Tag Archives: New York City

What on earth?

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.

Polka dots.

Puppies.

Music.

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.

Welcome.

And if you need a breather and a snack, there are those too. I’ll try one next time I go.

2 Comments

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

You couldn’t tell if it was little-leaf

or not, the canopy was so far overhead. Tilia Americana or Tilia cordata? I stood in the Bronx next to a playground on on Gouveneur Avenue, marveling at the height of these monster lindens. The smallest of them had a DBH of 7 inches while the largest ran to 40 DBH. (DBH equals Diameter at Breast Height, the standard way of measuring trees’ height.) How tall were they? I could make out the heart-shaped leaves, all slightly asymmetrical, and the bracts that always remind me of pieces of cream-colored silk woven in someone’s hair. They carry the linden’s fruit so it will reproduce. But they must have been 40 feet tall. I am notoriously bad at heights, heights of trees, and just multiply my own height (generally) with how far up the tallest branches seem to be. I know there is a trigonometric formula I can invoke, but as I said I am bad at heights. (h=TanA x d)

People don’t normally think of New York when they think of shade. But it’s all around, chilling out people and homes and schools, in a fortunate neighborhood. Two men came by and spoke to be as I was juggling paper, pen and DBH tape for a survey of the linden trees on this block. A milling machine was going to come through soon, before the street was repaved, and the contractor wanted to prune any trees whose branches would get in the way of his 14 foot unit. I was to identify those trees in need of pruning. The two guys lived there, in an apartment underneath the mesh of branches and leaves far above. One said the tree we stood beside had “been there since before I was born”. He was about 60. The other said, “These trees shade everything, they make it all so cool, it’s so nice.” He was nice, too.

I had seen lindens pruned to within an inch of their lives and they could look beautiful like that.

Two allees of little-leaf lindens stand in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There has been a lot of study recently about the importance of shade in cities. Health suffers without trees there. The difference between shaded and nonshaded areas is something like ten degrees, enough to kill someone in southern climes without air conditioning, which not everyone can afford. This falls under the general rubric of environmental justice.

The canopies of these giant lindens on Gouveneur Avenue offered a generous helping of something little else could provide – coolness on a hot day. With the health changes come changes in mood, also. Maybe that’s why these guys were smiling so much. It’s a womb of cool. Shade that helps you live. I always thought that lindens were beautiful. On Gouveneur Avenue I realized they were life-giving as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

Kissing and strolling

once went hand in hand on Manhattan, especially on bridges. For a long time iIt was even considered especially good manners for a gentleman to kiss a lady while on a bridge. (“What happened on the bridge stays on the bridge”)

Reverend Mr. Burnaby, quoted in New York’s Morning Chronicle on April 19, 1803, said, “it is the etiquette for every gentleman in company with a lady to salute his fair companion when upon it.”

There were multiple Kissing Bridges because there were dozens of springs and brooks all over Manhattan that people and coaches and horses and carts had to cross.

At one point in our city’s history, ladies could expect to fetch up a kiss at the bridge at 32nd Street just west of Fifth Avenue,at 33rd Street and Lexington Avenue over Kip’s Run, 54th Street and First Avenue, and 50th Street and Second Avenue.

The custom stretched back before the American Revolution judging by an advertisement in the Weekly Museum in 1797, looking for a tenant for the season of a 10-acre lot “through which the Kissing bridge brook runs.”

The well-researched Hidden Waters of New York City, by Sergei Kadinsky, tells us that in an earlier century, even, kissing bridges were common, over bodies of water that had names like Old Wreck Book, Sunfish Pond and De Voor’s Mill Stream.

Does anyone else have a “comfort century” the way people now keep “comfort animals”? Mine would be the seventeen century.

I think you can tell how verdant and stream-flushed Manhattan might have been in those days if you look at what’s called The Castello Plan, a famous copy of the first street map of the island, drawn in 1660. As the city grew more developed, it seemed, kissing on bridges grew less important. Perhaps with more buildings, people found more private places to smooch.

Let’s think. What bridges are there now in and around Manhattan? You can visit the many bow bridges of Central Park, over one hundred, every one of which was designed by Calvert Vaux. Walkers throng the Brooklyn Bridge, which the last time I was there seemed weighed down by the padlocks that were hung as amorous tributes, with the key thrown into the drink a gesture toward the infinity of the couple’s love, but since cut off by the City). There’s Brooklyn, George Washington, and more, and a little farther up out of town, where I live, the Tap. Each of these could be repurposed as a kissing bridge, if we only had the romantic will.

Let’s try.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman