Welcome to Issue 72.1 of Digestable, your thrice-weekly mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
Today’s news, fermented:
This morning, I’m reading about conversations between Michael K Williams and the creator of The Wire, arguably the greatest show ever to air on American television. Williams, who plays the legendary character Omar, died last week.
In the realm of thing’s I’ve never thought about, there’s math that can tell us about why volcanoes (unlike this one) don’t explode.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
During our little break New York City got a new park. It’s really just a recycled version of a failed project intended for London and is technically a “parklet,” whatever that is, so it’s up for debate who Little Island is actually for, or if it’s even a park. There have been countless think pieces and twitter threads picking apart this newest addition to the beyond-gentrified West Side but goddamnit I’ve still got Things To Say, so here’s my thought dump:
First, let’s play a game of connect-the-billionaires. Little Island is a “gift to the city of New York” by media executive Barry Diller. Barry (who also commissioned that Frank Ghery building along the High Line) is married to Diane von Furstenberg who is a major (like MAJOR) donor to the High Line. I also just learned that Diane was German royalty for a minute before her divorce so her kids are the actual Prince and Princess of the House of Furstenberg. I first heard rumor of a Diller/von Furstenberg island park 7 years ago when I was working at the High Line. The goss is that Barry and Diane have a penthouse above the DVF flagship in the meatpacking district and like to pour money into west-side projects the way other New Yorkers would pour water onto the potted geranium on their fire escape.
Liz Diller (no relation to Barry) and Richard Scofidio are the High Line architects and also designed The Shed and its adjoining building at Hudson Yards. Also at Hudson Yards is the Vessel, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, which has now claimed four lives. Hudson Yards itself is owned by Stephen Ross of Related Companies who owns almost all the real estate along the High Line and has collaborated with Heatherwick on other developments in the area like the ugly-as-fuck Lantern House. Despite his most recent high-profile project evolving from an ugly tourist-trap into an alarming death trap, Thomas Heatherwick has still been getting commissions including (coming full circle here) Little Island.
As far as a landscape, Little Island is certainly arresting. A grassy terraced hill blooms out of a network of concrete pillars in Heatherwick’sfavoriteshape. Instead of the spindly saplings you would expect in a new park, Little Island hosts a glade of fully grown trees, the oldest of which are 50 years old (and are under warranty for another 2). While it’s not the same level of ridiculousness as Hudson Yards’ air conditioned trees, the continuity of Little Island’s landscape is a fiction: tree roots are packed into the mushroom pillars with styrofoam to insulate them from the cold air coming off the river. Shrubs and flowers are similarly packaged in isolated planters, and it's all stitched together with strips of turf that will no-doubt be regularly replaced to preserve the park’s illusion of lushness. This is all well and good while Diller foots the bill for park maintenance for the next 20 years but once that extended warranty expires, the city will have to pay to remove and replace any of the giant trees that succumb to their alienated fate. It’s also worth noting that Little Island’s design of concrete pillars stuck in the Hudson is modular and prefabricated like the Vessel was. This means if another billionaire wants their own Little Island in the Puget Sound or the San Francisco Bay, Tommie Heatherwick can easily whack another one together in whatever shape or size they want.
Trees aren’t the only ones who get to experience alienation at Little Island; the landscape is equally alienating for its human visitors. According to my Best Judys and Thems-On-The-Street Cosimo and Travis, Little Island feels an ocean away from Manhattan - more of a suburban park experience than a continuation of the Hudson River Park. Similar to The Vessel, park visitors must book a (free) timed ticket and are strictly surveilled by cameras hidden in the foliage, allowing park staff to swiftly step in to scold visitors that stray from the designated path. Though there is an accessible path to the Island’s peak, Cosimo noted that Little Island is just another exercise in climbing stairs to reach a lackluster but Instagrammable view.
Re: stairs disguised as a lush urban landscape, one of the things folks seem to miss when discussing Little Island is just how similar it is to the Marble Arch Mound. I was able to see this aptly-named rubbish heap when I was recently cavorting in London and it is just as terrible as everyone says - it’s essentially a scaffolding structure covered with a sheet of sod, some green walls, and trees suspended in big planters throughout the structure, in other words the same architectural concept as Little Island but with a smaller budget. The Mound’s architects, Rotterdam based MVRDV, frame the Marble Arch Mound as an evolution of their previous installation “The Stairs to Kriterion” which is what it sounds like - a big scaffolding staircase people can use to climb to the roof of a building. That’s essentially what Little Island is: some stairs on a funky concrete structure, painted green.
