New waterfront park ‘Little Island’ breathes fresh life into New York City

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A new public park skimming the surface of the Hudson River atop 132 concrete “tulips” opened Friday for New Yorkers eager to emerge from a year of onerous pandemic restrictions.

Little Island can be accessed free-of-charge and offers lush green spaces and scenic views into southern Manhattan and New Jersey.

“I’m bursting with emotion, to see people smiling and looking happy with the mask off – it’s a wonderful day in the neighbourhood,” one of the park’s visitors said.

The park’s Executive Director Trish Santini said the timing of Little Island’s opening couldn’t come at a better time. “It’s kind of staggering, just in terms of New York coming back to life. I think this is a space that can help heal the souls of all the trauma we’ve all been through”.

Little Island, which can be accessed by two pedestrian bridges, offers lush green spaces and scenic views into southern Manhattan and New Jersey for those who want to get away without getting away.

Its opening follows the lifting of most of New York’s coronavirus restrictions last Wednesday, when more than 60 percent of the 8.4 million population had received at least one dose of vaccine.

The city lost over 30,000 lives during the crisis, while New Yorkers were forced to forgo indoor dining and observe capacity limits in shops, gyms, hair salons and offices.

Landscape designer Signe Nielsen, who is responsible for the park’s giant flowerpot design containing more than 350 species of flower as well as shrubs and trees, wanted visitors to “leave the city, the traffic, and come into a space and just be surprised”.

“And hopefully at the end of their walk, or stroll, or run or whatever, leave calmer and happier than when they arrived.”

Unprecedented private donation to public garden

The “tulips” that make up the park’s base—each one unique and weighing up to 75 tons—were made in upstate New York and brought 130 miles (210 kilometres) down the Hudson River before being lifted by floating crane onto the site and filled with soil.

The artificial island, which cost around $260 million, was financed mainly by billionaire entrepreneur Barry Diller and his wife Diane von Furstenberg, the project’s creator.

Diller told The New York Times he would bear the costs of maintaining the park for the first 20 years.

His contribution could total $380 million, unprecedented in New York for a private donation to a public garden.

The project almost didn’t see the light of day as it was delayed by a series of lawsuits until New York Governor Andrew Cuomo managed to reach an agreement between all parties in 2017.

“It’s just a really nice place to come to have some reprieve in the city, especially downtown,” said Lauren Moon Fraser, 33, as she lounged in the sun with her baby, Luca.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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