A little over a month ago local news outlets were heralding its opening and influencers were coming out in droves ready to pose and post. But it appears that visitors are already a little disenchanted with Little Island, NYC’s newest park. Funded largely by multi-billionaire Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, this brainchild of Thomas Heatherwick, the architect behind Vessel, and the landscape architect Signe Nielsen aims to provide New Yorkers with an escape from Manhattan, presumably on the back of a white concrete amoeba. Diller describes Little Island’s goals in cheerier terms, expressing that he was going for “a space that on first sight was dazzling, and upon use made people happy.” With thousands of people still heading to the island over a month after its opening, one would think they had succeeded with that vision. But online forums tell a different story.
Recently, I’ve come across a couple of threads on a popular NYC activities Facebook group that have departed from the usual Little Island-lovefest in the media. The common sentiment from the threads’ commentators is that Little Island is overrated and it doesn’t have enough for visitors to do. Several noted that they walked through the whole thing in an unremarkable 20 minutes, not enough time to make the journey to the flanks of the Meatpacking District worth it for them.
Now, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But some opinions make me wonder if those people have spent so much time watching those spinning thingamajigs at Little Island that their brains have turned into mush. I’m joking about that; please don’t come for me. But I do believe that the people who think Little Island is overrated are missing the point.
Little Island has all the elements that make a small park enjoyable. It is modern yet charming, like Alice in Wonderland meets The Hobbit. It has mini wildflower gardens and manicured lawns with hills perfect for you to roll down. It has selfie-bait views of Lower Manhattan (and New Jersey, if you’re into that). It has places to sit, places to stroll, intimate performance stages, and overpriced food trucks. Heck, it even has bathrooms. It’s its own quirky ecosystem.
Yet, I don’t blame people for not enjoying their time there. I’ve been to Little Island twice so far and I didn’t get much from the experience. But it wasn’t because I thought Little Island was boring or overrated; instead, it was because Little Island is overcrowded. The 2.4-acre park has a capacity of 1,000 people at a time, and boy, does it feel like they push the limits on that. Little Island is meant to be this dreamy place, but even the dreamiest place becomes a nightmare when you feel like you’ve been forced onto a moving conveyor belt of people. That type of setup is more fitting for an airport or an amusement park, not for a park that aims to give visitors an immersive experience and a sense of escape. Unless by sense of escape they mean constantly trying to escape the people ahead of and behind you.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope that this conveyor belt experience will change anytime soon. Right now, the people packing the park are mostly New Yorkers; can you imagine the sardine tin Little Island will become once tourism is back in full swing? The Meatpacking District is already a tourist hotspot because of the High Line, so building Little Island in the same area may not have been the wisest location choice.
If you want to attempt to have the kind of experience where you can properly immerse yourself in Little Island, perhaps wait until the summer is over or try visiting the park at the crack of dawn. Maybe then you’ll be free to get lost in Little Island’s world of whimsy without wishing that the people around you would just get lost.
In the meantime, I can think of a couple of better conversations we can have about Little Island rather than debating whether or not it’s overrated. For instance, do you think Little Island debuted at the wrong time? Would this have been better received when the city was in lockdown? And what about the location? Would it have been better to put a park like this in another area of the city that isn’t as affluent or that doesn’t have as much access to green space? Or we can talk about the pros and cons of using private funding for a major public project like Little Island. I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions in the comment section.
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