Governors Island is one of those spots in New York City that nobody ever really thinks about. The 172-acre island that floats about half a mile south of Manhattan in the Upper New York Harbor is more obscure than NYC's other small islands like Roosevelt (home to Brutalist style apartment towers), Rikers (home to a mammoth jail complex), Randall’s (home to a park), and, of course, Ellis and Liberty.
I can’t help but think about Governors Island. From my living room window I have a clear view of its abandoned military barracks and dense swaths of trees just across the Buttermilk Channel. At night, I can see lights on the island; lights shining from a park ranger’s jeep as it travels around the circumference of the uninhabited island. It’s a ghost island.
From 1783 to 1966 Governors Island was home to the US Army and for thirty years after that, until 1996, it served the Coast Guard. In 2003, the island was sold by the Federal Government to the city and state for $1, and 92 acres of the island, under the auspices of the National Park Service, was opened to the public during the summer months as a national landmark historic district. There are concerts, guided tours and other cultural events. The rest of the year it sits empty, unused.
The rumors as to how Governors Island will ultimately be developed have been constant and unreliable (condos? casino? theme park? college campus?) over the years, but in late 2007 it was announced that NYC-based designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Rogers Marvel Architects, and Dutch firm West 8 had been chosen to transform 40 acres of the island into a visitor-friendly destination park.
Just last week, Inhabitat gave us a glimpse of Diller Scofido + Renfro's — the firm behind the city's High Line urban renewal project — ambitious vision of a revamped Governors Island. And boy is it green.
The scale and ambition of the project (due for completion in 2012) is so grand I’m not even sure where to start. The marine and botanical research centers built inside of innovative rubber bubbles? The artificial hills made with reclaimed materials from existing buildings on the island? The complementary wooden bicycles lent to visitors so they can explore the island via winding bike paths? Or how about the offshore Marine Exploration Center with its coastal plant greenhouse, marine life tank, and a local seafood-oriented restaurant that’s housed in an inflated sphere anchored by a manmade oyster reef?
It’s a lot to digest, I know. And funny enough, in terms of sheer scale the Governors Island project is small potatoes compared to another park project in the works not too far away on Staten Island: The Freshkills Park. This project is focused on transforming a 2,200-acre — about three times the size of Central Park — former landfill into a public park over the next 30 years.
The way things are moving in this economy, I’m not holding my breath for the Governor’s Island eco-park (and especially not the Freshkills Park) to be completed. However, I’ll continue to survey the now-still island from my living room window. When the headlights shining from that ranger’s jeep making its nighttime trek around the island become obscured by the construction of vertical reefs and manmade mountains, I anticipate that my breath will be totally taken away.
Images: Diller Scofidio + Renfro