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  • New York City's iconic waterfront just got a radical addition.

  • Rising from the Hudson River, this 2.4 acre park that cost more than $260 million to build

  • has been described as an oasis for New Yorkers,

  • kind of pushing the bounds of what a public pier can be.

  • In a sense, the surprise is that New York has seen through extraordinary projects.

  • What are the chances of projects like that really happening?

  • But between a massive donation from a local billionaire and numerous legal battles, the

  • project hasn't come without controversy.

  • As a space, it's tiny and beautiful, like a little jewel, kind of a microcosm of Manhattan's

  • place in New York City, but it represents this terrible dilemma that New York is in

  • and has been in for many years. It has increasing amounts of public space

  • but decreasing public funds to deal with them.

  • This is Little IslandNew York City's new park on the water

  • that was almost never built.

  • Little Island rises from the remnants of Pier 54,

  • an historic point of entry along the Hudson River.

  • In the early 1900s, it was used by those traveling across the Atlantic, and it's where survivors

  • of the Titanic returned to safety.

  • During the 1970s and 80s the piers were used as a gathering place for the LGBT community.

  • Pier 54 was eventually run down and fell out of use, so the city held a design competition

  • to revitalise the area over the water.

  • To learn more, I spoke to Thomas Heatherwick, the visionary behind Little Island, and many

  • other iconic projects, including the Vessel at Hudson Yards.

  • We put in a proposal and presented it. Of all days our presentation, our final presentation,

  • was on the day of Hurricane Sandy. So we presented in the morning and Hurricane Sandy hit in

  • the afternoon and into the evening and during the night. So it was extra emphasising

  • the toughness that any piece of river infrastructure needs.

  • In 2014, the new pier was officially put forward as a partnership between billionaire couple

  • Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg and the Hudson River Park Trust.

  • It would be a futuristic new public park with a live performance

  • space that also happened to be in their neighbourhood.

  • If you build a public park across the street, doesn't your house gain value?

  • Isn't it wonderful to walk into the door of your corporate headquarters,

  • look across the street and say, that's my island?

  • This isn't a substitute for there being a project in the Bronx or in Harlem.

  • It's a project. Projects should be happening of this

  • level of ambition in every borough and in

  • every part of all types of cities.

  • The project was originally dubbed Pier 55, though it was more casually called Diller

  • Island.

  • Diller and Von Furstenberg eventually rebranded it as Little Island.

  • It was Heatherwick Studio and MNLA that worked together

  • to design the park. While engineering firm Arup

  • created the unique pot structures using 3D parametric scripts.

  • The project faced several lawsuits, notably from the City Club of New York, raising a

  • number of concerns about environmental reports and competitive bids.

  • After so many legal battles, Diller pulled his funding in 2017, but New York governor

  • Andrew Cuomo stepped in to save the project.

  • In the end, the City of New York contributed $17 million to the scheme, the state gave

  • $4 million and Diller and Von Furstenberg gave roughly $260 million, pledging an additional

  • $120 million to maintain it over the next 20 years.

  • To be clear, that's a huge donation.

  • Most major public works donations are in the tens of millions, not hundreds.

  • Little Island sits on 132 tulip-shaped concrete pots rising out of the water where Pier 54's

  • old wooden piles once were.

  • Engineers used precast concrete to form the basis of the structure.

  • That helped the team avoid challenges of casting concrete over a river and the expense of steel

  • construction.

  • Though the pots look unique, each was modelled using a Cairo pentagon pattern that allowed

  • for slight variations from the basic pentagon design.

  • The pots were then cast offsite in smaller parts before being shipped to New York and

  • assembled over the Hudson.

  • You feel you're leaving behind Manhattan rather than just on a bigger piece of Manhattan.

  • It's the three dimensionality of it that makes you actually sort of de-stress and have the

  • associations that topography and landscape give you.

  • The entire park is designed to be like a giant sponge for stormwater, as it filters down

  • through the structure where it's treated below

  • ground and gradually released back into the Hudson.

  • The island features hundreds of different plants, multiple scenic overlooks, an outdoor

  • amphitheatre, a smaller stage, picnic grounds and

  • food and drink vendors that sell $10 avocado toast.

  • It's open to the public from 6am until 1am, though the park's capacity is monitored.

  • If you want to enter after noon, you'll have to book a free entry reservation. And

  • much like many New York attractions, it's been kind of hard to get into, at least for

  • now.

  • Most people do not feel any tension whatsoever. People who study public space and are concerned

  • about privatisation feel a wrenching, gut wrenching tension is that you have a very

  • contradictory space with public ownership, public access, but private management.

  • This isn't New York City's first attempt at revitalising its piers.

  • In 1995, private funding revamped several piers on the Hudson to create a 28-acre waterfront

  • sports village at Chelsea Piers.

  • More recently, Pier 26 was opened to the public, featuring an open lawn and sports area.

  • And now a public beach is being developed near Pier 53.

  • Little Island isn't Heatherwick's first controversial public-private partnership.

  • He also designed the ambitious Garden Bridge project

  • in London, which was ultimately killed before it ever got built.

  • Whether you like it or not, people do draw a comparison between Little Island and the

  • Garden Bridge that was proposed in London. Is it just inevitable when you're creating

  • spaces that are of this profound in our cities that you're

  • going to have fans and detractors? Or would

  • you, would you prefer it to sit a little bit more on the kind of universally liked side

  • of the arena?

  • This shows what London missed. This got stuck in politics. Little Island was involved in

  • politics. It got stopped. But some politicians came together who had a bigger vision of

  • the strategic value for a city. But in a way, it's useful, the pier existing, because it

  • shows us that what seemed like fantasy in London wasn't that.

  • In the end, Little Island's opening proved to be both a political and logistical feat.

  • Whether or not it's what New York needed, it's a striking addition to the ever-changing

  • waterfront.

  • And it goes to show what a little persistence, and some millions of dollars, can get you

  • in this city.

  • If you enjoyed this video and would like to get more from the definitive video channel

  • for construction, subscribe to The B1M.

New York City's iconic waterfront just got a radical addition.

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B1 US pier island hudson york public park

The Battle to Build the Big Apple's Little Island

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    Knight posted on 2021/06/28
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