When the weather warmed up in New York City, photographs of the dense crowds in two parks went viral: Hudson River Park‘s Christopher Street Pier and Domino Park, on the Williamsburg waterfront. Domino Park, one of New York City’s newest parks, responded with a unique design intervention: social distancing circles that ensure that people lounging on the lawns remain at least six feet apart.
Domino Park is a five-acre linear park along the East River that was built and continues to be operated by Two Trees Management, which is the developer behind the reimagining of the former Domino Sugar Factory complex. The construction of the park was part of a pledge by Two Trees to create six acres of public open space for the Williamsburg community. Domino Park was designed by James Corner Field Operations, which also designed the High Line.
In some ways, Domino Park is like a playful version of the High Line. It contains historical elements of the sugar factory, removed from the buildings and repurposed within the park. The park is part of a design trend towards highly programmed public spaces, which has been a generally positive trend for cities until the coronavirus pandemic. Parks like the High Line or Domino Park are designed to be used very actively, with spaces dedicated for specific uses. Delineated areas are intended for seating, for food and drink vendors, for pedestrian thoroughfares, dog runs, art installations, and more. It’s the opposite of a Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, for example, which is an open space that the public makes their own each time they arrive — and return it to its open state when they leave.
This type of design means that there is very little overall space dedicated to just lounging on grass. But with fewer options available to New Yorkers now, with their movements limited to where they can go by foot or by bike (unless they have a car or are willing to go on the subway), residents are packing into local parks, particularly those with views of the water.
Another thing to note is that both Domino Park and Hudson River Park are not run by NYC Parks. Hudson River Park is run by the Hudson River Park Trust on state-owned land along Manhattan’s west side, established by a 1998 act of the New York State legislature. Domino Park follows the protocols of NYC Parks but is operated by Two Trees Management. As such, Two Trees can implement something like the social distancing circles on their own accord — and it appears to be working. On our visit over the warm weekend, people were following the designated circles. Some were there solo, others in pairs, or small groups. Many wore masks. Last week on a weekday morning, the circles were filled with solo visitors doing yoga or other exercise.
We’re guessing these circles are going to pop up in more places here in New York City and the country as the weather continues to warm up (and the beaches here in New York City will remain closed for swimming “indefinitely” according to Mayor Bill de Blasio). Seems like a low-cost, effective intervention that any locality or private operator of a public space can implement quickly.
For another way to take in the outdoors, check out Art While You Walk: The Sculpture Gardens of NYC.