Urban Greenspace From An Old Railroad Track

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New York High Line

New York High Line; turning old, disused infrastructure into public green space and pedestrian-friendly access. (image: http://nyclovesnyc.blogspot.ca/ )

My ancestors came from Holland in the mid-1600s and settled in New York City. When I learned that, I had to find out what Manhattan was like back then. I was not surprised to find that what are now the five boroughs were rich ecosystems of forests, rivers, wetlands and rolling hills filled with wildlife. Native people sustained themselves on the bounty.

Today, New York is filled with skyscrapers, infrastructure and people of many backgrounds. Quite different now built up with commerce and culture. In a small way, though, New York and many other cities around the world are working towards bringing the green back. Parks, nature preserves and street plantings are popping up to benefit residents as well as the planet.

The High Line

In Manhattan, the High Line, an abandoned, elevated rail track, is being converted to a public park. In the 1990s, after trains had not run for almost 20 years, neighbors lobbied to build an open space along the historical railroad. It is coming together slowly. Construction began in April 2006, the first section opened three years later, and the second section, two years after that.

This month, another phase is opening. Residents and visitors can walk or bike for 22 blocks thirty feet above the city. There are places to view and learn about native plants, and read about the history of the High Line. Bench seating offers places to relax and enjoy the views of the city and the Hudson River. Seasonal, open-air cafes have fresh food, and there are places to picnic.

High line nyc city greenspace

New York City High Line; a part of a strategy to create a city designed for people (image: Xauxa Håkan Svensson)

Green space benefits

Environmentally, urban green spaces have many benefits. They reduce the heat island effect caused by concrete and structures acting as thermal mass, absorbing and radiating heat. Plants convert CO2 into oxygen, filter air and water pollutants, and reduce storm run-off and flooding. Native plants increase biodiversity by attracting native wildlife and pollinators.

City dwellers also benefit from green space. It has been shown that people with access to green spaces enjoy sustained mental health. For locals in the neighborhood, a park gives a sense of community pride. People feel good about themselves when they are surrounded by beauty and nature, instead of just high-rises and sidewalks. They experience less stress, too.

Physically, fresh air, sunshine and exercise (walking, biking, playing sports) are good for our bodies. Connecting with nature can be an educational experience for children and adults alike. Just being outside puts them in touch with the climate and the seasons. They can learn about native plants and wildlife, too.

Get involved

Manhattan will never be the forest it was 500 years ago, but any addition of green space is welcome. There are many benefits to creating parks for city residents. I am glad to see history and nature blending to become a public park.

Encourage your city to build more green spaces – parks, food forests, nature preserves. Get involved with your native plant society and city planners to transform unused areas for the health and well-being of residents, visitors and the environment.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.