Just because an abandoned island has been guarded from human touch for decades doesn't mean you can't design a new, more public life for it. Two architect students from Texas have come up with a plan to rehabilitate the buildings on North Brother Island—a favorite spot for urban explorers willing to risk arrest... and birds.
The island has been a bird sanctuary for some time, following a juvenile drug rehab center shutting down there in 1963 and the public being closed off from the island all-together. Prior to all that it was the home of an experimental drug treatment program, a quarantine hospital (and home of Typhoid Mary), and of course the final destination of the General Slocum. And before all that, Jacob Riis visited in the 1890s and photographed the place. There is a lot of history on North Brother Island, albeit mostly tragic. And it's also kind of tragic that the public is closed off from its overgrown beauty.
So back to these architect students... DNAInfo reports that Ian Ellis and Frances Peterson have created some renderings to show their vision: a children's autism school. Ellis told the site, "In its current state, North Brother is without the attention, improvements and upkeep it needs in order to continue acting as a habitat for the wildlife there" (this is true, and in fact one of its largest nesting colonies—the Black-crowned Night Heron—fled in 2008)—he added, "It’s a sanctuary as it is. The school simply allows it to be one that promotes and nurtures the lives of children as well as the wildlife that relies on the island for nesting, foraging and reproducing."
So as part of their proposed plan, they suggest using five existing structures to house a school for around 200 students and 50 instructors, who could travel via a 10-minute ferry ride. They explain that the buildings could also be used "as field offices for the Parks Department, Cornell University’s department of ornithology and the Audubon Society." The remaining four buildings not a part of their rehabilitation plans would be left to naturally decay, which would keep alive the that old abandoned intrigue the island has.
Of course, this is mostly a pipe dream: the duo hasn't even visited the island, nor have they collaborated on or discussed the plan with the necessary agencies who would be able to greenlight it. We have reached out to the Audubon Society to get their comment on the possibility of anything happening that would make the island a more public space, and will update if we hear back.
Now, what should we do with South Brother Island, Hart Island, Rat Island, Bannerman's Island...