It’s a problem at least as old as Rome: A magnificent urban structure outlives its intended purpose and becomes an abandoned hulk. What do you do with it?

Historically, here in the U.S., the instinct has been to bulldoze, then build something new. But in the past decade or so, the “adaptive reuse” philosophy has slowly gained traction. Why tear it down when you could transform it?

0117 Photo by Rowa Lee-resized

Courtesy of Friends of the Highline

The High Line in New York City is a prime example. Constructed for freight trains in the 1930s, the elevated railway saw its last boxcar roll away in 1980. Abandoned and neglected, it was originally slated for demolition, but starting in the late 1990s, a handful of citizen-activists lobbied for something more daring: a 400-acre, linear park along the entire length of the historic High Line structure, from Gansevoort Street in the historic Meatpacking District all the way to West 34th Street in Midtown.

Fifteen years later, the seed of this vision has borne fruit. The High Line park, running along the western edge of Manhattan, is today a neighborhood asset focused on community-building and sustainability.

The park is a continuous walkway surrounded by lush plantings inspired by the hardy, indigenous perennials that emerged on the tracks after trains stopped running on the High Line. Various elements of the historic railway were salvaged and reused, including portions of the old railroad track.

As one of the world’s most innovative public spaces, the High Line has become a magnet for New Yorkers and out-of-town visitors alike. Its uniqueness has made it a beloved fixture within the New York City landscape.

The park’s cultural programming is decidedly community-minded, offering children’s art workshops, free concerts, movies, and commissioned artworks. Other recent programming has focused on food, including the annual High Line “Social Soup Experiment,” which brings hundreds of adjacent residents onto the High Line to meet and socialize while enjoying a bowl of homemade soup.

0155 Photo by Rowa Lee-resized

Courtesy of Friends of the Highline

0074 Photo by Rowa Lee-resized

Courtesy of Friends of the Highline

The High Line Food Program is directed by Melina Shannon-DiPietro, co-founder of the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Part of her job is to connect High Line vendors with regional farm producers in order to maximize the local sources of ingredients. A gelato vendor, for instance, sources seasonal fruits from a variety of farms near the city.

Given the sheer volume of visitors along the High Line, DiPietro’s efforts have a measurable impact on the regional foodshed—and the program serves as a model for other public facilities. For DiPietro, the link between farmers, vendors, and consumers is in keeping with the park’s larger mission: “The High Line is about building community,” she says. “And what better way to build community than to gather people around food? To serve up a meal of local ingredients that brings neighbors, New Yorkers and visitors together to celebrate the harvest season and community.”

Organic Valley is committed to supporting community education and local food programs and is happy to sponsor the High Line Social Soup Experiment for its impact on the lives of community members.