Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The High Line is catalyzing real estate development in Manhattan, the New York Times reported recently. If you're unfamiliar with the High Line, it's a section of abandoned elevated rail in Manhattan once destined for demolition, but owing to an amazing grassroots campaign is now set to become one of the most unique open spaces in America and an important landmark for New York City.

You may not have heard of the Chicago & North Western rail line, but surely you've seen it. It's a section of abandoned rail that runs through downtown Elgin. I think of it as Elgin's High Line. Over the past hundred and some years, buildings have gone up around it in unusual shapes to accomodate its path. But recently, buildings such as the Centre have been planted right on top of it. And while the Grand Victoria respected the old line, River Park Place did not. The line has now been broken into three sections, as you can see in the above picture. The upper and the lower sections should at this point, I think, be a low priority for preservation, but the middle section is something we ought to preserve and develop.

A few months ago, I noticed that a Highland Avenue homeowner had blocked up part of the line with a water feature and other landscape elements (pictured in the first three pictures of the top row below). When I asked him about his right to build such features on top of the line, he said he'd purchased the property from the railroad company. It makes me nervous that people could be legally choking up this landmark. I would like to see the city work to preserve and develop the remaining middle section. It can be something really beautiful, a landmark that catalyzes development along its path, just like the High Line in NYC. Nicely paved and landscaped, it would be a perfect way for restaurants, cafes and beer gardens to offer outdoor seating in a space relatively protected from street traffic. It would be a nice way to walk from one end of downtown to the other. And it would be something to behold when you drive by and catch a glimpse of a park that runs through the city.


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