joshua david, high line co-founder and cyclist

photo: velojoy

One of my favorite spots for a walk in New York City is the High Line, the park on an elevated rail bed that runs along Manhattan’s West Side from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street. Every time I’m up there, enjoying swaths of beautiful native plantings, inviting promenades and intriguing city and river views, I think with gratitude of Joshua David (above) and Robert Hammond, the visionary co-founders of Friends of the High Line.

In my mind, of course, seeing New York City from a different point of view, which is central to the High Line experience, invites parallels with riding a bicycle. So, it was fun to learn that David, in addition to — or rather in sync with — his commitment to preservation, is a city cyclist and an advocate for liveable streets as a member of the advisory council of  Transportation Alternatives, the cycling and pedestrian advocacy organization. I photographed David with the Raleigh Grand Prix that he has owned since the late 1970s, in Chelsea near Section 2 of the High Line.

The story of how two neighborhood residents, with no prior experience in civic engagement, became enamored of an historic, 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure and committed to save it from demolition for public use as a park, is one of the great examples of community activism and advocacy of recent times. That’s why it’s been a particular joy to read David’s and Hammond’s newly published book, High Line, The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky.

It was the industrial charm of High Line’s street-level architecture that led David, who, as a journalist, was researching an article about real estate development in Chelsea in 1999, to look up and ask:

“Wouldn’t it be cool to walk around up there, twenty-two city blocks, on this old elevated thing, on this relic of another time, in this hidden place, up in the air?”

From the outside looking in, the question is, “How’d they do it?” The story, which unfolds in an appealingly conversational format alternating between co-founders David and Hammond, is a compelling study in navigating a labyrinth of political hurdles and a sea of red tape to thoughtfully, collaboratively and with an uncompromising focus on quality bring a remarkable vision to life. Section 1 of the High Line opened in June 2009. The book also includes a beautiful selection of photographs that chronicle the history and development of the High Line.

Back on street level in Chelsea with David, the preservationist says he gives thought periodically to buying a new hybrid bicycle. However, his loyalty to the Raleigh has thus far overridden the impulse. “It’s developed a patina,” David says with a smile, sweeping a hand across the “distressed” top tube of a classic bicycle in the shadow of what used to be another relic: the High Line.

High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky, Farar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Purchase the book from the High Line web store, and all proceeds go toward maintenance and operation of the park.

You can’t ride your bike on the High Line, but you can park it it style. This handsome, lighted rack is situated below the southerly staircase.

Flowers peek from remnant rail tracks. Viewing the changes of seasons through plantings that include 200 species of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and trees is among the bountiful pleasures of walking on the High Line.

One of my favorite features of Section 2 of the High Line, the stretch from 20th to 30th Street that opened last June, is the artful feeder (above) for birds, butterflies and insects constructed primarily of aluminum by sculptor Sarah Sze.

photos: velojoy

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