Another post so soon is rare for me, but I’m off to Sicily in a couple of days and before leaving wanted to take a quick look at the High Line, the elevated garden in New York that was inspired by the Promenade Plantée in Paris that I talked about in my last post (‘A Unique Promenade’). As I mentioned in that post, both projects were based on the same concept – take an abandoned railway line in a run-down neighbourhood in the heart of a big city and transform it into an elevated walkway lined with plants and trees.
(The appearance of my offspring in the following photo is due to the fact that when I got back from New York and was going over my photos this turned out to be the only one I had taken of the High Line from street level. Merci, les enfants.)
As in Paris – maybe even more so in New York – the newly created green space provided a much appreciated oasis of tranquillity and people wanted to not just walk along it, but to live next to it. New apartment buildings sprang up along the once dilapidated rail line. And older buildings got rejuvenating – and sometimes unusual facelifts.
On a blank wall, the ‘backside’ of an older building, was a colourful and, at the time, mystifying mural. The words are from the last line of ‘The New Colossus’, a poem on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty that the High Line website describes as ‘an ode to the freedoms promised by immigration [that] thousands of new arrivals passed by as they made their first steps in the United States’. The mural is part of Agora, a group exhibition commissioned by the High Line that will be on view from April 2018 to March 2019.
But that Friday afternoon I had no idea what I was looking at, and while I would have benefitted from taking one of the tours provided by ‘Friends of the High Line’, April was the only time my (employed in Toronto) son and (student at Columbia) daughter could manage a visit and the tours are held May to September.
The churches weren’t the only difference. The High Line was unapologetically educational as well as political. (That’s probably something only a Canadian would say, since apparently we’re always saying sorry.)
In addition to the Art Tours, there are also Garden Tours and Wildlife Tours (?) and a Honey Harvest later in the season.
Another big difference here is the number of large areas for gathering. And sitting. And Thai Chi and meditation and Latin dancing and Stargazing and lunchtime reading sessions.
‘We are 11 million’ is another piece in the Agora commission. As I found out later, it is by Andrea Bowers, described on the High Line website as ‘a Los Angeles-based artist working in video, drawing, and installation, combining art and activism to foreground the struggle for social justice.’ The number, which I also did not understand at the time – I thought it might have something to do with the number of visitors to the park – do American visitors recognize its significance? – represented ‘the DREAMers […] individuals who came to the United States at an early age without documentation, who have assimilated to U.S. culture, and who have been educated in U.S. schools’.
Agora, continues the website, is the ancient Greek square – ‘the public gathering area that was the core of commercial, artistic, political, and spiritual life in old city-states like Athens’, an area that artists throughout the centuries have used as ‘theaters and arenas for performances and collective actions [to] mobilize a kind of collective voice of the people’ [and where] ‘by manipulating our expectations of what does and does not belong in these ostensibly collectively owned spaces, artists challenge what public spaces are, how they’re made, and who they’re made for’.
Definitely not the Promenade Plantée.
What really strikes even the yet-to-be educated visitor to the High Line is the extent to which the garden’s origins have been preserved and incorporated into the design.
As at the Promenade Plantée I was sorry to be visiting the High Line while it was still largely dormant. Notwithstanding the ‘Monthly Bloom List’ for April, apart from a few species tulips and narcissus, other plants and trees that would normally have been in bloom – like the Redbud, my favourite spring tree – were just beginning to show a hint of colour.
And one last thought – if there was ever a question as to how much the culture we live in influences what we do and create, I think the answer lies here – in this New York City garden that took an existing concept from Paris and made something so different.