New York and Chicago are often pitted as rivals with regards to parkland acreage (38,060 acres vs. 11,959 acres, equating to 4.5 and 4.2 acres per 1,000 residents, respectively), and this month was no different. Last week both cities released designs to the community for the next latest and greatest thing in the park world — elevated rail trails — and the designs couldn’t be more different.
New York’s High Line has been generating buzz since before its 2009 opening, and the overwhelming success of its first two phases (there were 3,000,000 visitors in 2011) have kept the public anxiously awaiting the last and final phase. Held up by land ownership issues and fundraising nightmares in a struggling economy, Friends of the High Line scored an amazing win last fall with a record-setting $20 million donation from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, the single largest donation ever made to a New York City park. The generous gift helped build up the park’s endowment and also paid for the design of the last section.
Phase III of the High Line, the last half-mile segment of the abandoned rail line, differs from the first two phases in that it is being constructed simultaneously with Hudson Yards, the 12 million square foot office and residential complex. The park will be fully built out on the majority of the eastern section of the historic railway, and an interim walkway will be built over the western section. The park will wrap about the redevelopment and will feature either amphitheater-style seating or an open gathering space with plantings, a spiraling “Guggenheim-esque” staircase providing access to the street level, Play Beams for children, walking paths, and the ever popular “peel-up benches” that are in the first two phases.
The estimated total cost of capital construction on the High Line at the rail yards is $90 million, with $38 million already raised by the conservancy. A zoning text amendment is already in the works to set a framework and cover approximately 30% of the estimated total cost. Construction is expected to begin this year and finish by the end of 2013, with a full public opening in spring 2014.
Unlike the High Line, Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail and Park will be a multi-use trail as well as a destination linear park. Steadily moving ahead despite fundraising challenges, the design plan for the entire 2.7-mile elevated rail trail was released last week, and included addressing the conflicting needs between speeding cyclists and slow-moving pedestrians. While the High Line bans dogs, skateboarders, cyclists, and runners, the Bloomingdale Trail and Park will be an arterial connecting four different neighborhoods and providing alternative modes of transportation for commuters.
In addition to its urban views, the Bloomingdale Trail and Park would keep its retaining walls as a linear gallery with colorful murals and gritty graffiti. There will be eight access points to the trail, spaced roughly a half-mile apart, and five of the entryways will be from ground-level parks. Instead of modernistic stairways, berms would form gentle upward slopes from two of the parks, another two parks would have entries as ramps, and the last park would be an L-shaped berm at the trail’s western end. The multi-use path would be 14 feet wide and have gentle curves and dips to serve multiple purposes, including ever-changing views for pedestrians and speed bumps for cyclists. Trees and shrubs would also serve triple duty by providing shade, habitat for birds, and a separation zone for the pedestrians and bike path. In fact, Chicagoans are so concerned about this separation (to avoid a repeat of the pedestrian-cyclist disasters that plague the Lakefront Trail), that there is a proposal for 1.5 miles of pedestrian pathways that would run parallel to the multi-use trail. Of course there still needs to be room for the benches, art, and lighting on the 30-foot-wide trail.
So far more than $37 million has been secured in federal anti-congestion and air-quality funding for the project’s $46 million first phase, with the remaining $7 million to come from the private sector (Exelon Foundation is said to be giving $5 million, their largest single grant, while Boeing and CNA are each donating $1 million) and $2 million from the Chicago Park District. Construction is expected to begin as early as next year, with the park opening in phases in fall 2014.
The High Line may only be 1.45 miles long, but it offers New York residents and visitors a completely different park perspective, a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of urban living. The Bloomingdale Trail and Park, twice as long as the High Line, will be Chicago’s first elevated park and the longest elevated park anywhere in the world, and will offer its residents and visitors a connection to different neighborhoods and transportation opportunities toward and out of downtown.