The five conceptual proposals for redeveloping Governors Island, "The Park at the Center of the World," have been floating for over a week now. Maybe you saw the technicolor article in last week's New York Magazine. Or maybe you've swooned among the large-scale paradise boards on display at the Center for Architecture.
None of these five proposals will necessarily materialize. We're familiar with this type of conceptual process from design competitions at the WTC site, for example, and the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. This exercise, not without value, is an attempt to deploy big design to inspire big public zeal and the confidence of big developers/sponsors. In other words, these schematic fantasies are intended as catalysts devised by the City, the Governor's Island Alliance (civic organizations), and the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) to reincarnate the curious, 172-acre trilobite that New Yorkers have learned to ignore over generations of restricted access. And just in case the process leads to something concrete, as it did for the Highline, why pass up a chance to savor the bait and give it a chomp?
Each of the teams envisions leisure space in alluring ways. But a fascinating spectrum of debate has crystallized between proponents of romantic naturalism vs. urban social ecology. In other words: Two teams posit Olmsteadian meadows, rolling hills and curving paths; two others interpret "contemporary green culture" in the form of enhanced eco-tecture such as new climbable rock walls, caves for spelunking, and solar canopies and windmills; and the final proposal offers a flexible grid of square lots into which fields, gardens, forests, amphitheaters, etc could be plugged as a kind of evolving leisure city. Locating "nature" in any of these proposals is not easy, nor necessarily important. Yet some of the more landscape-intensive concepts rely on what Susannah Drake, a landscape architect who spoke at a public forum on June 11, called "false morphologies... geological formations that would never exist here."
What do you think? The Island is open every weekend this summer for the first time. There's a free weekend ferry from the Battery-Maritime Building, 10am - 5pm. The next public meeting will take place on Wednesday, June 20th, from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Reeves Great Hall (28th Street and 7th Avenue). Each of the five design teams to present their visions and receive public feedback.
The Park at the Center of the World: Five Visions for Governors Island
New York Magazine: Paradise Island
Gothamist: Ideas for Governors Island