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Behold, the “Little Island” mini-park in the Hudson River, occupying the former site of Pier 54, now demolished, where survivors of the Titanic landed in 1912. This is the second big public art statement installed around the lower Manhattan Meatpacking District — the first was the High Line, a linear above street-grade trail wending between blocks on the foundation of an old elevated railroad trestle that used to service the industries that no longer exist there. The High Line was built before Covid-19 destroyed New York City’s latest business model (as the counting-house for the asset-stripping of Flyover America). Both works are interesting civic decor stunts that actually tell interesting stories far different than what you see superficially.

The main message of both is that the city streets themselves are beyond hopeless as far as creating rewarding urban space for humans. Just fuggeddabowt it. This is, or course, a complete refutation of urban design per se. Rather, in these constructions “nature” is fetishized as something apart from the fabric of the city, something only experienced via formal programming. Here’s that nature you ordered. Now form a line…!

Another message is that the USA’s foremost harbor is not expected to function as a seaport anymore, ever. Instead, it will be the site of heroic conceptual artworks aggrandizing the arty classes of society. Note to readers: the time will come — and probably not that far into the future — when the region will need a working waterfront along the Hudson River. I know that’s hard to believe but that’s where reality is taking us. Another note to readers: the arty classes of today will go extinct in the resource-and-capital scarcity-constrained decades ahead. All the financial infrastructure that currently supports this class of pretentious idlers — the foundations, the government hand-outs, the grad schools, the endlessly-replicating museums — will be history and only those people skilled in the practical arts will earn a livelihood.  You get a sense of the current reigning twee sensibility in this excerpt from Michael Kimmelman’s review of Little Island in The New York Times:

Rising from the Hudson River, Little Island preens atop a bouquet of tulip-shaped columns, begging to be posted on Instagram. Outside, it’s eye candy. Inside, a charmer, with killer views.

Mega-mogul Barry Diller’s $260 million, 2.4-acre pet project and civic mitzvah, near 13th Street in Hudson River Park, is the architectural equivalent of a kitchen sink sundae, with a little bit of everything. Who knows what it will feel like when crowds arrive this weekend. I suspect they will be enormous.”

We’re informed further down that Little Island has a whole staff of arts programmers for the two performance spaces on it: a 687-seat amphitheater and a little stage in a glade of trees. I hope Barry Diller set up a trust to keep paying for all that because New York City is on its way to going stone broke, with office towers running at 20 percent occupancy and gainfully employed taxpayers fleeing to the work-from-home burbs (another tragic development, by the way). New York could barely maintain its subway system pre-Covid, when financialization was funneling all those stripped assets to Wall Street.  Prediction: within two years Little Island will be an especially choice encampment site for the homeless to pitch their tents. Wait for it….

Little Island was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, same guy who designed The Vessel, featured as the October 2016 Eyesore of the Month

Thanks to Franklin Vaugn for this month’s nomination.


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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

23 Responses to “June 2021” Subscribe

  1. Q. Shtik June 3, 2021 at 3:17 pm #

    The moment pics of Little Island appeared in the NYT the words “Eyesore of the Month” came to mind.

  2. Dr. Coyote June 3, 2021 at 3:53 pm #

    My Amazon Nature(tm) package just arrived! OboyOboyOboy!

  3. BackRowHeckler June 3, 2021 at 5:31 pm #

    Jim, I have to say, as far as Eyesores go, this one isn’t too bad. You’ve posted much worse. The artsy bullsh#t aside, that little island looks like it would be a pleasant spot to drop a line in the River, drink a beer, or have a picnic on a sunny summer day.

  4. MrMangoOnMyShoulder June 3, 2021 at 7:49 pm #

    Pave infrastructure, and put up a…mini-golf course?

  5. KesaAnna June 3, 2021 at 9:49 pm #

    ” Here’s that nature you ordered. Now form a line…! ”

    Lol , that sounds like it could be the new slogan for the National Parks.

    Or , maybe ,

    ” This is yours ! — except it isn’t. ”

    Anyways , I preferred , I think , the privately run Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge , TN.

    https://titanicpigeonforge.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/titanic-pigeon-forge-graphic-logo.jpg

    An , albeit truncated , form of the Titanic squatting in the middle of town struck me as cool beans !

    Alas , the boat is merely a shell. Inside it is a conventional museum.

