Actually, not earth at all, but the Hudson River at Pier 55, now a surreal topography of walkways, views, plantings and trees.
After Superstorm Sandy, Barry Diller decided he might as well plunk some of his millions into creating this new park, named Little Island. Two hundred sixty million dollars. Would it be boon or a billionaire’s boondoggle, we often wondered as we drove past the construction site just off the West Side Highway. It took four years to plan and three to build this 2.4 acre park with its 132 tulip-pot modules, each one of them unique in form. The park itself is a perfect square. It has just opened to the public, right as the population is exploding with post-Covid energy, vitality, euphoria.
As any place in New York, the people are the real attraction.
But I marveled at the landscape, created by Signe Nielsen at MNCA. I saw an interview with her in which she discussed the five different soil types that were used, and how the engineers had to face off against the gardeners to make sure that none of the tulips would drop into the drink.
Soil is heavy. Plantings carry weight too
Heavier still: trees. And this is the most remarkable thing about Little Island, the sheer number of mature trees planted by crane all over the park. This dawn redwood would be at home in an arboretum.
The root balls were huge. The trees are anchored by 4-10 steel straps, guy wires, atop the root balls, where they can’t be seen by passersby. It all looks impossibly natural and easy but is terrifically engineered. There are 114 trees, 35 species, from kousa dogwood to cedars of Lebanon, including 19 of what the planners are calling “hero trees”—the mammoth specimens. All of them ranged from 10-12 DBH at planting and were in the neighborhood of 30-40 years old. Diller has said something to the effect of he hopes Little Island will last forever, and with the sprinkler systems and hand watering going on behind the scenes, the landscaping just might survive through the next hurricane, as they hope.
The trees were glossy, healthy.
It looked like they’d always been there. It reminded me of Central Park, totally contrived in the nineteenth century to look totally natural. Little Island reminds us that at times contrivance can be fun.
But back to the people. As Gil’s mother would marvel when she visited the City, “The people! The people!”
There were guides on call in case you had a question. Meet Saul and Turow.
I don’t know if anybody really noticed the girth of the trees around them, they were so engrossed in the views – all the way down to Lady Liberty. Or New Jersey, in this slightly more mundane view.
And if you need a breather and a snack, there are those too. I’ll try one next time I go.