London approves planning for the first section of the Camden Highline

Rails to Trails

London approves planning for the first section of the Camden Highline

Camden Highline, a rails to trails project will make use of existing railroad viaducts. (© vPPR-JCFO)

Nearly 14 years after New York opened its elevated park built on railroad tracks, London has announced its own version of landscaped-over infrastructure received planning permission. Last week approval was granted for the first section of the Camden Highline, the proposed walkway would occupy a 0.75-mile (1.2-kilometer) section of railroad track, formerly part of the North London Railway, to connect north London’s Camden Town neighborhood with bustling central London’s Kings Cross.

A community-led initiative at its core, the campaign and effort to bring the park space to this part of the city has been a long road. The effort began in 2017 as a crowdfunding campaign introducing the neighborhood to the proposed plan to bring biodiversity and garden space to an area with limited access to green and an otherwise underutilized swath of abandoned infrastructure.

A public engagement period, spanning four years, brought on a team of expert architects and designers, including New York High Line–landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, local practice vPPR, and community engagement specialists Street Space, to advise the community on the project and to make plans for the park space.

The first section of the Camden Highline has received planning approval. (© Hayes Davidson)

“The Camden Highline has captured local imaginations. It urges us to broaden the horizons of what’s possible within our cities and is exactly the sort of innovative, environmentally sustainable, and community-driven project which will continue to benefit and inspire generations to come,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a press release. “This vision will also bring huge enterprise opportunities to local small business, helping to build a better, greener, and more prosperous London for everyone. I look forward to following the Camden Highline on its journey and to walking in London’s own park in the sky.”

The pedestrian route will start in Camden Town, a neighborhood with a rich industrial past centered around the Regents Canal, and will pass by several housing estates with no access to park space, before culminating at Yorks Way in Kings Cross, a major transportation hub for the city and an area that has seen significant regeneration in recent years. Camden Highline will be realized in three sections, each of the three environments will be designed differently to reflect the diversity of Camden. According to a project press release, when completed it would create green space for 20,000 people.

“Camden is a unique and vibrant place and we’ve designed the Camden Highline to embrace this special character,” commented James Corner of Field Operations. “It will serve as a green connective thread, biodiversity corridor and a community amenity. It will be budding with opportunities for arts and culture, and an essential space for young people to examine and learn about nature. Camden Highline is an extraordinary urban project and exactly the type of forward thinking, inclusive project that might help to bring us together in trying times.”

Visitors entering the first section, extending from Camden Gardens to Royal College Street, will be able to reach the elevated park via a glass elevator or stairs that will be built into the existing brick viaduct infrastructure.

Camden Highline will extend from Camden Town to Kings Cross. (© Hayes Davidson)

As with the High Line, there will be accessible entry and exit points situated along the route. Among the amenities planned for the park are a children’s play area, public garden space, an outdoor classroom, a seating grove, grandstand, several viewing platforms, and an architectural screen with windows to allow for the great British hobby and pastime: trainspotting.

It wouldn’t be a park without landscaping, so garden designer Piet Oudolf worked with London Wildlife Trust on a scheme for plantings that takes cues from woodlands and meadows and historic British hedgerows.

The Camden Highline project is the main component of a much larger scheme, the Camden Green Loop, a strategy to bring more green space and park lands to inner-London neighborhoods, while also linking the neighborhoods of Camden Town, Kings Cross, and Euston with one another. The Camden Green Loop builds on Camden’s existing landmarks and park space, as is seen with the proposed development and reuse of railway viaducts for the Highline, and strives to design a walkable 15-minute neighborhood.

While the planning permission received the green light, the green project costing more than $17.3 million (£14 million) needs more funds to get the construction started. Camden Highline hopes to have the first section open by 2025.