    They have an excellent mock up of a Third Class cabin , a First class cabin , the famous Grand Staircase , and the ships bridge.

    That’s good enough I suppose.

    The costumes of the employees were tolerably historically accurate.

    With one exception that annoyed me ; The men were not wearing the gorgeous Titanic officers peaked cap.

    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/292746764791

    Grrr , what the hell do people have against peaked caps ?

    Well , I went to the museum to see a man in one of those gorgeous peaked caps ,

    and to see if they had any White Star Line lapel pins in the gift shop.

    Yep , they had White Star Line lapel pins in the gift shop.

    So I bought about 40 dollars worth of lapel pins.

    I never wear them though. They are too valuable to me !

    What if my pin got scuffed or rained on ?!

    People are crazy I guess.

    I agree with BRH , looks like maybe a good spot to fish and get drunk .

    If the elbow – room were available , if you could get drunk without being hassled.

    Otherwise it looks to me like it could use a Ferris Wheel or carousel , maybe a calliope and a public clock for good measure.

    What the hell do people have against Ferris Wheels , carousels , calliopes , and public clocks now ?

    Oh well.

  6. KesaAnna June 3, 2021 at 9:56 pm #

    ” Little Island was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, same guy who designed The Vessel, featured as the October 2016 Eyesore of the Month ”

    The vessel looks cool beans to me…..

    except I’m guessing a carousel and a hot dog stand would have been a hell of a lot cheaper ?

    • KesaAnna June 3, 2021 at 9:58 pm #

      — a carousel , a hot dog stand , and some employees in gorgeous peaked caps.

      😀

      • KesaAnna June 3, 2021 at 10:03 pm #

        The women could wear peaked caps , and 1960 Star Trek – type outfits.

        I think I’m a fucking visionary.

  7. tom clark June 3, 2021 at 10:54 pm #

    Yup…it’s an eyesore. Now what?

  8. tucsonspur June 4, 2021 at 7:03 am #

    I was born in Brooklyn, NY, lived in the city for decades, and so four times out of five I’m going to defend this urban universe like a uxorious husband would defend his wife, and I won’t retreat like George Washington had to in the Battle of Brooklyn.

    First, I’ll assert the axiom; In NYC you take what you can get in the way of trees and flowers, parks and recreation, and you do that precisely because, as the inimitable Mr. Kunstler states, ‘the city streets are beyond hopeless as far as creating rewarding space for humans. Just fuggeddabowt it.’ Right, not many roses grow in Spanish Harlem, so why not plant them where we can?

    I love the High Line even though I haven’t been there. Watched the TV documentary about it awhile back, but couldn’t visit because of the covid. It’s on the tracks and above the street. Look it up, look at the captivating pictures. You make the best of what you have. The High Line acknowledges what is absent in the city and makes us more aware of it, reminds us that we can be urban but still be unbowed.

    It’s the same with Little Island. You take, do what you can. Sure, they could have tethered about a dozen floating, faux lily pads on the Hudson, but of what use would they be other than being pleasant to look at and providing a place for the wharf rats to sun bathe?

    So we’re heading for the Die-Centennial, the Dutch came to NYC about 1600, Peter Minuit punked the Indians with trinkets, then came Wall Street (sensational segue?), then the stock ticker, the Wall Street clippers, and here we are, ‘takin’ a walk on the wild side’. We came this way because we didn’t go any other way. Predestination anybody?

    I don’t think that it’s going too far out on a limb to say that cities themselves are cultivated and nurtured, grown in many ways, and in that aspect are a part of nature, a part of human nature as complex nest builders.

    So give me Little Island, the High Line, and the Hudson River line like Billy Joel, cause I’m in a ‘New York State of Mind’. And for you non Noo Yawkers, remember, you can’t have everything.

    ‘New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!’ In spite of de Blasio.

  9. joejoepelligrino June 4, 2021 at 7:59 am #

    At least the Palace of Versailles was a “nature by decree” project that was beautiful. What does it say that the ancien regime looks better than our current crop of decadent elite who probably should have already had a date with Madame Guillotine? Also, note the touches about the Mitzvah being done. You think now’s the time to seed references to our über-elite with Kosher salt? It reminds me of an article on the Bar Mitzvah Wars in the early aughts, where the ultra-wealthy hired rap stars for their kids’ thirteenth birthdays and charted big ostentatious yachts and ocean liners. “Just to make sure no stereotype went unfulfilled, partygoers celebrated by drinking a wine glass filled with gentile blood.”

