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My Little Island

Started: 2022-07-26 19:32:45

Submitted: 2022-07-26 21:28:59

Visibility: World-readable

Onto a Little Island and up the High Line

For breakfast on Sunday the 17th of July on our vacation in New York City, my sister (and host) Bethany nipped downstairs and around the corner to pick up bagels at a At home Calvin has developed a healthy appreciation for bagels (we get mostly grocery store bakery bulk bagels); this was his first time eating proper New York City bagels, which I understand are supposed to be a religious experience. These bagels were a bit tough and may not have been quite the introduction we were hoping for.

We caught a bus down Second Ave then transferred to a cross-town bus to head to the Meatpacking District to visit Little Island, a new park in the Hudson River standing on hundreds of concrete columns looking like the wooden piles supporting the piers running along the waterfront.

Little Island perched in the Hudson River
Little Island perched in the Hudson River

We timed our arrival to reach the island before noon, when the island's website told us that we would need a timed ticket to enter. We arrived just in time, though there did not appear to be any infrastructure to check tickets (and as I write this, a week later, the website indicates they no longer require timed tickets at any time).

Bridge leading to Little Island
Bridge leading to Little Island

The island-park occupies a small square of river with almost every piece of its rolling surface covered in vegetation; the overall impression is something like a deliberate attempt to replicate the High Line in the river. The vegetation looked overgrown in the carefully-designed manner of a newly-landscaped park; despite the crowds of people on the island the concrete trails and benches and other features hadn't yet acquired a lived-in feel. It felt almost artificial, like the carefully-crafted hipster-adjacent interior of a Starbucks; but I had confidence that the park would grow into its setting and it would age well.

Josh, Bethany, Julian, and Calvin on Little Island
Josh, Bethany, Julian, and Calvin on Little Island

Neither of our hosts had visited Little Island since it opened last year, so this was a new experience for all of us. We joined the crowds heading up the hill to the observation deck on the artificial summit, a few dozen feet above the Hudson River.

Ascending the summit of Little Island
Ascending the summit of Little Island

The summit was approximately the size of my kitchen and was packed with people looking for the best view of the Hudson River stretching all the way to Lower Manhattan and Jersey City (behind Calvin and I in the picture below).

Jaeger and Calvin on Little Island
Jaeger and Calvin on Little Island

I left the summit to let other people have the view and stopped to admire the island's structure.

Looking under Little Island at the Hudson River
Looking under Little Island at the Hudson River

The island is built from hundreds of gracefully-curving precast concrete bulbs perched on top of piers driven into the river below. From the surface of the island the landscaping smooths over the sections, but the island is set up with seams and views were we could look under the sections and see the piers running into the river below.

Little Island's support piers
Little Island's support piers

I dropped by the restroom and saw that it was built with sprayed concrete on the ceiling, giving the impression that it was built in a cave carved into the island (rather than built, like the rest of the island, out of nothingness).

Little Island, Chelsea, and the Empire State Building
Little Island, Chelsea, and the Empire State Building

The center of the island is occupied by the large sloped lawn leading down to a paved patio filled with shade-covered picnic tables bordered by food trucks. The lawn was roped off to give the grass more time to grow before subjecting it to people, foretelling a future when the whole expanse of the lawn was open to children of all ages running up and down.

Lawn on Little Island
Lawn on Little Island

We departed Little Island and walked a couple of blocks to Starbucks Reserve, their luxury experience brand featuring a cavernous interior with machines roasting coffee on the floor, pipes carrying green and roasted coffee between the roasters and storage, lots of merchandise, and a large coffee bar offering a selection of choices for the discerning palette.

Starbucks Reserve coffee bar
Starbucks Reserve coffee bar

I ordered a cold-brew tasting flight, which came with three small cold-brew coffees: a regular cold-brew, the same brew on nitro, and a "whiskey barrel aged" coffee. (Calvin and Julian selected different flavors of pastries, and I got a third, so we effectively had a flight of pastries as well.)

Cold-brew tasting at Starbucks Reserve
Cold-brew tasting at Starbucks Reserve

I liked the silky smoothness of the nitro; it offset the slightly-sour notes of the regular cold-brew. The barrel-aged coffee was interesting: it picked up a sweetness from the barrel that, while quite distinct, was still restrained.

