Twenty years ago, New York's famed High Line promenade was nothing more than a crumbling eyesore. Indeed, most West Side Manhattan residents recognized the High Line for what it had become: a rusted relic, a bygone nuisance impeding the rebirth of a neighborhood.
However, since its opening as a park in 2009, it has been a resounding success, welcoming 6 million visitors per year and inspiring copycat schemes from Sydney to Seoul. The High Line project has become an important case study of how cities transform blighted regions into thriving urban spaces.
Against this backdrop of successful urban regeneration, it inspired media mogul Barry Diller to fund a new public space project out of the ashes of pier 54, a disused pier along the Hudson River. The name? Little Island.
The decline of pier 54
From serving as a docking site for Titanic survivors to providing a safe haven for New York's LGBTQ population in the 1980s, Pier 54 has had a long and illustrious history. The structure was demolished in 1991, but it remained an open-air pier with the corresponding entry archway attached. The name of the 'Cunard White Star' line remained written on a faded sign on the archway, a reminder of the pier's former glory as a port for one of the most important shipping lines in the world.
Disaster struck in 2012 with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, which completely destroyed the aging pier. But truth be told, it had already been closed for a few years as it was becoming structurally unsound - New York's most devastating disaster in recent memory merely finished it off.
The rebirth of a pier
The concept for Little Island was conceived 8 years ago, when Diller, the chairman of the media company IAC, became involved in restoring Pier 54. However, rather than reconstructing the pier, Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, commissioned architect Thomas Heatherwick (the man behind the Vessel in Manhattan's Hudson Yards and landscape architecture company MNLA) to create an entirely new structure.
The result was what we see today: a stunning layout intended to imitate a "leaf floating on water." If the name 'Little Island' sounds a little whimsical to you, that was the intention - in a recent interview, Diller said he wanted the new space to be "a pastoral place for wandering around, lying around, and being entertained."
Visitors to the park can enjoy 350 varieties of flowers, trees, and shrubs, as well as a plaza with seats and food and beverage stalls called "The Play Ground," a lawn area called "The Glade," and a 687-seat amphitheater called "The Amph." The park will showcase a variety of local artists and entertainers and programs for visitors of all ages. Also prominent are the stumps of the old pier, which still protrude out of the water and provide a reminder of the area's storied past.
As we continue to navigate through this pandemic, open-air public spaces like Little Island are more crucial than ever. Time to head on down to Hudson River on the West side of Manhattan for your dose of open-air whimsy. To make it even better Little Island is only a short 20-minute walk from our Washington Square Hotel. Come quick, and you might even catch NYC FREE, an entire month of art, music, and performances.