Neighborhood by neighborhood, New York City continues its transformation. Formerly gritty areas, like the Meatpacking District, have undergone makeovers in the last decade, becoming enclaves of urban reinvention and relatively safe tourist destinations.
The latest locale to have its Cinderella moment is the West Chelsea district, sometimes called the Chelsea Riviera due to its proximity to the Hudson River.
The large and loud warehouse-style clubs and the city-owned housing projects that once defined the vicinity still stand in this community located roughly between West 17th Street and West 30th Street and bordered by 10th Avenue.
But all the landmarks of urban renewal are moving in or already have — art galleries, trendy restaurants, edgy designer shops, a boutique hotel, renovated or glistening new condos, and street beautification paid for by public or private money.
In West Chelsea, however, that beautification process has occurred 30 feet above street level in the form of the High Line.
A public parklike walkway, the High Line was created from a historic elevated freight rail line that runs the length of the neighborhood as well as beyond to the adjacent Meatpacking District.
Fully opened about one year ago, the High Line is functioning as the Prince Charming in this city fairy tale, already attracting 3,000,000 visitors in the past year.
With modern design touches in its railings and benches and its sustainable foliage of plants and grasses that grew up around the tracks over the 25 years that the rail line was out of use, the High Line is primarily a promenade where visitors can get a low-flying bird's-eye view of the city.
On temperate days and even in the winter months, throngs of people stroll the mostly concrete plank pathways, pausing sometimes to soak in views of the newer high-rises currently under construction, the older buildings that tell of the area's industrial past and at some points the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
Yet although the High Line is no doubt the highlight of the area, in many ways it is late to the Chelsea Riviera party. Like so many urban-renewal movements, the first settlers to upgrade this territory were the art galleries, especially those priced out of Soho, New York's former art-scene hub.
Now many of those establishments populate West Chelsea streets in such close proximity that visitors can wander from door to door and linger in some of the most prestigious art showcases in the world, including the Gagosian Gallery on West 24th, the Maryanne Boesky Gallery on West 22nd and the Pace Gallery on West 25th Street.