London’s High Line Will Echo Its New York Inspiration, With Local Notes

London’s High Line Will Echo Its New York Inspiration, With Local Notes
London’s High Line Will Echo Its New York Inspiration, With Local Notes

The derelict rail bridge stretches across a busy north London street, green foliage peeking out of the gaps between the beams overhead, where bright blue paint flakes from rusting steel.

Farther east, the railway’s grand Victorian-era arches span a small slice of park wedged between two streets, where tents belonging to homeless people, a discarded mattress and broken bottles are scattered about.

While the elevated train line and some of the areas it cuts through may look neglected now, if all goes according to plan, it will become the site of the Camden High Line, a planned public park that aims to turn this disused stretch of the city into a thriving green space.

“They’re all unloved bits of Camden,” said Simon Pitkeathley, the chief executive of Camden Town Unlimited, the business improvement district behind the initiative, of the areas that will one day provide the ground-level entrances to the High Line.

Strolling along the route of the planned park, which will sit some 25 feet above the streets, allows for a different view of London. Up here, the air feels fresher and the bustle below fades away as the view stretches over a patch of north London peppered with homes and office buildings.

The backers of the Camden High Line project, which carries an estimated price tag of 35 million pounds, or about $44.5 million, hope it will one day become a vibrant draw for both tourists and locals, bringing much-needed foot traffic to the area, much as its New York namesake has in the Chelsea neighborhood.

Rather than any attempt to disguise the inspiration, the London high line will have intentional echoes of the hugely successful one in New York.

It, too, harnesses a railway that has sat empty for decades, around 30 years in the case of the Camden line.

During a recent walking tour of the planned route, Mr. Pitkeathley pointed to a brick archway that will eventually have a sleek staircase rising through it, bringing visitors to the elevated park. Design drawings show Londoners strolling leafy walkways, past wildflower gardens and viewing platforms where they can admire the streetscapes.

The Camden High Line’s planned width varies greatly along its route, expanding more than 65 feet in some areas that used to be full station platforms, while shrinking to under 10 feet in other sections.

The project’s design team was headed by James Corner Field Operations, the lead architecture firm for the New York High Line, working with other designers as well as London-based social enterprises that helped consult residents on their vision for the park.

So while the links to the original High Line are clear — and hopes for the same success are front of mind — the design is adapted to serve the neighborhood where it sits, Mr. Pitkeathley said.

There are a number of differences, first among them an active train line running directly beside where the park will one day unfold.

Much of the surrounding area it passes through is publicly owned land filled with affordable housing, so both affluent and lower-income Londoners will benefit from proximity to the new green space, Mr. Pitkeathley said.

But it will still be some time before Londoners and visitors can enjoy the park.

Planning permission was given in January 2023 for the first section, running from Camden Gardens east to Royal College Street.

Construction will not begin until late 2025, with the first section of the High Line expected to open in early 2027, he added. Two additional sections are still years away.

Fund-raising is still underway, and Mr. Pitkeathley declined to say how much was left to raise.

But when the entire project is completed, it will wend its way for three-quarters of a mile east from Camden Town, already a popular destination, to King’s Cross, a transport hub and the site of another urban regeneration project.

The plan for the Camden High Line has already been applauded by lawmakers and conservation groups, including Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London; Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party; and the National Trust. But it is the opinions of those living locally that have been the focus of the planning team.

Lyn Walls, 57, lives in the Maiden Lane Estate, a residential complex with a mix of public and private housing, adjacent to where the easternmost section of the new park will eventually stand. For now, the only walkway that connects her home to the area directly to the west is a graffiti-riddled, badly lighted path.

The Camden High Line will eventually offer a walkable link to the neighborhoods to her west, she said. For now, Ms. Walls usually “takes the long way around” when walking there, she said, because of a secluded passageway that currently links the two areas.

“Going that way just isn’t appealing — it needs more lighting and just more people using it,” she said. The High Line, she added, “will make such a difference.”

On a recent winter afternoon, she was walking her dog with her two grandchildren and her daughter-in-law in an enclosed basketball court on the grounds of the complex. While there is a handful of green space dotting the area, Ms. Walls said the addition of the High Line would add much-needed park space.

At a cafe at the western end of the High Line’s route, Kiran Duggal, 25, and Barnaby Fishwick, 20, sipped coffee in the sun of a mild winter afternoon.

The friends, who work in a pub nearby, both said they were excited about the possibility of more green space and better walking routes.

“That will make life so much easier,” said Ms. Duggal, who lamented the lack of a good walkable route connecting the eastern and western parts of this area of London.

“Around north London, there are just so many dead sites,” Mr. Fishwick said, adding that he was eager for to see the new park come to life. “I do just love a good stroll.”