  10. dowd June 4, 2021 at 8:21 am #

    Very meditative suggesting escape, appreciation for the past, coming doom, etc.

  11. bymitch June 4, 2021 at 5:38 pm #

    “…the architectural equivalent of a kitchen sink sundae…”

    Instead of thoughts rushing off to candy land, and a hyperglycemic rush, I immediately zoned in on the chaos that is Zappa’s, “The Dangerous Kitchen.”
    Like the ‘sponge on the drainer’ and the ‘stuff on the strainer’ this little patch of green, must harbour, all those nutrients, that don’t belong in the harbour.
    The corpse of history, heading down the same route as those black bananas, with flies in the back.
    By engagement ,’What you get on our hands can un-balance your glans and make you blind or whatever…’ to the eyesore of this ‘frightful salad’

    The question arises, does humour belong in architecture?

  12. holdfastspike June 5, 2021 at 11:09 pm #

    oy gavalt! who’s the schmuck who built this?

  13. Jo-G June 7, 2021 at 8:11 pm #

    I don’t mind the idea of producing some artificial green space. It looks like it could be re-purposed back to being a shipping dock with multiple levels accommodating different sized ships. I don’t like the multi-use complexity in such a small space. The designers took “diversity is our strength” too far. A hip-hop concert in the amph would interfere with my quiet fishing and beer drinking and a couple’s proposal.

    https://nypost.com/2021/05/20/nycs-new-floating-park-little-island-is-a-marvel/

    It looks like one of our host’s predictions has come true.
    from :https://kunstler.com/eyesore-of-the-month/october-2016/

    “…one can see how the Vessel will become the preferred suicide spot for ruined condominium buyers.”

    https://nypost.com/2021/05/25/vessel-set-to-reopen-with-no-single-visitors-allowed-after-suicides/

    Even if the prediction is only implied I’ll count it as successful.

    Here in ROK in Seoul they’ve repurposed several road projects into parks. One highway covered a stream in downtown, they’ve removed the highway and recovered the stream into a sunken open box culvert with trees and some water features and two walking paths. It’s better than a highway. It hides you from the traffic and hustling motorcycle delivery boys in the fashion district. if you want to shop and engage in the Seoul street life you just go up some steps and there you are.

    Another elevated highway conversion near the main train station isn’t so nice and gives you the feeling that “…the city streets themselves are beyond hopeless as far as creating rewarding urban space for humans. ” This isn’t so true for these projects but somewhat true for this elevated highway conversion. It is our preferred walking route from the train station to a bustling traditional street market. On the way you get the too many multi-uses feel. They hold “events” up there. We broke into a Kazakhstani ex-pat festival up there once. They city seems to still be experimenting with finding the right foliage and uses fr such a space.

  14. neon sky June 14, 2021 at 10:07 am #

    What do you mean they demolished the old pier? I count four old posts stuck in the mud at the far end of the “island.” And there are probably more hidden from view. Looks like preservation to me.

  15. spikedpsycho June 17, 2021 at 3:23 am #

    Manhattan’s piers are too shallow for ships to go in and out with casual capacity. That’s why it’s major ports are close but elsewhere. Smaller ships have shallower drafts but it’s not economical to service tiny ports spread over an area, but in a security/defense situation is advantageous.

    “resource-and-capital scarcity-constrained”
    Remember when Kuntzler whined about running out of oil. That’s been predicted by scientists and geologists for 100 years. Not only is there sufficient oil to power human society for another century; there’s enough hydrocarbons to power society for centuries and enough energy resources to power human society for geologic timeframes.

    https://i.insider.com/56a9472358c32378008b5c35?width=1136&format=jpeg

    *Inflation adjusted price of oil since 1861*
    Namely large price spikes in petroleum were geopolitical in nature.

    As for resources,
    1: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_otfwl2zc6Qc/S4AmqnxCqXI/AAAAAAAAM1A/eYRQcCkYlcc/s1600-h/commodities.jpg

    Dow Jones inflation adjusted price index for major commodities; it all got cheaper.

    2: My Teacher once told.. “technology creates natural resources, not the other way around”.

