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HIGH LINE STORIES: Realizing a dream…


Joshua David (L) and Robert Hammond (R) with High Line supporter, Ethan Hawke

Sundancechannel.com recently caught up with the very busy co-founders of Friends of the High Line, Robert Hammond and Joshua David, whose vision is captured in the Sundance Channel Original Series HIGH LINE STORIES.

The beautiful High Line is now open (see New York Times Architecture Review) and in Part 3 of our conversation (click here if you missed Part 1 and Part 2) Robert and Josh detail the mission of the Friends of the High Line going forward.

Sundancechannel.com: For many years, there didn’t seem to be a lot of better-known architects clamoring to design in NYC – but now there seem to be many new buildings…such as the Frank Gehry building… springing up around the High Line.

Joshua David: Well, it’s something that when we originally started thinking about the High Line project that we hoped would happen – that the innovative concept of the High Line itself – taking this old rail structure and using it as a park – and that the really creative and inspiring design of the High Line itself by James Corner, Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro would inspire developers and architects who were working around it to pursue a similarly ambitious and creative vision. And we hoped that would happen – and the thing that has been really gratifying is to see it actually happen – that a large number of the new buildings that are being built now around the High Line are by interesting architects who are pursuing new ways of approaching residential or commercial construction that I think are a real addition to the building environment of this neighborhood. So it’s another way that we’ve been fortunate and that the High Line project has been a real success.

Sundancechannel.com: There were so many beautiful wild flowers and plants on the High Line when Joel Sternfeld photographed it in 2000 – how much, if any, of the original wild plants that had taken root up there were able to be kept?

Joshua David: We had, in order to do all the repairs that were necessary to the structure – we had to clear away everything that was on top – the tracks, the ballast, the things that were growing up there. We’d originally hoped that we might be able to save some of it but we couldn’t. So what we’ve done is, in re-planting it, after all the repairs and designing and the new park landscaping –we’ve used many of the same plants that were originally up there and also added some different plants – there were some plants that you wouldn’t want to incorporate into a new landscape – invasives that had self-seeded up there that would eventually take over the whole place. So we removed those and didn’t put those back in – we put some of the plants that were there back in and added a whole bunch of others to insure that it had a really wonderful season of display – any time that you go up there there’ll be something different that’s of visual interest – whether it’s blooms or leaf color or branch structure. So it’s very much inspired by the original landscape – but it’s been taken a few steps beyond it.

Sundancechannel.com: What kind of irrigation system, if any, will be put in place?

Joshua David: The planting designer who chose the plants for the High Line, Piet Oudolf, a planting designer from The Netherlands, his preferred way of planting and having gardeners then manage his plantings is to have much of them be hand watered – not with irrigation systems. It’s partly for the plants to really set roots and become self-sufficient and seek out moisture themselves and also to build the sense of relationship and attention that the gardener has with the landscape. Instead of just flipping a switch and it gets watered, they’re paying attention to what actually needs water and what doesn’t and only watering when it needs it and then that ends up with a healthier, stronger plant that ultimately needs less watering. That said, because the soil depth is very shallow, in much of the High Line it’s only about a foot to 18 inches deep depending on where you are – which means that it dries very quickly. So areas where there are trees, we do have irrigation systems installed because the trees require more water.

Sundancechannel.com: What kind of involvement will Friends of the High Line continue to have with the completed park going forward?

Joshua David: Our organization takes a new step when the High Line opens in that we formally become partners with the City of New York… we become an organization like a conservancy, like the Central Park Conservancy. Essentially, we enter into a legal agreement with the City that requires us to raise funds to maintain and operate the park and also gives us the responsibility to do that with our staff under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department. It’s their property – they own it – but we’re the non-profit group that raises money for it and hires the staff to maintain and operate it. So going forward, our job is by no means done. It’s really just beginning because from now forward, every year, Friends of the High Line will need to come up with the funds that are necessary to maintain and operate the High Line and manage the staff that does so.

Sundancechannel.com: President Obama has asked Americans to volunteer in their communities more often – will there be opportunities for New Yorkers or visitors to New York City to volunteer on the High Line?

Robert Hammond: We pride ourselves on this whole organization having been built on volunteers!! And we will continue with many opportunities for people who want to volunteer…there will be opportunities to help in many areas – lots of educational opportunities. We are really excited about the community spirit that has surrounded the High Line project so far – and are look forward to seeing it grow as we open the park.

Sundancechannel.com: What are the projected dates of opening the High Line?

Joshua David: The only one that has any sort of solidity in it is the opening of Section 1 – we’re working towards right now – which is from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street. We’re working toward opening that in the first half of June. Section 2, which is under construction right now, will open approximately 12 months after that. Section 3 we’re still fighting to preserve. It’s not yet saved from 30th Street to 34th Street – that’s the part that the City of New York does not yet own and which is part of a major re-development project being conducted by the MTA (Metro Transit Authority) and the City of New York and a private developer. So we’re working to get all of those parties together to nail down a real commitment to save the High Line on that site.

Sundancechannel.com: And, finally, how can people who are interested in the High Line get involved?

Robert Hammond: If you go on our website, we have a membership program and you can become a member – there are all sorts of different price levels – or you can just sign up for our email newsletter, which is free, and get regular updates on the High Line or you can sign up to be a volunteer – you can do all of that on our website.

Learn More:

Watch HIGH LINE STORIES now!

Get Involved with Friends of the High Line

Check out our Photo Gallery

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of our conversation with Robert and Joshua