Last night I dropped in on the NYC LGBT Community Center Garden Party for about an hour, then explored the new northern extention of the High Line Park. Propinquity governs. A stairway to the High Line is conveniently located at 14th Street near Pier 54, where the Garden Party is held.
The Community Center Garden Party started off as a "real" Garden Party early in the history of the Center – a block party that was centered on the "garden" space at the west end of the Center on W. 13th Street. It was a genuine community event. Numerous community organizations had tables staffed with volunteers to talk about their organization and distribute flyers and other mementos, groups from the community performed on a makeshift stage, and box meals were distributed, which people consumed in their folding chairs or spread around through the Center. There was a home-like improvised feeling to the event and it was definitely the place to be that evening in the community.
As the Center's membership grew larger it became less practical to contain the event on half a block and, as the Center underwent renovation, the event had to be moved. For several years it occupied a playground a few blocks west, and continued to have the feeling of a community event with a stage, performers, lots of community groups staffing tables, and little by little participation by restaurants distributing snacks.
Then the event outgrew the playground and was moved several years ago to Pier 54. The community groups gradually disappeared, the stage eventually was abandoned, performers from the community disappeared, and the event morphed into a food-sampling festival. In other words, it is now a misnomer to call it a Garden Party and it has become a misnomer to call it a community event. It is a fund-raiser, pure and simple, crowded, with only the most vestigial connection to what it originally was. It has lapsed into formula and become, unfortunately, a crowded bore. I think last night's was the last one I will bother to attend.
On the other hand, the real highlight of the evening for me was exploring the new portion of the High Line. This park has been constructed on the remains of an old elevated railway line that used to accommodate freight trains bringing mainly produce and meat to the warehouses and other storage and processing facilities along the west side of Manhattan from midtown south to the Village. Railroad use was abandoned in the 1960s and the elevated tracks, abandoned, were largely left to rot. Some sections in the Village were dismantled as they appeared to became dangerous. Then a campaign was begun to reclaim the remaining portions as an elevated park. The first section, starting off in the northern end of the West Village and running up to 20th Street, was opened a few years ago, and this month the next section, running up to 30th Street, was opened.
The High Line is a startling and wonderful phenomenon. Urban architects have crafted a dazzling garden above the ground, incorporating remains of the old railroad tracks, adding observation decks, places to sit, water fountains, room for a very limited number of vendors — not enough to make it seem too commercial — and the staff has adopted rules sufficient to ensure a clean environment for quiet enjoyment. It has proved a very attractice facility for tourists and locals alike. Everybody seems relaxed and laid-back, there is much smiling and bemusement. It seems to be a particular draw for gay male couples, who can be seen strolling arm-in-arm. It is great for people-watching. It is far enough "out of the way" so as not to be totally overrun. It has sparked some new development in the surrounding area.
The northern extension carries on the fine work that was done on the first section, although it has a slightly different atmosphere because the 20s are more built-up than the teens. As a result, it is generally more narrow, there are fewer views west to the Hudson River because it is surrounded by more tall buildings. There are some interesting visual trade-offs. This section will be a bit quieter, I think, the first section, in some ways more relaxing.
One thing that the City has to do, I think, is to quickly pay attention to the dilapidated condition of the sidewalk on 30th Street west of 10th Avenue. Now that the northern terminus of the High Line is at 30th Street, there will be much more pedestrian traffic there, and the current condition of the sidewalk is abysmal and dangerous. Perhaps the Department of Transportation can spare a bit of attention to making the sidewalk an appropriate and safe way to get to the northern end of the High Line.