    What good is oil or uranium if the technology were never invented to utilize it? None. If not for Edison,Tungsten is only good as a paperweight. They constantly whine “White man colonialism” stole our wealth?, the resources they mistook for rocks….

    Analytical and historic research as well as basic cause and effect shows low-IQ groups are incapable of sustaining a democracy or beneficial form of government or build intellectual capital to industrialize/modernize.
    Sub-Saharan Africa; IQ’s range in the mid 60’s to low 80’s. If we had been allowed to discuss IQ and do cognitive/intelligence research that colleges largely banned after the 1960’s; the Iraq War, among other conflicts would never had occurred. No one would have been under the illusion a stable government would emerge from a population with an IQ in the low 80’s. Many indigenous societies; average IQ’s occupy the range of the low 80’s that is why tribalism was their main form of governing.
    Meanwhile High IQ Jews, Chinese and Europeans who fled the Holocaust, Revolution and Fascism respectively, fled their homeland with NOTHING in their pockets and in a generation accumulated or exceeded US median Incomes. IQ Matters far more than skin color or what you call God or what rocks you have under you.

  16. Ishabaka June 25, 2021 at 9:52 am #

    There was art when we lived in caves. There was art in the Dark Ages. There will be art in an American collapse, because people need art as much as they need food. Maybe not so many “arty people” though.
    People without food who needed art: https://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/camps/death-camps/auschwitz/camp-orchestras/

  17. spikedpsycho June 26, 2021 at 1:41 pm #

    Say what you will, if it gives Manhattanites a place to relax, so be. It was paid for privately, No public funds were used. It’s beautiful.
    ALONG with Fresh Kills Park; will be 2203 acres of open space, maybe convert 200 acres into community food gardens

  18. Warren July 9, 2021 at 6:33 am #

    They should give it back to the put put miniature golf course they stole it from

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  20. worley November 29, 2021 at 11:07 pm #

    “Another message is that the USA’s foremost harbor is not expected to function as a seaport anymore, ever.”

    And that’s likely to be true. There *is* an enormous working port on the Hudson River, it is the container terminal at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Newark–Elizabeth_Marine_Terminal There’s been an enormous change in how shipping is done that obsoleted essentially every port facility that existed in 1960. The history of that is laid out in “The Box” by Levinson.

    More subtly, containerized shipping allowed a massive change in *where* manufacturing was done. Previously, 10% of the manufacturing in the US was done in New York City itself, simply because you could truck the stuff to the NYC docks from there. With the invention of containerized shipping and the interstate highway system, much of the US became “flat” for siting manufacturing facilities, and much of it moved out of the high-cost central cities in the northeast.

    • worley November 29, 2021 at 11:29 pm #

      There’s a much bigger story under that. As “The Box” notes, when locations in the interior became competitive, a large amount of manufacturing moved from the centers of old cities (where the railroad lines congregated) to a wide array of locations in flyover country near interstates, which had far lower cost of living and significantly lower prevailing wages. One consequence was rapidly plummeting economic prospects of the manufacturing workers in those center cities. Do you remember the riots of 1968? That was the underlying reason for them.

      I grew up in Grinnell, Iowa, population 10,000, 3 miles off Interstate 80. The first “political” event I remember was a referendum having to do with a farm equipment manufacturer named Farmhand building a plant in the new industrial park south of town. Over the following decades, a lot of other small manufacturing plants were built there, but nobody mentioned that most of them moved out of one old city or another.

      But in more recent decades, there has been another step in the process: the manufacturing plants are moving from the US’s flyover country to China, including some in Grinnell. This is for exactly the same reasons that they moved from NYC to flyover country. And while the response of the former workers isn’t exactly the same, the rise of Trumpism somewhat resembles a slow-motion version of the riots of 1968. In the long run, it will be as effective at stopping the changes.

      How that relates to the future of the United States is not clear, other than that the imminent collapse of the United States has often been predicted. I have on my shelf Paul Kennedy’s 1987 book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, predicting that Japan’s predominance in manufacturing ensured the fall of the US as a world power. Or this fine quote from Japanese novelist Akiyuki Nosaka in 1991, “Looking at the United States is like watching a test run for the decline of the human race.”

      And yet, here we are. The analysis I find most convincing is “the United States excels at enduring wrenching economic change”. We move people out of occupations that are no longer competitive with less mercy than other nations. But that means we also move them into occuptions that are newly competitive faster than other nations.

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