Above the Manhattan traffic, Elise Coroneos strolls along a disused railway track now buzzing with people.
New York is so full of top-of-the-line attractions, frequent visitors are rarely short of new places to discover. And the latest must-see has sprung up in the most unlikely of places.
Nestled between the buildings on the west side of downtown Manhattan, a previously dilapidated elevated train track has been transformed into a landscaped skyway above the streets, attracting droves of visitors and New Yorkers alike.
Opened last month, the High Line stretches from the Meatpacking District and up the west side of Manhattan to West 20th Street. Next year, the High Line will grow to nearly 2.5 kilometres in length when the next phase of the development opens, taking it further north to West 34th Street.
The High Line track was built in the 1930s to carry industrial freight traffic some nine metres above the streets of what was Manhattan's largest industrial district. Before that point, the Meatpacking District, which in the early 1900s had more than 250 slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, saw so many accidents between freight trains and street traffic that Tenth Avenue became known as "Death Avenue".
Since the last train ran on the High Line in 1980 delivering three carriages of frozen turkeys to one of the diminishing number of food processing plants in the area the track had been left to decay. Overgrown with weeds, it has been at the centre of intense lobbying over the years by owners of land under the structure who want it pulled down, and lobby groups such as Friends of the High Line, which was founded in 2002 in an effort to have it designated as open public space a commodity in short supply in a city such as New York.
Thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the High Line, the structure has not only remained standing but has been preserved and landscaped to allow visitors a bird's-eye view of the westside neighbourhoods of Manhattan.
From the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District, now known for its restaurants, trendy boutiques and nightlife, the High Line meanders through the buildings of West Chelsea (from 14th Street to 23rd Street) and the world's greatest concentration of art galleries. Upon its extension in 2010, it will take in the west midtown area and the beginnings of the neighbourhood known as Hells Kitchen.
Walking the High Line for the first time, I was struck by the effortless way the elements of New York City and its history have been preserved and honoured by the designers, who included a conglomerate of landscaping and architecture firms as well as horticulture, engineering and public art specialists. Instead of doing away with its signature railway lines, the tracks have been preserved in some areas, worked into the renovated paths and landscaping.
Even the benches along the High Line, built amid myriad pathways and plants, have been designed to resemble train tracks. This northern summer, the benches have been populated by tan-seeking New Yorkers happy to have somewhere other than Central Park and rooftops to catch some sun.
To one side of the High Line is the Hudson River, New Jersey and beyond and on the other side, to the north, the Empire State Building stands tall.
The Standard Hotel, which opened in October last year, straddles the High Line, its sturdy stilts installed on either side of the pedestrian way. Whether you are walking north or south, the 19-storey, 347-room Standard Hotel looms majestically.
At the point where the High Line crosses over Tenth Avenue known as the Tenth Avenue Square the designers have created tiered seating in the form of a theatre suspended above the roadway. The stage is Tenth Avenue, separated from the front tier only by floor to ceiling glass.
This inspired section of the High Line is fitting considering this is a city that is always the real star of the day arguably the most dominant character in any movie with a New York backdrop. This doesn't stop performers from trying to outshine the show that is Manhattan.
In a truly New York twist, amateur performers and singers have taken to the external fire escapes on buildings along the High Line to serenade passersby.
Visitors can access the High Line's stairwells on Gansevoort Street, 14th Street, 16th Street and 18th Street. The skyway is open 7am to 10pm daily. See thehighline.org.