Reclaiming Spaces


While in NY, we saw two abandoned spaces being used in unusual ways: High Line Park and City Hall Station.

The High Line was an elevated train line through Chelsea that began operating in the 1930s. By the 60s, barely any trains were running on it (thanks to highways and trucking), and in the 80s, the train line was shut down entirely. Then the twenty year fight began: should the city destroy the High Line or try to make it useful again?

In the early naughts, the community began to talk about how they could reuse the space. In 2009, part of it reopened as an elevated park. Another section opened in 2010, and they continue to develop it.

The park runs several blocks, and there are benches, plants, a walkway, wonderful look outs, a performance space, and public art along the way. The design follows the railroad, and it’s a simply spectacular reuse of space. If you’re going to BEA, I highly recommend checking it out. It’ll be beautiful in May, and the High Line is only a few blocks from Javits.

(Image from the High Line gallery)

The second fascinating space that we saw was old City Hall Station. It was open from 1904 – 1945 and had a spectacular architectural design. Unfortunately, very few people used the stop, and the station was closed. The only people who’d ever see the ghost station were transit workers who’d take the 6 train on a loop through the station to return to the Brooklyn Bridge stop (the last official stop on the 6). Recently, the MTA began allowing passengers to stay on the 6 train while it made its loop so they could see the old station, which looks as it did when it was open. So Andrew and I rode the train all the way to the end of the line.

Everyone got off at Brooklyn Bridge except us. A transit worker stepped into the car and informed us we were at the last stop. I said, “Can we see City Hall Station?” She rolled her eyes and left the car. Andrew grinned and said, “Tourists!”

There’s nothing stranger than being the only riders on a NYC subway. As the train left the station, we started giggling because of how surreal it was. We didn’t even know which side City Hall Station would be on, so we split up to peer out of our respective windows.

Andrew saw it on his side, and I ran over to see the famous tile work on the platform leading up to the station. It was dark, and we rode through too fast to prep and take a photo, but it was beautiful.

City Hall Station, early 1900s. Library of Congress photo.

There’s something magical about the underground — the flip side of the world, the subconscious — where monsters and old dreams may lurk — and there’s nothing like a ghost station to whisper possibilities.

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
All Rights Reserved