New York City's newest park is finally here!
At 6am on Friday morning, the public was allowed into Little Island, the "floating" greenspace within the Hudson River Park—you know, the one set on massive pylons that stick up out of the water? You can't miss it.
For years, during its planning and construction, it's been a subject of controversy and mystery, as it is primarily funded by The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation, but now it's all out in the open, and it's glorious.
Across two acres, lies an entirely new ecosystem of gorgeous plantings and prime space for live music and performances. It's amazing to think that this entire oasis, with its beautiful and thoughtful greenery, is now a place we can call ours.
"It's a little bit surreal after so many years of planning and imagining and also so joyous to witness people in the space having a wonderful time ding all of the things I know the design team was looking forward to," says the park's Executive Director Trish Santini. "It is a magical place. It's community again. Nature, art and community—that's all here and that's what we all need more than ever."
It opens each morning at 6am and doesn't close until 1am each night. To keep social distancing possible, the park is requiring that people reserve free, timed tickets on its website first.
On Thursday, we got to walk through the park and find out what you should get excited about as you make your plans to visit:
Rolling hills and greenery
When walking through the vaulted pylon-opening of Little Island, you'll immediately see a gradient of colors made by plantings that change as the elevation changes, from shrubs and vines to 60-foot trees. A sloping lawn welcomes you straight ahead and walkways to the left and right take you up to the island's highest points and boulders you can scramble up, which are surrounded by 35 species of trees, 65 species of shrubs, and 270 varieties of grasses, perennials, vines and bulbs that'll make you feel "engulfed in plants," according to landscape architect and a founding principal of landscape architecture firm MNLA, Signe Nielsen.
While walking the paths, we were charmed by the incredible colors that popped out at us from the newly-mulched gardens. We had to stop several times to literally smell the roses and take ample shots for Instagram.
Not only is the landscape itself picturesque, but the views you'll see from the park from both the lower and higher levels are sublime. When you take the path in front of you from the entrance to the very top, which is at about 62 feet off the water, you'll get a 360-degree, sweeping view of Manhattan, the river and across to New Jersey.
Look south and you'll see One World Trade. Look east and you'll see the Empire State Building. Can you imagine the view at night?
Two amphitheaters for live music and performances
Little Island is far from a quiet park. Every day, it'll have multiple performances across its acreage. We were told that "hundreds and hundreds" of performances have been scheduled for the summer, which will take place not only near the grassy knoll but at its amphitheaters starting in June.
Its grandest theater is called "The Amph," which has enough seats for 687 people, is situated on the western edge of the park right on the Hudson River. That's right, it has a river for a backdrop.
It's the only space that will have ticketed performances, but that being said, anyone in the park who is walking along the walkways or sitting around the amphitheater will be able to see the stage and won't be asked to leave, according to Alverneq Lindsay, Little Island's programming associate.
"My favorite part is that you can see it from the overlooks," she says. "I think all these spaces are encouraging access to the arts. A lot of people, there can be a barrier to entry to the performing arts. To see it happen...makes it so much more relatable to people."
People can just hang out in the theater when it's not officially in use, too, meaning you can watch a rehearsal or spread out on the steps.
Playwright and award-winning director Tina Landau, who is one of the park's artists-in-residence, says she'll have three performances in The Amph, which she says is unlike any other stage.
"What I love is like it seems like it's a traditional amphitheater space but the light is always changing, the boats are always shifting, the planes are changing, people are wandering in and out and you're in dialogue with these spaces around here, too," she tells us. "I think Little Island is radical and unique and singular certainly in the country if not the world."
And there's really no bad seat in the house.
To the left of the entrance, there is a secret garden full of only white blooms—birch trees, crepe myrtles and anemones—that you can get to by walking through an arched trellis covered in white roses.
Here, you'll find The Glade, an intimate performance space that'll also have free educational programming for children six days a week by teaching artists, the Children’s Museum of Arts and New Victory Education as well as a Teen Night with The Door and a Little Library that visits the park on Fridays in partnership with the Free Black Women’s Library, Women in Comics and Teatro SEA.
In general, the park will have four artists-in-residence over three years: Tap dancer and choreographer Ayodele Casel, Tina Landau, actor/singer/music director Michael McElroy, and acting/musical/ storytelling group, PigPen Theatre Co.
The majority of events will be free, including music, dance, circus, spoken word, from surprise performances with local performers to special events with renowned New York City arts organizations. Ticketed events will be primarily free or low-cost.
Curious as to what you'll see this summer? Pencil in a concert with the award-winning Broadway Inspirational Voices, a Pride weekend celebration with Tina Landau and her many Broadway friends, performances by the American Ballet Theatre, a revival of a Little Orchestra Society’s "Things That Go Bang!" and a weekend of music from the islands curated by the World Music Institute, among others.
You can keep up to date by visiting Little Island's events calendar.
Food trucks and a shaded cafe area
To the right of the entrance, The Play Ground is where you can grab a bite to eat or cool off with a drink. Three stalls await customers with a full menu of snacks, alcoholic (local beer, cider and spritzers) and non-alcoholic drinks (we recommend the refreshing lemonade).
Savory Hospitality operates the stalls, which are surrounded by shaded seating. You can order from 7-11pm.
Little Island, within Hudson River Park at West 13th Street and Pier 55, is open daily from 6am to 1am, with timed reservations required from noon to 10pm. All admission is free. Arrange a time to visit online at LittleIsland.org or in person at the park entrance.