Topsoil, Trains and Toilets On High Line Wish List

high line 2 Topsoil, Trains and Toilets On High Line Wish List

Plans go here. (Friends of the High Line)

“I’d love to see a locomotive up there,” Chelsea resident Grant Anderson said before a packed auditorium at P.S. 11 last night. His proposal for the third and final section of the High Line, encircling the Hudson Yards, was met with a burst of spontaneous applause.

Not only did it have the proper fanciful feel of the park that seems to float, as if by magic, above the hubbub of Manhattan, but it also had its antecedents.  “One of the great things about the High Line is you still get a sense of history,” he continued. “Just imagine the feeling—looking up and seeing a train and boxcar down the street.”

The locomotive idea caught the imagination of the some 200 New Yorkers that showed up for the first of what will no doubt be many meetings to figure out what to do with the final section of the celebrated park.

Mr. Grant’s proposal was actually the most daring of the evening, surprising considering the possibilities the park seems to offer and the New York penchant for outsized plans and zany schemes. Instead, sensible schemes dominated. No giant bronze pigeon statues, no gigantic movie screens, a fashion catwalks or even a pool either. What was on offer was mostly met with a unison of sage, thoughtful, nodding heads.

Attendee’s voiced concerns over whether section three would relate to the neighborhood in the same way that the first to had embraced their surroundings.  One Manhattanite commented, “I think there’s a danger that it may become just another nice planted park,” in light of plans for the yards to be covered up and replaced with new shiny buildings. “It could lose some of the grittiness that makes section one and two great.” Though never mind that that part of the High Line is now ringed by very shiny condos.

Attendees really seemed to hop aboard the history train. “People not from New York come here and think ‘when did they build this?'” said one avid High Line fan from Long Island. “They have no idea of what you guys have gone through to build this, so what about erecting a permanent display to tell the full history.”

Friends of the High Line co-founder Robert Hammond answered, revealing that when planning the first two sections, they “didn’t want it to be cluttered with signs,” he paused and said “We maybe went too far in limiting the signage.” The Friends are now talking to the Parks Department about adding more signage and a possible cell phone history tour people can avail of.

Along with the Locomotive idea, the other most popular suggestion of the night was to create a dedicated performance space. Most agreed that the obvious best place for this would be the ‘dead end’ spur, a section of track that kicks out at 30th Street and creates one of the widest sections of the elevated park.

“Bathrooms”, was the one word suggestion posed by a lady clearly on a mission, but until the High Line headquarters is built in 2013, more restrooms seem out of the question, the organizers responded. “I don’t think we can wait until 2013″ said another Chelsea woman. “On a Saturday the line is just unbelievable.”

“I can’t get more bathrooms until 2013, I wish I could,” responded Mr. Hammond.

Growing vegetables was suggest by one person who thought it would act as a great educational point for the whole community, she was told that the planting is a primary concern but a vegetable patch is a valid recommendation  it but would need more support and research.

Before the meeting was thrown to the floor Mr. Hammond made a half-hour presentation outlining the Friends of the High Line’s current draft proposal, which broke down the third section into a number of promising zones, including overlooks, “event” spaces and other “microclimates.”

The big news Mr. Hammond revealed that the Friends are hoping to finish the High Line to before Hudson Yards, including a temporary walkway on the western side providing access, while Related forges ahead with construction on its 23-million-square-foot project. The prospect of an early opening was met with enthusiastic approval. “Josh and I thought ‘why don’t we build a temporary walkway and getting it up as soon as possible?'” Mr. Hammond said, referring to his Friends co-founder Joshua David

Only one dissenting voice was heard during the night. A woman who identified herself as a member of the Police Department, went on a meandering, somewhat pointless rant. “I walk through this neighborhood everyday to work, there’s potholes in the ground, with cars constantly going over and into them, there’s homeless… all you hear up on the High Line is foreign voices, no one speaks English.” Apparently struggling to make a solid point, the woman told how she “spoke to one of the maintenance people” who told her it takes $150 million a year to maintain.

Mr. Hammond, flanked by an eager Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, assured her that the figure to maintain the park was $3 million a year, and every cent of that is raised by private donations. There was also the fact that a recent study showed roughly 50 percent of High Line users were New Yorkers, 25 percent foreign tourists and another 25 percent from the other 49 States.

The meeting concluded amidst smiling faces and shaking hands. “I remember it in the ’70s and the change is phenomenal, it enriches mine and my wife’s days just to look down on it” said Warren Kass, whose apartment overlooks the park. Artist Bob Schechter came to offer up all the money from his next exhibit to the High Line fund. “This neighborhood is nothing like it once was,” he said, “Years ago in the day time they sold meat. And at night they sold a different type of meat!”

“The High Line is designed in a way that moves people like a vector through the urban context,” Javier Santos offered. “A lot of the settling platforms just look off onto street-ways.” He added, as an endorsement of a performance space,
“A reason to sit is something I’d want.”

sduffey@observer.com