Building The High Line In London

New York’s High Line is one of the most successful redevelopment projects in recent urban history. A mile-long section of a former elevated freight railway that was mothballed in the 1980s, it re-opened in 2009 as an urban park, and has become a huge hit with both tourists and Manhattanites alike: a project that has been a catalyst for regeneration, and one so successful that it has begun to attract a critical backlash.

London doesn’t want for disused infrastructure, which got us wondering: could our city have its own High Line? Turns out we weren’t the only ones pondering the idea: in early October the Garden Museum is running a High Line Symposium, at which the project’s founders will visit London and discuss how they brought it to fruition. Simultaneously, the Mayor’s office is launching A High Line for London: Green Infrastructure Ideas for a New London Landscape, an open competition to “design innovative new places that enrich London’s Infrastructure”.

The competition’s organisers “are not seeking a replica of the High Line”, but we thought it’d be interesting to consider where it might work in London. Add your own suggestions in the comments.

Broad Street viaduct

What is it? The truncated southern stretch of the old Broad Street – Watford line, which closed in 1986. Much of the Kingsland Viaduct (which itself would’ve made a good candidate) was re-opened as part of the East London line extension in 2010, but the original terminus was at the now-demolished Broad Street station. There remains a derelict rump just north of the Broadgate Tower that extends as far as Great Eastern Street.

Why it’ll work: This long-neglected stretch of railway could soon  be emerging from its early retirement. Renderings for a proposed tower on Great Eastern Street show the Broad Street viaduct as an urban park.

Why it won’t: The project has yet to be approved, and use of the park may be limited to residents only.

Bishopsgate Goods Yard

What is it? Next to Shoreditch High Street station, the former Bishopsgate Goods Yard has an elevated section, the Braithwaite Viaduct, running between Bishopsgate and Brick Lane.

Why it’ll work: Plans have been lodged with Tower Hamlets for some years to make the old goods yard the centrepiece of a green strip running between the City and Allan Gardens. It’s a perfect spot for an urban park, in an area popular with tourists and locals.

Why it won’t: Given the proximity to the Square Mile and the the gentrification of Spitalfields over the past decade, the land is highly valuable. More Boxpark-like endeavours that exploit the area’s high footfall and wealthy visitors may appeal more to planners and council members than a park. Parts of the viaduct are listed, which may reduce opportunities for development.

Limehouse curve

What is it? Formerly part of the London and Blackwall Railway (LBR), the Limehouse curve closed in 1962. While much of the LBR has since been re-used for the Docklands Light Railway, the Limehouse curve, consisting of a short viaduct and an iron bridge over Commercial Road, remains derelict.

Why it’ll work: There are already a couple of plans knocking about to convert the bridge into a park. A project on Spacehive is seeking crowd funding, while a quixotic page on the What If website has details of how it might work.

Why it won’t: Even Limehouse locals would probably concede that their patch of the capital isn’t the most beautiful. Would there be much appeal in elevated views of Commercial Road?

Rail bridge over Waterloo Road

What is it? A bridge that once carried a railway linking the platforms at Waterloo station with the Charing Cross – London Bridge line. The link was severed in the 1950s, and the bridge is now used for storage.

Why it’ll work: It would be quite easy to clear out and re-purpose.

Why it won’t: Does anybody really want a view of Waterloo Road? It might work as a coffee shop or cafe, but nothing more.

The Westway

What is it? A raised concrete dual carriageway that links central London with the A40, much beloved of British bands and dystopian novelists.

Why it’ll work: It would offer choice views of some picturesque parts of London, including Little Italy and the Paddington Basin.

Why it won’t: Last time we checked it was chock-full of cars, and without a substantial municipal shift away from the automobile, the Westway’s future as a major conduit into the capital is pretty much secured. Besides, there’s the problem of the Ballardian scenario that awaits anybody foolish enough to fall over the edge.

Hammersmith Flyover

What is it? Structurally-imperiled elevated road that lifts traffic clear across the congested Hammersmith gyratory system.

Why it’ll work: The flyover isn’t in great shape, and despite recent reinforcement work the long-term future looks bleak. Ideas for alternative schemes are already being entertained, including a tunnel. Instead of demolishing the flyover it would be relatively simple to turn it into an elevated urban park.

Why it won’t: Locals might object to what many consider a blighted concrete eyesore being left in place when its prime purpose has been removed. Also, the tunnel idea is at best many years away from ever coming to fruition.

Aldwych tunnel

What is it? We’re cheating a little here, but instead of building above ground, why not below it? The Aldwych Tram tunnel runs between Southampton Row and Aldwych, and was closed in the 1950s; today it’s used by Transport for London as a storage facility and hosts the occasional artwork.

