Fantasy Island: Imagining a Park in New York


The US government sold Governor's Island to New York City for a buck; one stipulation was that it not be used for residential uses, the crack cocaine of the development biz. For years they have been trying to figure out what to do with it, with everything from amusement parks to casinos and hotels. Finally they started over and are running a limited competition; five consortia were invited to submit designs for what are very green, innovative parks. The teams didn't just have to design them they had to develop a raison d'etre. Why have this park? "Everyone knows how to get to Prospect Park or Central Park," says Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation & Education Corporation. "What is the experience that this park and promenade can provide that is unique? This has to be compelling."


Landscape architects West 8 (who won a comparable competition to redo Toronto's waterfront) with Quennell Rothschild & Partners, architects Rogers Marvel and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and planners SMWM, did, I think, the funkiest; it has a " Vertical Landscape, mountains popping up out of the flat southern tip that would integrate active recreational, cultural, and educational functions. Inside could be snack bars, exhibits, a funicular, and caves for spelunking. Says West 8 partner Jerry van Eyck: "We wanted to give it the attitude of a national park, one with primal nature, robustness, where you don't feel the hand of man." And what TreeHugger could resist the promise that "Three thousand free wooden bikes would allow for rapid circumnavigation on looping, leafy paths. "



The basis of this plan, by architect REX and landscape architect Michel Desvigne, is the grid. But what they propose is hardly Manhattan's gridiron. Rather, it is Jefferson's, dividing the entire island into 55-by-55-foot units that would then be planted, paved, planked, and filled with grass, hard court, cedar, water, or sand to create a thick perimeter of people-intensive programming: beach, sports facilities, boating, stages, and amphitheater seating to watch the informal parade. "We didn't want it to be just a treadmill for views," says REX principal Joshua Prince-Ramus.

The interior would be low-cost, low-impact micro-agriculture, woodlands, water meadows, pastures. Places to dig a hole, to participate, not just watch. "It is not fake nature designed to look picturesque," says Prince-Ramus. "We want it to be what it is: synthetic."


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