June 23, 2017

Beyond the High Line: 8 linear parks that have transformed cities

When aging infrastructure is revamped into public green space

The U.S. is full of jaw-dropping parks, from expansive National Parks like the Grand Canyon to carefully cultivated botanical gardens like Portland’s Japanese Garden. But one of the most unique green spaces in cities is the linear park.

Longer than they are wide, linear parks take people on a journey through the city. They can be as short as a few blocks—even the expanse of a single bridge—or as long as several miles, but linear parks differ from traditional green spaces thanks to their proportions. They often serve as a link in a city’s plans to boost alternative transportation, a thoroughfare carrying pedestrians, rollerbladers, bikers and more.

In traveling from one block or neighborhood to the next, people see the city from a different lens when they use a linear park. This is especially true because many linear parks are repurposed from elevated historic rail lines or highways, transforming infrastructure into a space for recreation.

Although the difference between a linear park and a trail or bike path can get a bit confusing, linear parks aren’t only used for transportation. The parks have overlooks, playgrounds, art installations and places to picnic; these are spaces that encourage both movement and relaxation.

And because it is nearly impossible to carve out more Central Parks in dense cities across the country, linear parks are an excellent way to add green space to urban areas. Their long and winding shape can provide greater access to parks for more residents, and linear parks like New York’s High Line and Chicago’s 606 trail have boosted real estate values and encouraged development.

For this round up we’ve focused on linear parks created out of capped highways, old rail lines, boulevards, or bridges—you can expect an ocean and riverfront round up in the future. Without further ado, here are 8 stunning linear parks in the United States.

The High Line in New York City

The water feature of New York City’s High Line.

One of the most famous linear parks in the U.S., the High Line is a former elevated New York train line transformed into a park in 2009. With some of the best views in the city and modeled off of the Promenade Plantée in Paris, the High Line incorporates perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees into beautiful gardens that line a walking path. Other features include art installations, overlooks, a sundeck with water, and a lawn area with teak seating for picnics.

The arrival of the High Line has spurred a real estate boom around the park, and condos near the now popular tourist destination are more than 100 percent pricier than the real estate one block to the east. This “High Line Effect” has prompted the creation of the High Line Network, an organization of 19 park projects that aims to share resources and knowledge about how to equitably create new green spaces.

The 606 in Chicago

The 606, an abandoned rail line turned public park in Chicago.
Colin Hinkle for The Trust for Public Land

Chicago’s new linear park is a 2.7 mile multi-use trail and park constructed on the long-defunct Bloomingdale elevated rail line. Servicing the Bucktown, Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square neighborhoods, the $100 million adaptive reuse project opened in 2015 to great fanfare thanks to its trails, gardens, and views of the city’s skyline.

The 606 also boasts temporary and permanent art installations as well as an array of events—think outdoor yoga classes and music series. Since its opening, the trail has boosted nearby housing prices by 48.2 percent over the three years since construction began. The steep increase in real estate has even prompted a proposed ordinance that would make it more expensive for developers to tear down existing housing close to the park. And while locals may debate the effects of gentrification sparked by the 606, the linear park remains one of the most popular green spaces in Chicago.

The Beltline in Atlanta

Bikers and pedestrians enjoy the Beltline in Atlanta.

As one of the largest urban redevelopment programs currently underway in the United States, Atlanta’s Beltline is so big that it goes way beyond the idea of a single linear park. It’s 22 miles of urban rail being rebuilt as a pedestrian and biking loop, and it’s spurring real estate speculation and civic pride in the process.

The completed two-mile Eastside section of the Beltline has proven incredibly popular, and a new three-mile Westside section—due to open later this summer—will add 14 more entry points to the park.

The Bridge of Flowers in Massachusetts

A bridge that’s been transformed into a garden in Massachusetts.

While many of the projects listed here cost hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s important to realize that not all linear parks are pricey urban revitalization projects. Take the Bridge of Flowers, for example, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. In 1929 when the town’s trolley bridge was discontinued, the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club decided to create a garden on the bridge, and the Bridge of Flowers was born.

Today, visitors flock to the small park, walking across the bridge’s span to admire the carefully cultivated flowers that are maintained by a volunteer “Blossom Brigade.” Even in a small town in rural New England, linear parks are a draw.

Olmsted Linear Park in Atlanta

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted—an American landscape architect who also designed Central Park in New York and the nation’s Capitol Grounds—the Olmsted Linear Park was completed in 1905 in Atlanta’s Druid Hills. Saved from destruction by a potential highway project in the 1980s, the park runs along Ponce de Leon Avenue and includes 45 acres of green space.

Olmsted designed the linear park as a refuge from the bustle of the city. “We want a ground to which people may easily go after the day’s work is done,” Olmsted wrote. Recent rehabilitation efforts have included the burying of utility lines and the installation of 2,600 new trees and shrubs. In total, the park contains five linear pastoral segments and one 22-acre old-growth forest and is today considered one of Atlanta’s best parks.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston

The north end of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Park in Boston.

Set in the heart of Boston, the Rose Kennedy Greenway is a roof garden atop a highway tunnel. The park stemmed from Boston’s controversial “Big Dig,” a massive construction project that relocated an elevated highway and built underground tunnels instead. The 1.5 mile Greenway opened in 2008 and includes trees, plants, lawns, water features in the summer, and one of the largest free public Wi-Fi networks in the city.

The Greenway has a new carousel for kids, brand-new ziplines, and hosts an array of music, food, and art events throughout the year. The park has been a smashing success, seeing increased attendance each year and becoming a gathering point—in part because of a collection of food trucks—for the city of Boston.

Klyde Warren Park in Dallas

An aerial view of Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas.
Image by The Office of James Burnett, courtesy of Klyde Warren Park.

A 5.2-acre urban green space decked over the recessed Woodall Rodgers Freeway, the $110 million Klyde Warren Park is 1,045 feet long and boasts 322 trees, 904 shrubs, and over 3,000 plants. Located in downtown Dallas, the park not only offers a green space for relaxation and walking, but also it serves as an active community center for events like yoga, lecture series, outdoor concerts, and films.

A well-liked children’s park—complete with interactive fountains—and a running space for dogs means that the whole family can find something to do, and a Botanical Garden near St. Paul Street provides a quiet oasis in the city. The park is also well-connected by public transit, so you can leave your car at home.

Eager Park in Baltimore

The just-opened Eager Park in East Baltimore is a $12.2 million addition created to be a gathering spot for residents and workers to relax. The 5.5-acre, 3-block linear park was designed by Mahan Rykiel Associates and Gensler Architects to include a fitness exercise circuit, a large lawn, a performance amphitheater and pavilion, a playground, and a community garden.

The park is just one element that has revitalized a historic neighborhood located north of the Johns Hopkins medical campus, where more than $1 billion has been invested since 2004. More than 600 houses and apartments have been built around Eager Park.


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