polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Return of Governors Island

by Peter Sigrist

Plans for Governors Island are starting to bear fruit. Located in the New York Harbor less than half a mile from Manhattan, the island offers breathtaking views of the city. For nearly 200 years it was a military base with limited public access. In 2003, the state purchased the island for a dollar with the stipulation that it not be used for permanent housing or casinos. It is now open on weekends from the end of May through mid-October.

Big ideas have been proposed in the past, including a New Globe Theater by Foster + Partners and a gondola system by Santiago Calatrava. The steps initiated by Leslie Koch, of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), are especially impressive. There is now a ferry service free of charge. There are wooden bikes to borrow, hammocks along the shore, and a miniature golf course designed as part of an annual arts festival. The island is currently hosting “Plot/09,” an exhibition curated by Creative Time. GIPEC has sought ideas from the public and proposals from private developers. They’ve commissioned the design of a park with allées, wetlands, flower gardens and scenic hills built from local debris covered with soil.

Funding for the island’s renewal is tenuous, so ideas that can be realized inexpensively are needed most of all. This calls for creativity that brings together the contributions of many, and that can gain momentum through a succession of small victories. If you would like to get involved or follow the island’s development, more information can be found at govisland.com and govislandblog.com.

Credits: Photo of Governors Island and Lower Manhattan from the gallery section of GIPEC.