New York City's Greening Campaign has a new frontier on Governors Island. In December, the results of an international design competition were announced: A jury had selected an alliance comprising West 8, Rogers Marvel, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Quennell Rothschild, and SMWM to plan a 90-acre nature preserve, a centerpiece of the city's waterfront development.
Jerry van Eyck, partner at Rotterdam-based West 8, calls Governors Island “the un-Central Park” for its nonurban condition and “a sleeping beauty” for its untapped potential. Despite its prime location between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the 172-acre island has seen little use since 1996, when the Coast Guard closed the last of a succession of military installations dating to 1794. The winning preliminary proposal creates elevated harbor views, augmenting the island's natural features with artificial hills to be developed through excavation and demolition of existing structures on the landfill-based southern segment—“building the new island from the old island,” says van Eyck. A two-mile perimeter promenade will encircle the northern national historic district, central lawns and gardens, and a freshwater marsh at the southern tip.
Transportation, internally and externally, will be critical to the island's popularity. The team proposes stocking the island with wooden bicycles whose design, coupled with physical isolation (access is currently limited to ferries), should minimize theft. The island's deed bans vehicular traffic, notes Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp. president Leslie Koch, hailing a free bicycle as “an icon of democracy.” Architect Ricardo Scofidio concurs. “My hope is they will get the bicycles up and running,” he says, “and let people … ride around even before we start designing.” He also envisions better access to the island via shuttlecraft resembling Venetian vaporetti (passenger motorboats), which would be quicker and cheaper than an aerial tramway proposed by Santiago Calatrava—another option under study by the city's Economic Development Corp.
Roughly half of the estimated $400 million in funding is already in place, Scofidio says, estimating that design work will begin this spring. Completion is projected for 2012.