NEW YORK | Governors Island Redevelopment


Alan G. Brake takes stroll through New York’s newest trophy park by Dutch landscape architecture firm, West 8.

Alan G. Brake


“Governors Island is all about serendipity,” said Leslie Koch, president of the Trust for Governors Island. In the eight years since the Trust was formed, Koch and her team have been conducting a kind of urban experiment. She set a few basic rules, but largely let the public use and inhabit—during the day at least—what previously was an unknown, abandoned island. Each summer the public encountered new exhibitions, programs, and activities on the island, and the Trust kept careful tabs on what worked and what didn’t and how the public used the space. This summer, the results of that experiment have become somewhat more solidified, with the opening of 30 acres of new parkland on the island’s southern half, designed by the Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8.


West 8 and its principal, Adriaan Geuze, have a reputation for being maverick designers who often employ cheeky or populist imagery in their landscapes. It is something of a surprise to pass through the arch of the McKim, Mead & White–designed Liggett Hall into the garden and park they have designed. A pair of low hedge gardens flank the path scattered with Fermob garden chairs in soft purple and green. Discreet water features—which are actually sophisticated splash pools—are tucked within the hedgerows. These gardens evoke aristocratic European precedents, but they’re designed for today’s recreational needs. They function as magnets for children, but the hedges are low enough to keep little tykes in full view of their parents at all times.


The design deftly joins European garden traditions with British picturesque elements, all filtered through a contemporary lens. Moving from the swirling paths of hedge gardens—which are framed by the arms of U-shaped Liggett—paths open up toward gentle mounds planted with grasses and stands of small trees. Geuze inserts a graphic element with black asphalt paths edged in wide, curved, white concrete curbs. The curbs function as low benches or walls and are another kid attractor. They also act as gentle bumpers for the paths, the widest of which are conceived of as “boulevards for bikes.” A grove of hammocks is tucked behind a turn. The paths open out to a large picnic lawn and possibly the most dramatically sited baseball diamond in the country, overlooking the harbor with the Statue of Liberty directly behind it. Though well placed, the object-ness of the diamond is a bit discordant with the rest of the park.


The overall spatial effect is fluid and dynamic, and as you move through the gentle topography it is clear that Geuze has carefully directed plantings and circulation to highlight views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, as well as the skyline of Lower Manhattan. It’s a thrilling addition to New York’s growing list of world-class parks.

All of this is a preview of next year’s coming attraction, the pair of giant manmade hills at the southern end of the island. Having been to the top of one of the as-yet un-landscaped mounds, they offer perspective-shifting views of New York Harbor. The island will continue to evolve as the final phase of the park opens, the historic buildings begin to be permanently programmed, and two major development sites are designated for use. Geuze and Koch have set the stage for Governors Island to become a treasured—and they hope self-sustaining—playground for New Yorkers young and old.





Does anyone know where the city stands on this? DeBlasio had mentioned earlier that the city is looking for redevelopment. Are they looking for resi?


I just wanted to recommend a visit to Governors Island for all who haven’t been recently -The city and the Governors Island org leadership has done a GREAT job and it gets better every year. I like it better than Central Park or the awesome, but waaay too crowded High Line.

15 years ago it was a depressing and run-down place with little to do. 10 years ago it was a work in progress with some artists. 5 years ago it was worth a visit with much of the island still awaiting redevelopment. Now, Governors Island sees over 800k visitors a year and they’ve completed much of the work. In the last 1-2 years, they opened up Outlook Hill on the southern part of the island. It has great views of lower Manhattan, Jersey City, downtown Brooklyn, and the Statue of Liberty. Here is a video from last Fall (not my my video):

It looks even better today! Definitely go if you’ve never been!


the park was just the beginning.

The de Blasio administration kicked off the rezoning of Governors Island with the release of a key document today.

The rezoning aims to spur 4.5 million square feet of mixed-use development on the southern portion of the island. Officials hope it will attract some combination of tech and life-science firms, education institutions, dormitories and a convention center and hotel.

after completing a 43-acre park in 2016, the city is now turning to a pair of development sites carved out on the southern portion of the island. Revenue from that would be used for the new park’s year-to-year costs.

The parcels are zoned for residential development, which is prohibited on the entire island by covenants with an exception for student housing. To address that contradiction, the rezoning would encourage relatively low-rise commercial properties with large floor plates, similar to the loft-style buildings popular in Midtown South and a few projects rising on the Brooklyn waterfront. Dorm or hotel buildings, on the other hand, would be allowed to rise to a height of around 300 feet.

the city’s Economic Development Corp. is studying the possibility of a gondola between Lower Manhattan and Governors Island. Glen said officials could make the call about whether to pursue the idea as soon as next year, after the rezoning process.

The trust, led by former Related Cos. executive Michael Samuelian, is also working to activate around 1 million square feet of landmarked military buildings at the north end of the island that are in various states of disrepair.