Rails-to-trails: Building community, one
abandoned railroad at a time


With the onset of spring on the horizon, fresh starts and new beginnings are on the mind. Today we’re turning our attention to abandoned railroad tracks around the globe that have been given new life as the cornerstones of urban parks.

Promenade Plantée | Paris, France (Opened in 1993)


Image courtesy of Lonely Planet.

While some may think of the High Line in New York City (see below) as the first rails-to-trails park of its kind, in 1993 the lush Promenade Plantée—known locally as Coulée Verte, meaning “green course” or “tree-lined walkway”—became the world’s first urban renewal project to transform an unused railway into an elevated urban park. It remained the only park of its kind until the opening of the High Line in 2009. Click here to learn more. 

High Line | New York, NY (Opened in 2009)

Image courtesy of NYC - The Official Guide

Image courtesy of NYC – The Official Guide.

In 2009, an abandoned elevated freight railway track—that had not been used since 1980—began its five-year transformation into a 1.45-mile urban park on Manhattan’s West Side. Complete with lush native, site-specific greenery and engaging public programming, the High Line is now a destination for tourists and New Yorkers alike, bringing in $2.2-billion in new economic activity to the surrounding area, and inspiring similar projects around the globe. Click here to learn more.

The Goods Line | Sydney, Australia (Opened in 2015)


Image courtesy of ASPECT Studios.

In 2015, Sydney joined the growing collection of cities that are reenergizing unused railroad tracks by transforming them into vibrant urban green spaces. Australian architectural firm ASPECT Studios is to be credited for the city’s new “green civic spine that brings communities closer together.” Once a conduit for trade, this elevated railway—active between the mid-1800s and the 1980s—is now a place where communities can interact, connect and exchange ideas. Click here to learn more.

The 606 | Chicago, IL (Opened in 2015)


Image courtesy of Chicago Tribute.

This 2.7-mile green space along unused train tracks in Northwest Chicago is located within a 10-minute walk of 80,000 of the city’s residents. This sprawling new amenity has already become a popular respite from city life. Knowing that there are two sides to every redevelopment story, the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University recently issued a report analyzing The 606’s impact on the surrounding area’s property values and housing market—with the hope that their findings will help policy-makers and community members to identify and prioritize policy to allow for the revitalization of public spaces while also preserving housing affordability and limiting displacement of local residents. Click here to learn more.

Seoul Skygarden | Seoul, South Korea (Opening in 2017)


Image courtesy of Business Insider.

The transformation of a crumbling 1970s highway in the middle of Seoul into a thriving garden and community is already underway. Slated to open to the public next month, the finished elevated green space—designed by Dutch architectural firm MVRDV—will boast an ‘urban nursery’ filled with hundreds of plant species, cafes, street markets, libraries and greenhouses. Click here to learn more.

The Rail Park | Philadelphia, PA (Opening in 2018)


Image courtesy of The Rail Park.

Spanning 50 city blocks, passing through 10 diverse neighborhoods—and adjacent to The Philadelphia Art Museum, The Rodin Museum, The Barnes, the city’s community college and the Avenue of the Arts—The Rail Park will inject new life into three miles of the city’s old Reading Railroad. The first stage of the project—designed by Studio Bryan Hanes—will utilize local materials to create communal places for visitors to lounge and gather (including some “civic-scale swings!”). Construction broke ground October 31, 2016, with a target completion date of January or February of 2018. Click here to learn more.

Rail Corridor | Singapore (Opening date TBD)


Image courtesy of Business Insider.

From 1903 through 2011, the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Railway Line connected Singapore to Malaysia, its larger neighbor across the sea. Today, hikers and nature enthusiasts frequent the unused 15 mile green space, which spans across the entire city-state. With Japanese architecture firm Nikken Sekkei at the helm, the aim is to transform this space into a sprawling park—10 times longer than New York’s High Line—with 122 public access points and eight activity nodes to encourage interaction. Click here to learn more.

These seven ‘rails-to-trails’ parks are just a few of the many projects that are bringing green spaces into the heart of urban areas.

As firm believers in the power of placemaking, we have a soft spot for projects that transform underused public spaces into thriving community destinations. Be sure to check out our Locations page to learn about the unique stories behind each of the permanent Levitt venues and Levitt AMP sites that now serve as community hubs across the country—including a transformed railyard in Santa Fe, N.M.

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abandoned railroad at a time

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