There are many names for green spaces built on old rail lines: rail-trail, linear park, elevated park and aerial park, or linear greenway, aerial garden …. You get the idea! I can’t decide which one sounds best, so I’ll mix things up a bit.
While people use many names to describe these unique elevated parks, they’re a relatively new creation borne of the need to do something useful with abandoned rail lines in big cities. Aerial gardens and trails are a great solution. After all, big cities need every bit of green space they can get, especially when it comes to fighting the heat island effect. So, let’s take a look at the new history of old rail lines in big cities.
Promenade Plantée in Paris, France
The Promenade Plantée is an aerial garden that follows an old rail line in Paris, the Vincennes, which stopped operation in 1969. While part of that line became a section of the RER, another part was abandoned for several years. In the 1980s, things starting turning around for the area surrounding the forgotten rail lines, and now visitors (and even moviemakers) now enjoy the world’s first aerial park.
The Promenade Plantée was the only elevated park anywhere from 1993 until the first phase of New York City’s High Line opened in 2010. In fact, it was the Promenade Plantée that inspired the High Line!
Promenade Plantée at a glance:
- Length: 2.8 miles
- Height: 32 feet above ground
- Plant life: loads of vegetation like bamboo, honeysuckle, wild moss, and trees including lime, cherry, holly and quince
- Scenery during walk: tunnels, trenches, embankments, reproduction of Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave” at police headquarters, Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts Church
- Trivia: Featured in the 2004 film “Before Sunset”
High Line in New York City
In 1980, the final train ran on the freight rail line that is now the High Line elevated park that rises above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It’s America’s first aerial park! Built on the rail lines that carried freight starting in 1934, the High Line opened to the public in sections between June 2009 and June 2011. A final section of the tracks, High Line at the Rail Yards, will open in 2014.
High Line at a glance:
- Length: 1.45 miles long, with one mile currently open
- Height: 30 feet above ground
- Plant life: 300 species of grasses, shrubs, perennials and trees, including colorful beauties like the Mars Midget pincushion plant
- Scenery during walk: NYC energy, including the people, streets, buildings and traffic
- Trivia: The last train that ran on the railway carried three carloads of frozen turkeys.
Future Aerial Gardens
Several cities are making big plans to construct rail-trails on elevated structures similar to the High Line. Chicago is one of those cities with their Bloomingdale Line, a 2.7-mile elevated railroad that may soon be an elevated park. The rail line was constructed in 1873, and was used for both passengers and freight. The proposed three-mile-long linear park and trail, which is scheduled to open by fall of 2014, will be called The Bloomingdale. Other cities making plans for aerial parks include St. Louis, Philadelphia and Jersey City. It sounds like the history of aerial parks is just starting to unfold!
Have you visited an aerial garden? Are you more likely to enjoy walking in an elevated park instead of a more down-to-earth park?
Aerial Parks: A New History of Old Rail Lines by Brent Hardy