It’s hard for me to believe that I can offer anything about the New York High Line that someone else with a better knowledge base, commitment to the city, or insider’s connections hasn’t already said. It may still rank as the country’s premier greening of formerly neglected space in the past decade—a worthy successor to Chicago’s Millennium Park, certainly in terms of the PR campaign that emerged after the High Line’s first phase opened in 2009. (By most metrics, it’s the second of its kind in the world, predated only by Paris’s Promenade Plantée…a similar repurposing of abandoned elevated rail that Parisians have enjoyed for nearly 25 years.)
I first visited only after moving back to the East Coast two years ago—as is typical, I’m still just catching up—but I’ve explored regularly since then, witnessing its seasonal metamorphosis, its expansion northward, the accumulation of new art installations, the creeping commodification and commercialization. But, until a few weeks ago, I had never seen anything like this:
Yes, we’re witnessing someone toting a reasonably large suitcase through the High Line—a linear park elevated 30 feet above Manhattan’s streets. It defies most logical arguments. But notice that I only said “most”. I can still think of a few scenarios where this might be plausible:
- The woman found one of the five elevators or the ramp at the northern trailhead and used it to ascend the High Line, meaning she could always wheel the suitcase along behind her.
- She had to get somewhere quickly and decided that the elevated status of the High Line would channel her away from busy intersections along 10th Avenue, and it may actually be faster passing through the Chelsea neighborhood than dealing with all the stop lights and pedestrian signals.
- She needed the content of the suitcase to do something that she purposefully sought to do on the High Line.
Notice that I used the adjective “plausible” rather than “practical”. Each one of those scenarios crumbles if we hold them to greater scrutiny.
- While it’s possible the woman could have schlepped the thing up one of the stairs, even if she chose to do this, the stairways are relatively uncommon, and the elevators (which obviously would make it much easier) are even harder to come by. The odds that these access points not only would synchronize with her desired goals are slim…as is the likelihood that the very act of ascending/descending wouldn’t cost enough extra time to nullify the effort.
- You don’t typically take the High Line if you’re in a hurry. I was lucky to get capture precious few people in my photo. Most of the High Line is crowded, particularly on a summer Sunday afternoon, but really not much better any other time of the year. With over five million annual visitors, it’s hard to imagine the throngs that are glutting a generally narrow path would make this a faster trajectory than the city sidewalks below, especially when Manhattan is at its sparsest on summer weekends, when everyone’s at the shore. And she’s hauling a suitcase along, for crying out loud.
- Carrying a wheeled item in a crowded area with few points of egress is weird, even suspicious. The High Line strictly forbids bicycles and in-line skates, so one could imagine a liberal application of the rules would restrict suitcases too…if people ever actually tried bringing them up on a regular basis. Post-9/11 neuroses mean people with suitcases in unlikely places could easily arouse enough concern that someone contacts security to intervene.
In short, it’s completely bonkers to have a suitcase on the High Line. Unless, of course, this woman is simply seeking attention among a captive, diverse, generally packed-in audience. If this is the case, clearly I’ve gratified her through this photo. And, in the meantime, she’s embodied another example of why this contraption is such a resounding success. The opportunities for people-watching are phenomenal. Great for exhibitionists too.