Downtown Jungles

A handful of forward-thinking cities turn eyesores into urban oases.

There's a fresh idea in public parks: reclaiming the broken-down remains of elevated train tracks, railyards, and manufacturing complexes to create trails, green spaces, and climbing walls. Finally, those parking lots are turning back into parks.

High Line
New York City
BACKSTORY: For decades, the High Line served as an elevated railway for trains carrying freight into the city. By 1980 the line was dead and the tracks were sliding into decay. Saplings and grasses sprouted in the railbeds, giving community organizers the idea to create a public space where the freight once rolled.
OPENING DATE: Thanks to the work of Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit group, the first half-mile section, from 20th Street to Gansevoort, opens in June.
GO PLAY: Joggers will soon traverse the 30-foot-high corridor that runs through the Meatpacking District. Already, a new mod hotel, the Standard, has gone up, straddling the old tracks.

Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary
St. Paul, Minnesota
BACKSTORY: This 29-acre former railyard was owned by the Burlington National Railroad before the city bought it in 2002.
OPENING DATE: Unveiled in 2005, Vento expanded by two acres (hey, every bit counts) last summer.
GO PLAY: The sanctuary acts as an urban nexis for more than 80 miles of biking/jogging trails that weave along the banks of the Mississippi. Park downtown and ride or hike until you can't go anymore. Birdwatchers can hit restored wetlands that play host to bald eagles and blue herons.

Los Angeles State Historic Park
BACKSTORY: For most of the 20th century, this 32-acre plot in downtown L.A. housed an immense Southern Pacific railyard. Southern Pacific closed shop in 1989, and the property was a leftover mess until 2001, when the state bought it and artist Lauren Bon, backed by the Annenberg Foundation, trucked in some 1,500 loads of uncontaminated soil and planted corn for her installation Not a Cornfield.
OPENING DATE: September 2006
GO PLAY: The corn crop is gone; now there's a mile-long biking/jogging trail amid fields of wildflowers.

Spectacle Island
Boston
BACKSTORY: Located in Boston Harbor, Spectacle had its heyday in the 1840s as a gambling resort and brothel. Later it served as a horse-rendering plant and public dump. Starting in 1992, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management used dirt from the Big Dig to reshape the island and support newly planted trees.
OPENING DATE: June 2006
GO PLAY: The 114-acre park has beaches, a trail system snaking through pines and sumacs, and public art like Teri Rueb's Core Sample, an interactive sound garden inspired by Spectacle's colorful past.

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