Heatherwick, Hudson River, Little Island discussed on Monocle 24: The Urbanist


So welcome to our best of tool stories of the year. We start today's grand tour on the east coast of the United States. New York saw the opening of a brand new park in 2021, which stood rather uniquely on concrete stilts emerging out of the Hudson River. Monaco's New York correspondent, Henry re Sheridan, sent us this story, taking a closer look at the forces behind this odd edition to the city's public realm. A few years ago, on my first visit to the Whitney museum of American art, I gaze out of the window and took in the view of the Hudson River. A bizarre structure caught my eye. It looked like a cluster of giant concrete wine glasses, shooting out of the water. Their stems were a varying length, but the tops of the wine glasses melted together to form a continuous surface. I thought it was some kind of large scale art installation connected with the museum. But what I was actually looking at was New York's newest park and construction. The park called little island opened earlier this year. It's built on the site of a derelict pier in the Hudson River. By the standards of New York City parks, little island is absurdly well appointed. It's got landscaped gardens containing hundreds of different tree shrub and grass varieties. It's got scenic observation posts overlooking the river, and it's got no fewer than three performance spaces, including 687 seats amphitheater. The design of little island is a collaboration between the English designer Thomas heatherwick and the French American landscape architect senior Nielsen. Of the pair heatherwick is by far the more famous. He's already left a very visible mark on the west side of Manhattan in the form of vessel, a 16 story tall, honeycomb like sculpture in the middle of the gleaming Hudson yards development. Nielsen's contributions to public space in New York City have made fewer headlines. But they're much more substantial. Since 1978, she's worked on hundreds of urban projects directly, but she's also been instrumental in shaping the intellectual climate around public architecture in New York. She's contributed to books and design manuals for various city departments and served as president of the New York City public design commission. Little island fruitfully combines heatherwick's flashiness with Nielsen's sophisticated public mindedness. It's both eye popping and tastefully integrated into the surrounding environment, offering an unobtrusive sense of spectacle. But when it comes to the people behind little island, the most important is neither Nielsen, nor heatherwick. It's Barry diller, the media magnate, and multi billionaire, who footed the project's $260 million Bill. In addition to paying the upfront costs, dealer has promised that his family foundation will cover the park's maintenance for the next 20 years, making icy and Expedia chairman, Barry diller, and the benefactor of this remarkably special place seems too large. You have a crowd here with folks screaming out saying thank you, Barry. I know. It's about you can hear it right now. It's embarrassing me, but it's quite something. But it's nice to hear. Nothing remotely resembling little island could or arguably should be attempted without an enormous injection of private money. But it's difficult to look at the achievements of little island without feeling a pang at the contrast between the quality of this small, privately funded green space and the size of the parks built and maintained by the city. Many of New York's parks, especially those outside of Manhattan, are poorly maintained and lacking in basic facilities. This was the case even before the pandemic. Things haven't gotten any better since the budget of the park's department was cut by $84 million. That's 14% of its total revenue, as part of the city's response to the pandemic. In addition to being poorly maintained, parks are also an evenly distributed across New York. Poorer and less white neighborhoods are typically much less well served than richer ones. According to the trust for public land, the average park size is 6.4 acres in poor neighborhoods compared with 14 acres in wealthy neighborhoods. Little island does nothing to alleviate this problem. Not only is it located in one of the richest neighborhoods in the city, it is contained within a preexisting green space, riverside park, which stretches for four miles along the Hudson River. Dilla's gift is a generous one. Little island will be enjoyed by thousands. But those looking to build parks in New York in the future be they government officials or munificent billionaires might do well to look beyond wealthy and already well provisioned neighborhoods. My thanks there to Henry Reese Sheridan..

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