I’m a student of what cities are doing to bring new energy to old neighborhoods – which is how I came to walk the length of a unique urban park on Thursday.

Built on what was once an elevated railway, the High Line In New York City now stretches 22 blocks from the West Village to Chelsea. Thirty-feet in the air, locals (and visitors, too) stroll through what were once old and beat-up industrial neighborhoods. Now they’re gentrifying with posh hotels, condominiums and office buildings (including one designed by the architect Frank Gehry). The first phase of the High Line opened in June.

Trees, grasses, places to sit and relax, design elements borrowed from its days as a rail line – all these improvements make the High Line a wonderful way to move from one neighborhood to another, or just to hang out on an afternoon.

Too bad, I thought to myself, this isn’t an idea worth taking home to Sonoma County.

But wait. Some of the county’s best-known walking, running and cycling trails follow the rights-of-way of abandoned rail lines. And plans call for a trail to parallel Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, stretching from Cloverdale to Larkspur in Marin County.

Big and small, successful cities are defined by their willingness to pursue innovation in design, especially when it comes to creating welcoming public spaces. It’s true in New York City, and it’s true in places we call home. Think of the square in Healdsburg, or the plaza in Sonoma. Think of efforts in Sebastopol and Windsor to create their own town squares. Think of Santa Rosa’s endless conversation about the re-unification of Old Courthouse Square.

When attractive public spaces bring people together, good things happen.

For photos and other information on the High Line, go to www.thehighline.org.