2018 Was the Year of the Aspirational Park

By on December 28, 2018

From CityLab:  Perhaps the loudest sign of an urban trend comes from its least inspiring example. Along the Hudson River in Manhattan, construction has begun on Pier 55, a fantastical floating park and performance venue dreamed up by the British designer Thomas Heatherwick. With a $250 million price tag—being paid entirely by the entertainment mogul Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg—Diller Island (as it’s been nicknamed) will provide something special, for a public that didn’t ask for it, in a neighborhood that doesn’t need it.

Pier 55 feeds off of the success of the nearby High Line, which has a similar but more benevolent origin story. It was initiated in the early 2000s by a private entity, the Friends of the High Line, which wanted to turn a piece of decaying infrastructure (a disused elevated railway) into a romantic, modern icon. The group envisioned the High Line as a public space unlike any other in the world, serving the misfit artists and public-housing residents who defined the neighborhood of Chelsea. But the project ended up accelerating the gentrification of the surrounding area under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and became a symbol of 2010s Manhattan at its worst: an Instagram pit stop for tourists and a fashion accessory for luxury development. Diller Island, having survived an onslaught of well-financed opposition before ground broke, will fit in quite nicely with its surroundings when it opens in 2021.

The increasing role of private philanthropy in urban parks raises the question of who is best served by these projects, and whether private funding on this scale will erode public-sector initiative in creating green space. There is a brighter side to the money pouring into today’s stunning public spaces, however. Many of these new or revitalized parks focus on social integration, public health, biodiversity, and climate resilience, resulting in broadly appealing and accessible escapes from the worst aspects of modern life.

Below, CityLab staffers look back at the big park-related stories of 2018 and share why they think these places point to something (mostly) positive.

Read more.

About Dede Hance