Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Tulip-shaped columns support New York’s latest public park, the tiny (2.4 acre) Little Island, which perches on a pier above the Hudson River.

From wrecked pier to public park: Exploring New York’s Little Island

A new Gotham green space hovers above the Hudson River. Open since May, Little Island boasts selfie-worthy views of the jagged Manhattan skyline. The addition to Hudson River Park leads guests up a gangplank to a space – upheld by tulip-shaped concrete columns – where they can traipse short trails, enjoy live performances, and picnic on a grassy slope. The city is inseparable from the human-made oasis, as chatter blends with the muffled roar of the West Side Highway.

Private money props up the public park. Developed over a decade, Little Island was mostly funded by the family foundation of media mogul Barry Diller and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. (The couple’s philanthropy also supports the nearby High Line, an elevated park.) Mr. Diller conceived of Little Island, whose structure was designed by Heatherwick Studio in London. New York-based MNLA designed the landscape, which rises above the remains of a hurricane-wrecked pier.

Currently, visitors to the park, which is free, must make timed-entry reservations from midday onward to help curb crowds. With 2.4 acres to explore, there’s not much space for solitude. But the petite park offers something pandemic-weary New Yorkers might crave even more: whimsy. “For me, if you walk up that bridge and you leave New York behind, and you enter our little Oz, and it brings you pleasure, it was all worthwhile,” Mr. Diller told The Wall Street Journal. 

Why We Wrote This

Space is a hot commodity in dense cities. In New York, a "little Oz" built over the remains of a hurricane-wrecked pier is changing ideas of how – and where – to build parks.

Waist-high blooms abound. Square tiles tinkle like bells when tapped by feet. One June afternoon a boy rolls down the slope, his shirt picking up loose strands of grass.

Little Island is open daily from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. Free, timed-entry reservations are required from noon onward.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Visitors wander Little Island, a 2.4-acre public park in the Hudson River, on July 8, 2021. It was largely funded by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg’s foundation, with additional money from the city and state governments.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Instructor Stephanie Peña (in pink) teaches merengue to families.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Trailing plants and wildflowers temper the hard edges of a rusted-metal retaining wall. The park’s plantings include 35 species of trees, 65 species of shrubs, and 270 types of grasses, perennials, vines, and bulbs.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A visitor enjoys the “xylophone” inside the park entrance. Each square makes a different sound when stepped on.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
People enjoy a noontime concert in the amphitheater, which overlooks the Hudson River.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Priya Darshini sings in the amphitheater during a noontime performance on Little Island.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Pilings from the original Pier 54 are still visible. The pier was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Visitors leave the island past a carved sign.

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