Old highways and rail lines become gardens and walkways

The residents of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, enjoy a dazzling park located high above the city.

It’s there because city officials decided to repurpose an obsolete overpass rather than have it demolished. The result is an elevated landscape nearly a kilometer long that includes more than 24,000 plants, flowers and trees. Walkers can stroll by bookstore cafes, puppet theaters and food shops that sell dishes like kimbap (a seaweed rice roll). At night, the park glimmers blue from LED lighting.

Seoullo means Seoul Road. And the name of the park, Seoullo 7017, combines the year the overpass was built (1970) and the year the walkway opened (2017).

“Pedestrians need green areas, but it costs a lot to find new land,” said project lead Kwon Wan-taek in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s much more efficient to turn old space into green space instead of tearing it down.”

New York’s High Line

People walking along an elevated pathway (© Washington Post via Getty Images)
(© Washington Post via Getty Images)

Seoul, like other cities, found its inspiration in New York City’s High Line, a former abandoned freight-rail line made into a public park in 2009.

Elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, it is 2.3 kilometers long and covers 2.7 hectares. It displays contemporary art from around the world and hosts music and dance performances among its gardens.

It also has stimulated development along its path — including retail, condos and office buildings — which has boosted neighborhood real-estate values.

The High Line drew 8 million visitors in 2016 and is expected to generate $1 billion in tax revenues over the next 20 years, according to Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit group that helps the city maintain the park.

“Green spaces are important in an urban setting. Just like a life-giving river, the High Line has brought life along its path,” says volunteer Alfredo Taylor-White on the Friends’ blog.

Sydney’s Goods Line

Overhead view of paved pathway surrounded by trees and greenery (ASPECT Studios/Florian Groehn)
(ASPECT Studios/Florian Groehn)

Sydney, Australia, turned the neglected Darling Harbor railway into a shared pedestrian and bike trail that opened in 2015.

The partially-elevated park is called Goods Line because the railway was originally built in the 19th century to bring Australia’s goods — especially wool, wheat and coal — to the harbor for transport around the world.

The Goods Line boasts pingpong tables, an outdoor gym, workspaces, an amphitheater and plenty of nooks and crannies to relax with a book or enjoy free Wi-Fi.

“What was once a conduit for trade has been reinterpreted to carry the precious cargo of a thriving neighborhood: culture, creativity and community,” said the project’s lead designer, Sacha Coles.

Jerusalem’s Train Track Park

People walking down a promenade (© Shmuel Bar-Am)
(© Shmuel Bar-Am)

Pedestrian promenades, bicycle lanes and a 7-kilometer-long linear park link together seven previously disconnected Arab and Israeli neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Train Track Park was built between 2010 and 2013 on the abandoned Jaffa-Jerusalem railway line. Until a few years ago, the area of the park was “the junkyard of Jerusalem,” Shlomi Zeevi, the project’s landscape architect, told Haaretz News. But now residents see economic potential instead of blight.

“In Beit Safafa [an Arab neighborhood] … they once asked us to put up fences alongside the park,” Zeevi said soon after the park was built. But “today they’re asking us to take those fences down because they want to open cafes there.”

Communities along Train Track Park also have created free open-air public libraries, where books are donated and swapped, during the summer months.