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New York

The Future of Governors Island
by Natalie Hegert





Sometimes you just need a break from the city.  Especially in the summer.  Luckily, and it seems unbeknownst to tourists and even most New Yorkers, there’s an island getaway here, just a short, free ferry-ride away on Governors Island, open on the weekends throughout the summer.  Besides the enticing attraction of the Sixth Borough exhibit as detailed above, there are many reasons to visit.  With grassy parks, historical fortifications, bike paths, tree-lined rows of colonial houses and a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline, the only thing lacking, in my opinion, is a swimming pool.  Perhaps we can request it as part of the proposed development of the island which can be accessed here:

Governors Island functioned for 200 years as a military base, which closed in 1996.  Its new purpose as a public park and historic site is a very recent development, only open to the public since 2003, and only for the summer weekends.  Yet 2010 is proving a pivotal year for the future of Governors Island as the plans for the park’s new design has been announced which will radically change the vision and landscape of the island.

The north side of the island, with its historic forts and residential dwellings and naturally rolling hills will remain intact.  The south side, a flat extension of the island built in the early 20th century from the excess rubble from the Lexington Avenue subway tunnel, will be drastically changed. The Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8 has proposed to build large hills on the south side of the island to visually complement the skyscrapers of Manhattan, built out of the rubble from the dilapidated modern structures.

As with all available space in New York City, the prospective usage is contentious.  The city is currently accepting public feedback on the design for the parks, but the demarcated “development zones” remain ambiguous.  Some of the buildings will become “residential” (who will live there?), others devoted to non-profit and commercial uses.  Judging from the welcoming environment for the arts fostered on the island in recent years—with artist residencies, outdoor sculpture parks, performances, exhibitions, an artist-designed mini-golf park—Governors Island appears fortunately to be committed to the presence of art and artists.

This year is the time to visit before the first stages of development begin to change the shape of the island, to experience its odd juxtapositions of the restored historical sites and the overgrown modern utilitarian buildings, the contrasts of the natural and artificial.

Governors Island is open Friday-Sunday through October 10th.  Arrive early as the last ferry back to Manhattan leaves at 5pm, and you’ll want every last minute you can get out here. For ferry schedules click here.

--Natalie Hegert

(All images courtesy West 8 / Rogers Marvel Architects / Diller Scofidio + Renfro / Mathews Nielsen / Urban Design +)

Posted by Natalie Hegert on 6/19/10

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