We dropped by the Apple Store next door where Bethany and Josh got new cases for their iPhones and also ended up with a bunch of Air Tags. I took the opportunity to show off the computers I helped develop, all on display in the store.

We walked through Chelsea Market, a crowded market packed with tiny shops (one might call it a "mall" except one doesn't call things "malls" any more) occupying the ground floor of a former cracker factory (with Google offices above). It was a fine example of industrial reuse, but the food halls were too crowded for me to imagine actually eating anything there, so we left the market and ate lunch at Dos Caminos, which I think is Bethany's favorite Mexican restaurant in the city.

Inside Chelsea Market
Inside Chelsea Market

Properly fortified by our late lunch, we headed to the beginning of the High Line on Gansevoort Street (the map indicates that this is the part of Manhattan where the regular grid goes non-Euclidian as it tries to split the difference between the primary Manhattan grid and the grid imposed by the proximity to the Hudson River).

Bethany and Julian on the High Line
Bethany and Julian on the High Line

The last time I visited New York City we walked the High Line; nine years ago the first two phases of the line were open and many of the buildings around the line were under construction. I find it interesting to compare and contrast the pictures I took then with the pictures I took on this trip; I photographed the hotel above in its entirety at the beginning of the high line, and the bridge below (now linking what I presume must be Google offices on either side of 15th Street) is clearly visible in a nearly-identical photo nine years earlier, when the trees on the street in front of Chelsea Market were much smaller than they are today.

Bridge over 15th Street
Bridge over 15th Street

The High Line was comfortably crowded on the Sunday afternoon as we walked. The original train tracks were still visible between the paving stones, providing a tangible connection to the century-old industrial infrastructure; in other places, trees grew between the tracks (whether through neglect after the line was abandoned or by deliberate planting when the park was developed I couldn't be sure, probably both).

Walking up the High Line
Walking up the High Line

New construction climbed above the High Line on both sides, supplementing the now-complete buildings that had been under construction on my last visit. Each of the seemed to be intent to out-design the earlier buildings: a complex of mid-rise towers with oddly-angled sides faced an existing building with weird bubbled windows. None of the buildings wanted to be boring.

Construction above the High Line
Construction above the High Line

We reached Hudson Yards and the High Line took a sharp turn to the west, towards the Hudson River, routing around the Long Island Railroad yard. Nine years ago this was the end of the line; now this was just another section of the line.

Hudson Yards
Hudson Yards

We walked around the LIRR yard as trains shunted in and out, heading to and from Penn Station and onward to Queens and Long Island. Above the yards in the first phase of the development high-rise towers perched above the tracks, their very presence a testament to the engineering that distributed their load around the active rail yard into the rock below. These towers were taller and seemed more sterile than the mid-rise buildings along the High Line: they were all glass-and-steel International Style buildings, not quite all generic rectangles, and all of them shaped a bit different; but none with any of the bold lines from Chelsea.

Bethany, Julian, and Calvin look out over Hudson Yards
Bethany, Julian, and Calvin look out over Hudson Yards

We walked around the rail yard and looped back into the development, past Vessel, the one architecturally-interesting feature of Hudson Yards. This photo doesn't quite capture the size of the object nor the sheer audacity of a ten-story-tall sculpture that serves no practical purpose other than to be a work of art. Nor does the photo below capture all of the people that were trying to photograph the sculpture and trying to get pictures of themselves with the sculpture.

Vessel in Hudson Yards
Vessel in Hudson Yards

We headed east and dropped by the new Moynihan Train Hall before catching an E train to Midtown East.

Inside the Moynihan Train Hall
Inside the Moynihan Train Hall

We exited the subway right under Citigroup Center, under the corner of the building cantilevered over the void below.

Looking up at Citigroup Center
Looking up at Citigroup Center

I have even more pictures from my Sunday in Chelsea than I could include above at Photos on 2022-07-17.

It's probably a mistake to let filmmakers talk about their films.
- James Cameron, _The Abyss_ Special Edition