Bloomingdale-Trail-ARUP-2

The 606 (Chicago)
Image ©Arup, Ross Barney Architects,
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

New York City’s High Line is the product of years of advocacy, fundraising, and sheer will on the part of its founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond and many others (for the whole story, read the book). The High Line, inspired by predecessors such as the Promenade Plantée in Paris, has likewise inspired many. New rail-to-linear-park projects have the benefit of following the High Line’s immense success, but also the imperative to build on this success.

Here are three things that residents, planners, and advocates in Philadelphia, Chicago, and just across the East River from the High Line in Queens are doing to improve on the urban rail-to-linear-park concept:

1.    Increasing green space for residents

Philadelphia’s planned Rail Park intends to provide green space for existing and new residents in adjacent neighborhoods. Sarah Goodyear, in a recent article for NextCity.org, describes that one advantage of the existing rail set to be converted into a park near Center City Philadelphia is its size – with four tracks, the extant rail is nearly twice the width of the High Line, and the intended three-phase build-out includes a length that spans approximately 3 miles (twice the High Line’s 1.45 miles). Chicago’s planned Bloomingdale Trail, part of The 606, is similarly about 3 miles long, while the QueensWay has the longest potential span, approximately 3.5 miles. While additional width and length alone are not a recipe for greater success, creating a larger amount of park space, particularly in a linear fashion through a larger number of city neighborhoods, will increase the number of residents and visitors (both human and non-human!) able to access the new green space.

 2.    Connecting existing park spaces, neighborhoods, and cultural institutions

Another goal of rail-to-linear-park plans following the High Line is to (through the use of extant rail infrastructure and design) connect existing park spaces, neighborhoods, and cultural institutions (not an explicit goal of the High Line, whose map is decidedly inward-focused). In the (2013) QueensWay Existing Conditions Survey, the Trust for Public Land describes the vision for the QueensWay as “an elevated cultural greenway that would connect Rego Park and Ozone Park and all communities in between.” Aside from a new public space for members of diverse communities such as Rego Park and Richmond Hill, the proposed QueensWay would provide a direct walking and bicycling connection for these and other neighborhoods to the over 500-acre Forest Park, which the New York City Parks Department dubs “a mix of natural treasures and manmade prizes.” Objective 4 in Chicago’s plan for the Bloomingdale Trail is to “integrate access to the Bloomingdale into transportation, park, and social infrastructure.” To meet this objective, three existing parks will become access points, and two new “entry parks” will be created (see map of Proposed Site Plan & Access Points). Philadelphia’s Rail Park plans focus on connections to historic Fairmount Park and cultural institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 3.    Designing and planning to embody culture

Each of the rail-to-linear-park plans discussed above recognizes the need to design and plan new parks and trails to appeal to and engage residents across the whole city. Sarah Goodyear notes that, in opposition to the sleek and glamorous High Line, “keeping things down-to-earth and authentically Philly” is important to Philadelphia’s Rail Park project. Chicago’s project is being called “the Millennium Park for the neighborhoods,” and the recent re-naming effort, from “The Bloomingdale Trail” to “The 606,” represents inclusion of the first three digits of all Chicago zip codes. The QueensWay is envisioned as literal and figurative bridge between communities, and Friends of the QueensWay intend the new linear park to “celebrate the rich cultural diversity” of surrounding communities and nearby cultural organizations and institutions.

Julia Triman, Biophilic Cities Project Researcher 

Julia is a masters candidate in Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.