Lower Manhattan's new one acre, $50 million Liberty Park is now open to the public, offering Highline-inspired raised views of the World Trade Center grounds, including the 9/11 memorial fountains. Made up of densely-planted plots, long angled benches, and a 336-foot-long "vertical garden," it's an elevated oasis from the area's crowds and construction.
Liberty Park was developed and constructed by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; the vast majority of its space sits 25 feet above Liberty Street, in between Greenwich Street and Trinity Place and takes less than five minutes to walk through, end to end. But developers, along with architect Joe Brown, are hoping visitors stick around a while.
"It's a sight for reflection, lunch, for passing the time," Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said Wednesday. "It's got a very unique perspective of the 9/11 Memorial and it's now open to the public, and the public is welcome 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all four seasons."
Liberty Park sits atop a large security parking garage, the face of which is covered by its vertical wall garden of Japanese Spurge, Baltic Ivy, and Goldenstar. However, almost all of that garden is currently off-limits to the public, stuck behind a fence of barricades and barbed wire amidst the seemingly-endless snarl of construction on Liberty Street.
The park's southern entrance features teak-covered bleachers similar to the bleachers found on the Highline (or the TKTS steps in Times Square), and leads visitors on long sloped paths upward to its main level, a wide and flat concrete expanse broken up by shrubs and sapling trees. Farther north sits another small bleacher-style set of benches and two flights of stairs leading down to Greenwich Street. The eastern view from the park's benches is the real highlight here; 1 WTC feels impossibly close from Liberty Park, and its nearby glassy underlings make for an impressive panorama that draw your gaze up and outward toward the 9/11 Memorial.
"It's a very sensitive site, and I'd like to think that this is a park of hope," Port Authority assistant director Carla Bonacci said. "Where the Memorial is reflecting on and remembering, this can be a place of hope for the community. Just looking out at everything, I think it helps to quiet the soul."
Elsewhere, the site's patriotic symbolism is more obvious. Near the northern end of Liberty Park's top level is a bronze sculpture of an armed soldier on horseback. Entitled "America's Response Monument," it's a 13-feet-high commemoration of the earliest days of the Afghanistan war that contains steel pulled from the Twin Towers' wreckage. It stands out as oddly classicist in a park whose ivory white benches look like they were repurposed from space stations.
A Greek Orthodox shrine will eventually be opened inside the park, meant to replace St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks. Missing, however, is Fritz Koenig's Sphere sculpture, which was moved from the World Trade Center site to Battery Park during the Bloomberg administration.
Foye hopes Koenig's Sphere will eventually find a place at the new park. "My own personal view is that the sphere belongs here, not in Battery Park and certainly not in an airport hanger," he said. "We're working with the families including Michael Burke to bring it to this site." Foye has consistently argued for the Sphere's return to the World Trade Center.
"Today is just very special. It used to be a parking lot, now we have growing trees and a place to get together and for the community to see each other," local Manhattan Community Board Chair Catherine Hughes said at the park's opening dedication Wednesday. "Today also reflects the success, that we won. Everybody wants to be down here, it's alive."
One of those chestnut trees, it turns out, was propagated from a tree outside of Anne Frank's former house in Amsterdam.
The park received strong reviews from early visitors, comprised of a mix of tourist families, construction crews, and nearby office workers on their lunch breaks. Allison Riley, 30, and her coworker Jackie Ortiz, 32, had brought their lunches up to the park's top level. "It's so nice. Over by the Brooklyn Bridge there are areas to sit, and we've wished for something like that for a long time," Riley said.