Stretching nearly a mile and a half on Manhattan’s west side from Hell’s Kitchen toward the West Village The High Line is a testament to urban renewal. Built in the 1930s as a way to remove dangerous trains from street level and increase the ability to move freight the former rail track has now become an urban park and one of the best places to stretch your legs in an already pedestrian crazed city.

Hauling a few cars worth of turkeys, The High Line saw it’s last train in 1980.  In 1999 when the city was flirting with tearing the derelict railway down a community-based non-profit group was formed. Friends of the High Line was born with the purpose of preserving and maintaining the historic structure as an elevated public space.

Construction began in 2006 and the first section saw foot traffic in 2009. By 2011 the entire 1.45 mile elevated public space was open to the public. Not only does The High Line provide stunning views of the city and a place to get some exercise it also serves as an economic draw for the west side neighborhood. Many restaurants count on High Line traffic to fill their seats. In the less inclement months there are countless eateries and small business strung out along the line.  There is even a beer garden along the way that provides an excellent spot to unwind over a pint. 

It smacks of possibility. As you stroll along 30 feet in the air enjoying the occasional glimpse of The Statue of Liberty in the distance, taking in the work of graffiti artists the potential seems endless. New York’s bottomless action and urban progress can seem daunting to a Detroiter, but it can also renew the spirit. A city that never sleeps is a city that never stops moving forward.

When we asked on social media what should we talk about when in New York, The High Line was oft-mentioned. Being from Detroit, I am constantly searching for examples of urban space that it being utilized in a positive manner. If Detroit has one thing it is space. Spots like the Detroit Riverfront and The Dequindre Cut are leading the way in creating multi-use public spaces for Detroiters to get exercise.. enjoy the view and push a stroller. Our 139 square miles is a veritable smorgasbord of potential green spaces.

Detroit needs to look no further than New York for examples and some thought leadership.

We are under no impression that Detroit isn’t hobbled by some long standing conditions that you don’t find in places like New York or Chicago, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Seeking good examples in other urban spots is a great way for Detroit to bear witness to the possibilities that our vast space offers.

Detroit has a great spirit of urban renewal. I already mentioned the Detroit Riverfront and the Dequindre Cut. Both projects are being expanded and through initiatives like Link Detroit and Detroit Greenway Coalition that eventually hope to connect Eastern Market, Hamtramck, Midtown and The RiverWalk in a network of more than 10 miles of trails.

Walking the High Line reminded me that anything is possible in urban renewal. New York City is a different animal, but we should take the best ideas, modify them to work for us and run with them.

The future looks bright for urban renewal here in Detroit. The sheer magnitude of available space it one of our greatest resources. New York has run out of space.. but space is our meal ticket and our future.

High Line photos

People on the High Line pose for pictures

People on the High Line pose for pictures

Building-sized street art visible from the High Line

Building full of street art viewable from the High Line

People relaxing even in winter on the High Line

People relaxing in fall on the High Line

New york parking garage

A parking garage that mechanically stores your cars viewable from the High Line

On the High Line

On the High Line

Editorial note: This post is part of an ongoing series looking at New York and Detroit after one of our writers spent some time in the Big Apple. Top photo is credit Getty Images and used with license; photos below the story were taken by the author.

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