different wind strengths, soil depths, and exposure, made for a mixture of different plants planted specifically for the conditions they could withstand. Online they also post an annual plant guide with which people can see exactly what plants are growing for each season (the plant guide for 2017 in is bold below). This site-specific landscaping makes for each plant to have perfect conditions for their specifics, and means that every single plant on the High Line has a well thought out reason for being in that exact spot.

Along with this site-specific planting, the High Line uses locally grown plants and gathers their materials from sources within a 100-mine radius. All of the plants are native, and therefore will grow well in their selected environments. many of the plants that are chosen are also drought-tolerant to conserve water, and when supplemental water is added to these plants, volunteers roll up their sleeves and do it by hand. Hand-watering prevents overwatering as well as allows the volunteers to keep track of just how much water they are using, and cater to the water amounts each specific plant may need. In taking to heart what plant designer Piet Oudolf once said, “Dying in an interesting way is as important as living”, the High Line also serves as a compost site to decompose their gardening waste into ready to use soil. The composting takes place on a spur, just above 10th avenue, where volunteers help out during the High Line’s annual “Spring Cutback”, a time in which the stalks of what was the previous springs vegetation are cut and put into the composter. To further connect the surrounding area with this system, the High Line uses coffee grounds from local coffee shops as nitrogen-rich wet material to supplement the decomposition of the dry organic matter. So, whether you know it or not, your next cup of coffee purchased on the lower west side could be helping the High Line produce rich soil for their plants to grow.

The High Line also offers volunteer and job opportunities with their non-profit organization The Friends of the High Line. Their inviting name introduces a group of dedicated volunteers and staff members with a love for this recycled area, and the organization raises around 98% of the High Line’s annual budget. They help out with upkeep, such as participating in the annual “Spring Cutback”, act as greeters for visitors to ask about the history, reason, and sustainability of the High Line, and tour guides as they take people on 75-minute journeys through the history and eco-friendly practices of the delicately designed park.  Alongside volunteer work, the Friends of the High Line organizes family programs, cultural events, parties (including their upcoming hat party on June 14th), and an annual honey tasting where visitors can taste honey from bee colonies in each of the five boroughs. To learn more about this organization and its volunteer opportunities visit their website (in bold below).

Along with all of the sustainability practices of the High Line, this park engages city-goers to slow down for a minute and take in the beauty that surrounds them. Walking across the wooded planks of this oasis of thoughtfully placed nature, I found myself feeling as though this place is not just a park. The Friends of the High Line took what everyone else saw as a beaten-up and worn out freight rail line, and recycled it into the intersection of the city and nature. With plants all intricately designed to sustain themselves in their specifically chosen spots, next to street vendors selling locally sources snacks and sweets, followed by art that engaged our minds to look at objects through different lenses, I felt an impeccable sense of unity between the two worlds I love dearly. The High Line is not only a park, but a utopia in which two worlds can live at once, and that, to me, is truly magical.


The Friends of the High Line:

The High Line Plant List:


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