InstaBlog: Hunter's Point Park South

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

As the weather has been getting nicer, and the days longer, I've finally been finding time to get out and explore more, and last week, I finally got to Hunter's Point Park South, in Long Island City, Queens.

Part of the ongoing redevelopment of Long Island City's formerly industrial waterfront, the beautiful northern part of the park had opened in 2013, bringing with it a spate of new luxury apartment buildings and a ferry service to serve them. The southern extension, nearer to the Midtown Tunnel entrance and further from the existing residential neighborhood, opened last year.

On the one hand, the park is an undoubtedly gorgeous place. Angular paths take you through wild grasses, creating amazing vistas and contrast between the plant life and the skylines beyond. Its diverging paths, different elevations, and terminated vistas work to make you feel contemplatively alone in nature, even when there are plenty of people about. Tide pools help increase the area's resilience, while encouraging birdlife.

But on the other hand—and perhaps I am just being cynical—once you've seen the tricks of modern landscape architecture, they can start to feel a bit repetitive. This is a highly programmatic space, with paths for you to walk, views with you to see, and occasional pods for activity, but it has far less place for dynamic, free activity (then again, such space does generously exist in the original northern section). I wonder how it will cope with a busy summer's day—will it handle a crowd well, or will it collapse to feel exclusionary, like Manhattan's High Line? Time will tell.

Ultimately, the space will rise or fall on the neighborhood it is developing behind it, which right now, is eerily empty: blank streets and construction sites. It is a classic case of an instant neighborhood, just add people—only in this case, make sure to add buildings as well.

No matter my critiques, however, it is undoubtedly a gorgeous space, and—dare I say it?—Instagrammable. As in so many modern urban parks, as you walk along the various paths, you come across all sorts of pods designed for various activities. For instance, coming around one corner, you find fixed metal equipment and soft mats and think to yourself, "Oh, a playground!" Then you get closer and realize that it is actually full of various exercise equipment: it is a playground for a different demographic. For another example, there is the obligatory kayak ramp, which is aspirational at best: few will kayak in today's (or even tomorrow's) Newtown Creek. In a way, the entire park is aspirational: a place to celebrate the nature you are not really in, with the ability to do the activities you will never actually do, eventually to be surrounded by buildings you will never be able to afford.

I don't know, maybe I'm just shaking off my winter cynicism. But something about the park and the instant neighborhood it was designed to create seem to invite such thinking. I've rarely seen a place that more embodies what Larry Bennett, in reference to Chicago, calls "the entrepreneurial state:" a city government that primarily serves to invest public funds to attract private development. There is nothing wrong with that in the abstract, of course, but in this era of extreme wealth inequality, it feels deeply inadequate as a strategy of urban governance. One sees the ad copy for the buildings which will come to surround the park, selling its amenities. Rarely are these forces as clear as they are when you see a gorgeous park completely preceding the buildings it was meant to attract.

Of course, this all tempered by the fact that no one has been displaced for this development: it was former underutilized industrial land. As I say, for some reason, I'm pulled to an uncharacteristic cynicism. It is undoubtedly a gorgeous park, and I hope I am wrong. In the long run, I hope that the park will continue to feel like and operate as a public space, and does not become the solely the backyard of the residents who will soon be arriving.

Based on a pair of Instagram posts.
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