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Design

2018 Was the Year of the Aspirational Park

Private funding and high-impact design were recurring themes of parks that opened in 2018. So was the hope that parks can unite, repair, and invigorate cities.
A lot of money is pouring into public spaces created by famous designers these days. More often than not, it's worth it.
A lot of money is pouring into public spaces created by famous designers these days. More often than not, it's worth it.Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

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.