Governors Island already embodies a special carefree spirit. Its first generation of visitors remark that a visit is like a vacation. The park and public space design preserves the Island as an oasis for bicycling, play, the arts, and the imagination.
ARRIVE TO A VACATION
Governors Island is only 800 yards from Manhattan and 400 yards from Brooklyn. Getting to the Island requires a trip by boat. Both the journey and the Island’s separation by water are integral to the park experience. Unlike a typical urban park, where you cross streets and traffic to enter, the journey to Governors Island by water is a novel one, with time to view the wake from the ferry, feel the breeze on your face, and whet your anticipation of arrival. The short journey by boat allows passengers to leave the cares and sensations of the City behind.
Islands have long been alluring as places of imagination and escape, and more recently as vacation destinations. Visitors to Governors Island today remark that even an afternoon there feels like a vacation. The Island is a world apart, with its established landscape, historic buildings, quiet, sea air and expansive views of the Harbor. On the Island, parents let their children run free to clamber on hills and peer into old cannons, and adults enjoy learning to ride bicycles or fly kites. At the end of a visit, voyaging back to the City and daily life is like a return refreshed from a longer pleasure journey.
The design for the Island’s park and public spaces accentuates the feelings that people already enjoy.
The Historic District retains its magical quality while new areas and experiences entice visitors to stay longer and to return again. New arrival areas and buildings welcome visitors. New lawns provide places for sports, picnicking, or performances. Art installations surprise and delight. Children ride free Governors Island Bicycles, run through fountains on Liberty Terrace or roll down the Hills. Visitors can nap in hammocks or meet friends at Liggett Terrace.
The Island retains its carefree spirit and comes to life.
A CAR-FREE BICYCLING OASIS
As the streets of the City are re-imagined so automobiles share space with bicycles and bicycle paths bring people to the water’s edge; as cities around the world are introducing bicycle-sharing programs; and as people look for sustainable forms of transportation, Governors Island serves as a car-free bicycling oasis.
Bicycling has already proven to be one of the most popular activities on Governors Island. Since no private vehicles are allowed on the island, visitors can safely explore and enjoy programs that make cycling more accessible, such as Free Bike Fridays. The Island’s scale is ideally suited for bicycling, with breezes, views and resting spots to encourage a prolonged tour.
The Park and Public Space Master Plan design situates recreational cyclists at the forefront and provides careful consideration for shared space with pedestrians. The Great Promenade and a network of paths criss-cross the Island. They are gently curved and spaciously sized to encourage a leisurely pace and conversation, appealing both for first time riders and families riding together. Shifts in materials separate bicycle routes from pedestrian routes while edging offers seating along the way.
The Governors Island Bicycle Program, modeled on a proven program in the Netherlands, is integral to the park. The bicycle is free to borrow, available to all. The Governors Island Bicycle used for the free bicycle program is an integrated part of the design, signalling that the Island is a unique place for bicycling. The bicycle design must also be practical and suited for constant public use. Bicycle stations and racks throughout the Island make it easy to pick up or drop off the free bicycle. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own bicycle to the Island and to use ferries and water taxis to explore the waterfront landscape of the City by bicycle.
PLAY AND SPORTS FOR ALL AGES
Exercise and play are essential for children’s health and development. Sports and recreation are important aspects of communities. Parks provide places where children and adults can run and play, in organized leagues, informal teams, and spontaneous pick-up games. A park lawn or a path also invites a solo visitor to play or run on alone.
The Governors Island park and public spaces provide multiple places for organized and informal sports. The Play Lawn includes two regulation-sized ballfields for league baseball, softball and soccer. The ballfields at the Play Lawn have fixed backstops, bleachers and clay infields. In addition, the southern end of the Parade Ground provides two flat grassy fields for team and informal sports. These lawns also invite kite flying, Frisbee, catch and myriad other sports.
Younger children and children of all ages find spaces designed expressly for imaginative play. Fountains and water features encourage them to get wet on a summer day. These play spaces are not conventional “off the shelf” playgrounds. Rather, activities that kids love like swinging, climbing, and sliding will be integrated in creatively designed structures and features. Child-sized bicycles and hills for clambering transform the entire Island into a place for play.
ISLAND FOR THE ARTS
Open-air performance and outdoor sculpture have long been a feature of public parks. But on Governors Island the experience of the arts is actually transforming the Island’s use as a public space.
Since Governors Island re-opened to the public in 2003, the visual and performing arts have helped bring people and life to the Island. Thousands of concert-goers have filled once empty lawns on Colonels Row. A miniature golf course designed by artists drew players between the ages of 2 to 70. Artist projects have animated houses and buildings left vacant since 1997. Olafur Eliasson’s “The New York City Waterfalls” evoked sensations of the Harbor’s primordial past while raising the Island’s profile on the contemporary map.
A sculpture installation in Nolan Park brought this area to life and made it more welcoming to visitors, who could sprawl on lawns next to art. The artist-designed golf course suggested how Liggett Terrace could become a lively hub for arts, flowers and play.
The park and public space design offers many opportunities for the arts on the Island. The Parade Ground and Play Lawn offer settings for large-scale concerts while other dance, theater and music performances may take place in more intimate settings at Liberty Terrace, Liggett Terrace, or in the Historic District.
Sculptures and installations can find permanent or temporary homes on the terraces, in the Hammock Grove, set against the backdrop of the Hills, or in other rich settings throughout the Island.
Artists who work in a variety of media will be commissioned to create work that deepens the experiences of the senses, and responds to the tide, wind and water. Art is an integral part of the landscape of Governors Island.
A PLACE OF THE IMAGINATION
Inherently, parks are places for leisure and delight. The components that contribute to a park — benches, lighting, railings, and so on — contribute to the sense of delight within a park. The best parks are landscapes and architecture that express the imagination, skill and artistry of human creativity and craftsmanship. They surprise visitors, evoke memories, and provoke the imagination. Some of the more famous parks in this tradition include New York’s own Central Park and Barcelona’s Parc Guell.
The West 8 Team continues the tradition of integrating ornament with park design for memorable and beautiful parks and public spaces. Their experience in building public spaces all over the world provides a vast reservoir of experience in creating expressive, unique park elements that are also durable enough to withstand the needs of public spaces.
The artful expression of West 8 Team designs always begins with inspiration from the place and site. On Governors Island, the patterns of the mosaic paving, benches, edging, and promenade railing will draw inspiration from the waters of the Harbor and elements of the sea. Edges that line the pathways have fish scale-like textures that add richness and character to elements.
The Shell, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is inspired by the sculpted interior of an oyster shell. The building integrates architecture with landscape, inviting visitors to rest and relax.
Allusion, ornament and design throughout the park and public spaces encourage children and adults to let their imaginations run free.
Governors Island offers a world apart from New York City, an extraordinary vantage point on New York Harbor and its icons, and the chance to experience the sounds and smells of a green Island surrounded by water. The Governors Island…
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Governors Island is truly an island like no other, with a unique vantage point on the Harbor and a treasured historic landscape.
VAST WATER, BIG SKY
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“Island of a thousand hammocks.” “A place to go with the one I love.” “Kite
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