Wednesday, October 15, 2014

There's High Lines

Truly a park.
And then there’s high lines.  High lines in the utility industry are the lines carrying electricity across the nation.  It’s the big boys of the system.

The “High Line” in New York is an abandoned elevated freight rail line transformed into a free, public park on Manhattan’s West Side.  What’s the big deal for us in small town Illinois?   It’s an example of turning trash into treasures.  It’s taking a negative cityscape and making it the starting point to reinvigorate the town.

All towns, cities and villages have examples of some former building or development now rundown and a blight on the whole neighborhood.  What was different with this abandoned freight rail line is someone had an idea to take it from blight to brilliant.

A non-profit “Friends of the High Line” was formed and partnered with the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation.  Their mission:  “Through excellence in operations, stewardship, innovative programming, and world-class design, we seek to engage the vibrant and diverse community on and around the High Line, and to raise the essential private funding to help complete the High Line’s construction and create an endowment for its future operations.”

The big words:  Seek to engage.  No non-profit can function in and of itself.  It must have others engaged in wanting a project to succeed. 

What it didn’t do is sit around and blame others while doing nothing.  That’s pretty amazing considering social media is all about blaming, complaining and doing nothing.

The high line railroad trestle has elevated gardens, walkways, seating and beautiful views.  They use species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees hardy, sustainable, textural and with color variation.  Focus is on native species.   Many of the self-seeded plants on the old deserted tracks have been incorporated. 

Views, walkways, seating and air!
And the deal is not just this amazing reclaimed park, it has changed entire neighborhoods.  Because it’s brought locals out to walk and relax, tourists and professionals to photograph, and families enjoying their city, there’s been a need for business.  Restaurants, stores, apartments, and more followed.  As the movie says:  “If you build it, they will come.”

They didn’t wait for businesses to come in first; they created a destination and need brought businesses. They have garden talks and walks, yoga, Tai Chi, nature walks, fairs, concerts, walking tours, neighborhood narratives, stargazing, lunch series, kids specials and dance parties. 

This beautiful garden is the beginning of community revitalization.  It can be an inspiration for big and small revitalizations in your community.  Before destroying that unsightly old structure, could it become a blessing?  Destroy and remove hit a huge wave of popularity in towns and as a result we see many a town with little of its history and beauty left; all the while complaining no new business comes calling. 

School children classes
Sometimes a city and its residents must take a leap of faith and enhance its current spots around town such as Galva’s revitalization of Veterans’ Park a few years ago.  Also, allowing the Country Road festival this summer in our Park District was a leap of faith by the Park Board and that leap was especially smart.  This could not have happened had the Park District not kept that park so beautiful and updated.

Not all old buildings or lots can be used or preserved.  I urge you to not give up on these historic structures or lots without exhausting outside-the-box possibilities first.  One thing for certain, nothing like the High Lines project would be possible without a dedicated group of caring individuals. 

This town and your town have a wonderful history and vibrant futures if it’s citizens care to see what might be.  Stop thinking about what had died as if that’s the future. Don’t just complain about that building that’s an eye sore and can’t be fixed.  Make an effort to not let another building fall so far into disrepair it is a lost project.

As for gardens, Galva is an exceptional example of enhancing our public spaces.  All our parks:  33 cares at the Park District, Washington Park, Wiley Park and Veterans Park.  Included is the small garden venue’s around signposts and various small plots.  The street department waters these plots and volunteers plant and weed. 

Before renovation.
As your town experiences empty buildings, do we complain because no one is knocking at the door to utilize them?  OR do we make the town so attractive eventuality population will demand more businesses to serve their needs. 

And one final suggestion:  Utilize the businesses you have if you want them to continue.  Don’t expect someone else to support them and then complain because one Sunday you couldn’t drive five minutes to get a washer for your project, a banana for your desert, or a gallon of gas for your trip.  We each must carry this responsibility. 

All photos and Mission Statement are from "Friends of the High Lines" web page.  


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