The most mesmerizing areas in a big city are never the über touristy spots, but those truly authentic things off-the-beaten-track where the locals, happen to be.
The High Line Park and the Meatpacking District in New York are the perfect examples of what I mean. Both were labour areas at the Industrial Revolution, turned into hipster hubs of the millenium.
The history of the High Line starts in 1847, when train tracks where laid at street level along the West Side of Manhattan, to ship freight. For the sake of safety, some cowboys were hired to ride in front of the train waving flags, but they were less effective than expected and many accidents happened, so the tenth avenue was nicknamed "The Death Avenue". New York city took action and the West Side Improvement Project took off, leading to the construction of the West Side Elevated Highway, which run along 21 km killing a hundred of street-level railroad crossings and adding 13 ha to Riverside Park. It opened to trains in 1934, just about the time when the Meatpacking District blossomed as central market for food, as well as for other industrial activities, like cigars, car repair, express servides, garages, import-export, cosmetics and even printing.
The 60s would bring sunset times for both, the West Side Railway and the Meatpacking. As trucking became mainstream, rail traffic dropped what lead to the demolition of the southernmost section of the line. Similarly, supermarkets and refrigerated trucks had redefined the distribution pattern for meat, dairy and produce from being local to nation-wideand the rail traffic; containers had redefined import-export, so the activities in the area started to decline. Simultaneously, the nightclub and gay scene started to mushroom in the area.
The 80s were a very dark era. Impacted by prostitution, drugs, Mafia and AIDS, the Meatpacking hit rock-bottom. Meanwhile, in the High Line area, those who owned land under the line lobbied for demolition while local activists somehow managed to stop it, didn't really look quite promising for some railroads completely disconnected from the remaining system. But. Like the Legend of the Phoenix, this ended with a new beginning.
As creative professionals (like Diane von Fürstenberg, Christian Louboutin, all those designers in The City series that discovered Olivia Palermo) and hipsters started to move to the Meatpacking, setting up boutiques and art galleries in the area, the neighbors of Chelsea grouped in the Friends of the High Line a non-profit association who advocated for the reuse of the train tracks as public open space, so that it would become an elevated park, in the fashion of the Promenade Plantée in Paris. Fundraising would end up gathering over $150 million, but with Diane herself arranging events, who wouldn't donate? Construction started in 2006, with different phases having the ribbon cut in 2009 - right on time for my visit, 2011 and 2014.
The story of these neighborhoods shows how we are stronger, if we work together towards a common goal. How us, the small citizens can challenge reality and, make awesome things happen. It's the red bricks, the art galleries, the cool stores, the open spaces. The high, the low, reunited and open for everyone. By far, my favourite part of the city.
As you come down of the High Line, you arrive to Chelsea. The area of red brick walls, that feels equally cool and industrial, crystallized at Chelsea Market the perfect place for some shopping, lunch or a drink - like the guys show at The Filling Station.
...just to recover a bit and keep on walking through a gorgeous fall landscape.