Personally, I bring this whole climbing-stairs-as-leisure thing back to The High Line as the popularizer of the “linear park.” Linear green spaces are not a new thing. Here in Dublin I like to run along the former towpath of the Grand Canal - an older kind of post-industrial landscape. Though canals and parkways may have a bench or some greenery, they’re still primarily a thoroughfare and nobody is pretending they’re anything else. Parks are unstructured spaces. Like public libraries, they’re spaces where people can go just to be: to sit in the shade, run laps, take your shoes off, call a friend, get lost in the woods, make out with someone. The linear park is a parkway pretending to be a park - there’s an implicit directive to move and often an implied direction of travel. If you want to see what I’m talking about, try to walk downtown along the High Line or even try to have a relaxed lunch on one of the benches - you can do it but it's not enjoyable. What makes spaces like Little Island, the Marble Arch Mound, and The Vessel especially dissatisfying is that they’re parkways that doesn’t take you anywhere - you walk up some stairs only to come back down like the tourists who walk to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge to take their selfie and then turn and head back to Manhattan. In my mind, Diller didn’t gift New York City a park; he gave the city an “experience” like an expensive outdoor Rosé Mansion that will certainly languish as soon as its private funding dries up.
To close things out: climate. Little Island covers over the pilings of Pier 54 - a historically queer space ultimately destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Building a park in the Hudson River, like building a neighborhood over the LIRR rail yard, or building a climate themed mini-golf course along the East River, is simply tempting fate with the oncoming tide of sea level rise and northeastern hurricanes. But maybe Diller thought ahead to “climate-proof” his investment like Stephen Ross did with the submarine doors at Hudson Yards. After all, while the subway system sustained damage and New Yorkers drowned in their apartments, Little Island only had a slight delay in opening after Ida and sustained only “minimal damage“. If Little Island was able to weather one hurricane, maybe the billionaires will be intrigued and we’ll see more of these modular little pieces of paradise flourishing just off the shore of major cities as the cities themselves continue to sink.
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.
It's been quite the wet and chilly Monday here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I've been having the laziest day today -- reading, eating cheese and crackers, working on my sewing project. It feels pretty criminal to have to go to work on a day like this, honestly. On days like this, I want to be hand fed pomegranate seeds and sit in a bath of freshly brewed jasmine green tea (don't ask) instead of doing the math on the timeline of John Mulaney's relationship (more here) and updating ya'll on all of the scandal. But that seems unrealistic so let's just go over yesterday's MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) and talk about the best looks of the night instead.
The 2021 MTV VMAs took place last night, live for the first time since our planet was beset by disease and pestilence a little more than a year ago. And from the As to the Zs, celebrities of all tiers came out to celebrate the occasion -- some dressed in much more impressive garments and looks than others. Here's a list of all the highlights from the red carpet from The Cut -- and my faves, dissected below. Let's go!
1. Megan Fox
Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly have been pretty inseparable since they started dating a few months ago and the VMAs is yet another red carpet the pair have walked together since confirming their relationship. Taken on its own, this is not the most exciting or fashion-y outfit of the night. But what really makes this look for me is the reference to Rose McGowan's iconic black dress from the 1998 MTV VMAs, which was just as sheer and even more stringy than Megan's Mugler sheath. The VMAs is the red carpet for bold looks and fashion that doesn't take itself too seriously so these dresses are perfect for the occasion. I'm not a fan of the wet look hair as much but Megan looks phenomenal and honestly, that's really all there is to it.
2. Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves made her VMA debut last night and boy, she certainly understood the assignment! The country singer wore a cute, rich purple cocktail dress in Valentino Haute Couture with a matching headdress made with plumes and plumes of luxurious ostrich feathers. This is just purely delightful fun! My favorite detail was her eye makeup, courtesy of Pat McGrath Labs -- Kacey and Doja Cat had matching paints last night, although Doja's was a little deeper and more vibrant!
I just love, LOVE this early 2000s rocker chick look from Tinashe. I'm picking up a lot of nods to and references from the early 2000s Tinashe's ensemble was no different! There's a little bit of Dirrrty-era Christina Aguilera here, a dash of Meagan Good somewhere, and just a great homage to what was probably MTV's zenith. I am also extremely envious that she can pull of low-rise jeans like that because... well, ya girl could never.
4. Lil Nas X
I mean, is explanation really necessary here? The hair, the ensemble (Atelier Versace), that beautiful lilac -- all of it just works and works beautifully well together. Lil Nas X was definitely the best dressed man in the room last night and he also won three VMA Awards, including the most-coveted prize of Video of the Year.
My boys didn't walk the red carpet yesterday (or came to the show) but I don't care because it's my column, I make the rules, and the rules are that it's BTS supremacy all day, every day. The world's biggest boyband deservedly won Group of the Year last night as well as Song of the Summer and Best K-Pop (for 'Butter') so their presence was definitely felt. But I can only imagine how great they would have looked on the red carpet had they attended!