Why it’ll work: It’s in a central London location and, given the right kind of work, could be made into a beguiling place to visit. Being underground might be a disadvantage, but would make it an all-weather attraction.

Why it won’t: It’s a bit dingy down there, and it might take a lot of work (and artificial foliage) to convert it into a park that people would actually enjoy using. Also, the tunnel is currently being used as an access point during the Crossrail tunnelling project.

Here’s one we made earlier:  Parkland walk

What is it? A railway  from Finsbury Park to Muswell Hill that was mothballed in the 1950s and converted into an walking route in the 1980s.

Why it’ll work: It already does — the Parkland Walk is hugely popular among locals.

Why it won’t: There are sporadic campaigns to re-open the railway line, but it has no serious level of support.

Photo credits: Westway by ChrisHammersmith Flyover by Patche99z

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  • James Miller

    Until 1944, there used to be a walkway between Hackney Central and Hackney Downs stations at I think track level with what is now the Overground. There is still space for it and it would greatly improve the transport infrastructure by enabling journeys like Edmonton/Tottenham to Camden and Stratford. It would be the start of a proper transport interchange at Hackney.

  • David Winter

    In the ‘Here’s one we made earlier’ section you could also have included The Greenway. It’s constructed on the embankment containing the Northern Outfall Sewer rather than an old railway line, but you’ve already bent the rules yourself.

  • CanAmSteve

    Under the Westway at Edgware Road would be a fantastic place to have a street market. It’s a dead, windswept place now but with minor changes could be as vibrant as the similar Ladbroke Grove area. The junction has a desolate subway that would also be reinvigorated if there was more commercial activity. There is currently a market on Church Street just north of here, which is cramped and not particularly nice and simply clogs up what could be a usable street. Why not use this larger “dead” space instead?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mjj12 Michael Jennings

    When talking about this plan, one should always mention the Promenade plantee in Paris, which is the same idea (abandoned elevated railway turned into urban park), came first, is somewhat longer, and was an inspiration for the High Line in New York. What the two have in common is that they are both wonderful uses of space. (If you watch Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke go for a walk on it at one point of the movie).

    Sadly, though, I think what the above list demonstrates is that we don’t actually have any abandoned elevated railways in London that are long and interesting enough to have such a similar development here. The Broad Street viaduct in its entirely would have done wonderfully, but (as the article says) since it has been restored and once again has trains on it, that is now out.

  • chrisphillers

    Ive thought the same thing for years (about Broad Street viaduct), also the tunnels beneath it are perfect for an east end old vic tunnels/independant shop/bar mall, however we all know what will actually happen. It will get knocked down and be a skyscraper/housing development. The land is just too valuable/close to the city.

  • i-say

    Not at high level but is there any news on the progress of the Thames to Stratford walk (The Fatwalk)? Perhaps Boris & the GLA think they have done enough for East London regeneration.

  • http://twitter.com/footprintsldn Footprints of London

    During the 60s and 70s plans were made for a pedway connecting all the City buildings above street level. Not much of it left now, but the bits that exist around Bishopsgate and Lower Thames Street could be revamped as urban gardens and footpaths

  • Gordon Joly

    La Promenade Plantée, in Paris, is a 4.5km long elevated garden along a disused railway viaduct.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hellkatjen Jennifer Hellkat Sano

    Finally! A use for that most hateful of “roads” … Chiswick Flyover :)

  • James Balston

    As others have already mentioned, the Paris example came long before New York’s and is stunning. Back then, before the East London Line was rebuilt, I always thought that London could do something similar on that stretch of track between Shoreditch & Dalston. Some of the other suggestions sound good, but none is very long. Isn’t there also a disused stretch branching off the line between London Bridge & Waterloo East? Love the Hammersmith flyover suggestion – could be a real hanging garden with creepers flowing over the edge of it. As for the Kingsway tramline, I saw an interesting proposal a while ago to convert the open entrance sloping part into a lido.

  • Slugabed

    I’ve long had the idea of planting a linear orchard alongside the East Coast Mainline in the Holloway Rd/Hornsey Rd area.This used to be six tracks but now is only four,leaving a broad swathe of empty land alongside the existing railway.

  • Jillyfish

    Love it: an article on where Boris can stick his eco-project! I’ve covered “the highline effect” here: http://www.styleseed.co.uk

  • Camburnsmith

    Its Building is so awesome and Mind Blowing Huge.
    http://intensedebate.com/people/DorisHanson