Last week, I walked the length of the new Highline Park - an unused rail line converted into half mile long waklway above the streets in Chelsea, New York City. I went expecting nothing more than a fun walk but left dreaming about the future of urban design, the synergy between nature and our built environment, and a new outlook on balance in our lives.
Highline Park isn't rocket science. It's just a strip of concrete and plants that repurpose a disused and unsightly vestige of a forgotten rail shipping economy of the early 20th century. But what it stands for, and how it makes you feel, is nothing short of a miracle.
The city noise fades away, replaced with the sun sparkling equally off the river and the windows of the buildings you weave between. Water fountains drain directly into the ground, nourishing both the drinker and the surrounding grasses and shrubs. People chat quietly in front of a windowed amphitheater looking directly down 10th Avenue, as the infinite skyline of Manhattan transforms from everyday life into a mere painting of it.
Urban parks are supposed to be an escape from the concrete and steel jungle of our modern metropolises, not a celebration of them. You can admire the sculpted landscape of Central Park, but it's always with a certain hesitation. There, airplanes and car horns shatter the illusion of solitude and nature. In Highline Park, they go unnoticed.
The relationship with nature for those living in big cities is a very all or nothing experience. You're either amongst the bustle, exhaust, and concrete of the real world, or in a thinly walled sanctuary that's meant to provide a temporary respite.
Rather than hiding you from it, Highline travels through the built environment in a way that, paradoxically, feels more natural and allows for a greater appreciation of both aspects of the world as it has come to be.
We don't need more once a week escapes in life - we need more daily balance. We need more parks like Highline.