What it's like to visit Little Island, NYC's newest public park built as an artificial island off Manhattan

  • Little Island, New York City’s newest public park, opened on May 21.
  • The park was primarily funded by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.
  • “What I’ve heard Mr. Diller say often is that the park just transports you to Oz,” Celine Armstrong, Little Island’s project executive, told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

New York City is already known for its landmark attractions like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and Central Park.

But now, a new contender funded by a billionaire TV magnate and a fashion powerhouse's family foundation has entered the cityscape: Little Island.

Little Island is tucked inside of the larger waterfront Hudson River Park, which runs along the West Side Highway.

Despite its name, Little Island — and its cost, but we'll dive into that later — is anything but "little."

The 2.4-acre public park is perched above the Hudson River on Pier 55 …

… just a few blocks away from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Chelsea Market, and Google's second largest office.

Source: Google

"[The park is] really important for mental health purposes," Celine Armstrong, the project executive for Little Island, told Insider. "You need green space, you need people to have a place to relax, and in order to do that, you need private dollars."

The Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, headed by power couple Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, funded the majority of the public park.

Diller currently serves as the chairman of IAC and Expedia, but previously ran companies like QVC and Fox.

His wife, Diane von Fürstenberg, is a fashion powerhouse with an eponymous fashion line.

The couple's foundation has previously poured millions of dollars into public parks, and its long list of grantees include the Central Park Conservancy and the High Line.

Source: Philanthropy News Digest, The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation

But the foundation's latest push for Little Island may be the biggest yet: the park is the "largest private public donation to public open space in New York City's history" …

… and the second largest private donation to a public open space in the country, according to Armstrong.

The foundation donated $260 million to Little Island, and will continue giving an additional $120 million through the next decade for upkeep and the park's shows, Adrian Gaut reported for Wall Street Journal.

Source: Wall Street Journal

In comparison, the city donated $17 million to Little Island, while the state chipped in $4 million.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Diller's decision to help maintain the park is "unheard of," Armstrong said.

Curbed recently referred to Little Island as Diller's "big beautiful baby," and it's easy to understand why.

  1. erstand why. 

Source: Curbed

Diller was so pivotal to Little Island, the project has been called "Diller Island."

Source: The New York Times

"He's very involved with it," Armstrong said.

His wife, von Fürstenberg, was also involved by attending design meetings. Her attributions can be seen in the most minute of details on Little Island: she picked the bronze handrails, according to Armstrong.

Little Island's history spans back to 2013 when Diller partnered with the Hudson River Park Trust to reimagine Pier 54 — which had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy — as a public space and subsequently, a park.

Source: Little Island

The starting team then tapped firms like Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects' Signe Nielsen and Heatherwick Studio — which previously designed NYC's controversial but flashy Vessel — to design and plan the logistics of Little Island.

The park looks incredibly similar to its initial concepts, according to Armstrong.

She believes this was possible in part because Diller and his family were patient, flexible, and able to fund all of the research and development necessary for the Little Island's unique design and appearance.

The majority of the park's timeline was consumed by the design process, and not construction: "luckily if the design is good, you can efficiently build it because trades know what they're doing," Armstrong said.

And after a slew of lawsuits, subsequent intervention from both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and issues with rising cost — as reported by the New York Times — the park was finally completed and unveiled to the city's residents on May 21.

Source: The New York Times

"Given how many revolutions this went through, from starting to dying and starting again, I was actually awestruck when I could actually look up and see it," Diller told the Wall Street Journal. "I walked on [the island] and felt pure, actual joy, which is not something I can say happens very often."

Source: Wall Street Journal

Like most public parks in the city, Little Island is free for all visitors.

It's open from 6 a.m. through 1 a.m., but for now, guests are required to make a reservation for visits after 12 p.m.

Luckily, I was able to visit the park a day before it's grand opening. So let's take a look inside.

New Yorkers driving by on the West Side Highway have been ogling at the park's unique foundation for many months now.

And for a good reason: Little Island is visually unlike any other park in New York City.

"What I've heard Mr. Diller say often is that the park just transports you to Oz," Armstrong said. "You are transported into a different place and you have time to just wander around and be amazed at every turn, each pathway.

The entire island sits on top of 280 concrete piles, the leftover structure from the pier, and 132 concrete "tulips," according to a press release.

Source: Little Island

The concrete tulips, which are all different shapes, are arguably the most eye-catching feature of the park.

They tower above the Hudson River at varying cascading heights, mimicking the flow of the water beneath it.

"I love high design and innovation and just pushing the boundaries of what could be built, and this does that," Armstrong said. "It allowed us to tinker and really collaborate with everyone, so your ego is checked at the door."

From the outside looking in, the park looks like bundles of green foliage and bronze fences atop the concrete, tulip-shaped pillars.

And inside the park, it's unusually peaceful and lush compared to the bustle of New York City.

Little Island also offers unique glimpses of the city through varying vantage points.

The views of New York City from inside Little Island are unlike any rooftop Manhattan has to offer.

Some parts of Little Island offer sweeping views of the Hudson River, while other sections provide a panoramic view of downtown Manhattan and One World Trade Center.

These different viewpoints can be accessed by following the winding pathways sprinkled throughout the park.

Seating benches and bunches of greenery and flowers also line every walkway.

The park has over 350 species of foliage and flowers amounting to 114 trees and over 66,000 bulbs, according to the press release.

Source: Little Island

And now that it's springtime, the flowers are in full bloom, creating a colorful park that contrasts the city's grey, sometimes drab skyscrapers.

Now, let's take a closer look at the different sections of the park.

The "Play Ground" serves as Little Island's central point.

This is where you'll find your typical park amenities, such food and drink options and seating under the shade.

The amphitheater — known aptly as the "Amph" — is located just a short walk away from the Play Ground towards the northwest end of the park.

One of the biggest changes from the original design of the park was the addition of this 687-seat amphitheater …

… and subsequently, the dressing rooms, prop areas, toilet facilities, and general manager's office, according to Armstrong.

But the amphitheater isn't the only public stage on Little Island.

There's also a conjoined stage and lawn area known as the "Glade" on the opposite end of the park.

Yes, Little Island has two different stages, but that's because the arts will be a cornerstone aspect of the park.

Starting June, the island will have four resident artists and events like concerts, dance, and theater six days a week.

"Little Island is going to spark inspiration for designers, engineers, general dreamers, and artists," Armstrong said. "You're experiencing the environment while you're experiencing art."

All of this likely wouldn't have happened without the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation's donation and work, according to Armstrong.

As a result, Armstrong hopes Little Island will encourage more private donations to public parks.

"We need private donations for public open space, and this just shows what you can do with private money, Armstrong said. "You can have a bit more control and flexibility to test methods, and that's how you reach excellence."


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