Jul. 08, 2011

Sustainable NYC: The 1.45 Mile Long Recycling Project

by Jesse Medalia Strauss

Click to enlarge images

New York has taken several steps to make recycling easier and more efficient for all city dwellers. Recycling bins can be found in all major parks and hotspots. The city has mandated that all public schools must sort and recycle their trash. New York remains at the cusp of this reusing trend. There is no greater testament to New York's commitment to recycling than the 1.45 mile long and $152 million recycling project otherwise known as the High Line.

The High Line is an elevated park that runs from Gansevoort Street all the way to West 34th Street, mostly along 10th Avenue. It is cleverly nicknamed "the world's longest green roof" because that is essentially what it is.

The High Line is a fully functional park up in the air. As patrons walk up the long strip they enjoy the sights and smells of over 210 different plant species in section one and 157 in section 2. There are also breath taking views of the Hudson, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Midtown.

At first glance, though the High Line is certainly a green space, it does not appear to be an endeavor in recycling. On the contrary: the very concept of its design is based on the principles of reuse.

In 1934, the High Line opened as an elevated train line that connected factories and warehouses along the West Side for expedited shipping. It was built to avoid major accidents between the ground level freight trains, that were in place before, and street traffic. But as industry faded, trains begun to decline throughout the nation. By the end of the fifties, trucks became the preferred method of shipping and many train lines were abandoned. The High Line was no exception. The final train ran the High Line in 1980. Its cargo: three carloads of frozen turkeys.

Over the next two decades attempts were made to dismantle and demolish the High Line. Residents of the neighborhoods around the High Line formed Friends of the High Line, an organization advocating for the High Line's preservation and reuse. In 2002, New York City officially committed to preserving and reusing the High Line. Instead of demolishing and throwing out this perfectly good and reusable elevated line, the City of New York decided to add one more place to its growing list of parks.

After two decades of idleness, shrubs, grass and even trees had already sprouted all along the rails. Converting the abandoned railway into a public green space was the logical step.

Today sections 1 and 2 of the High Line are now open to the public. New Yorkers can see first hand what determined and creative recyclers can do with old and abandoned spaces.

The High Line's commitment to sustainability goes beyond the original recycling concept. The majority of the plants are native to New York and grown by local growers. The High Line employs a closed-circulation system for its water feature. This heavily reduces water waste. On-site composting facilities are being developed and no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used on the plants.

The High Line provides the same benefits as any green roof. Its design reduces storm runoff by as much as 80%. The plants provide a safe and rich habitat for birds, insects, and even fruit. All the materials, especially the wood, were selected for their durability and longevity, reducing waste that would result from replacements. The lights on the High Line are all LED. Thus they use little energy and do not cause glare. The plants are positioned and selected based on where natural light is strongest on the High Line and which plants benefit the most based on location.

A cornerstone of NYC's new environmental policy (Plan NYC) is to have every New Yorker live within a ten minute walk of a public park. Parks like the High Line improve air quality, create more green space and improve the overall health of the city as a whole. Aside from being a green space, perhaps the High Line's most important function is to allow New Yorkers to walk from Gansevoort to 34th Street while avoiding all those crosswalks. After all New Yorkers are the savviest walkers on the planet and always looking to cut around traffic.


About Jesse Medalia Strauss

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.