When Governors Island reopens for the 2014 season, the McKim, Mead & White-designed Liggett Hall will be a portal between the new and the old. On one side, there's the historic district that New Yorkers have come to know and love over the last decade, and through the arch on the other side, there will be 30 acres of sweeping lookout hills, lush new fields, and thick groves of trees. Right now, the hills are just mounds of fill, the fields are empty swaths of dirt, and the grove looks more like a nursery, but it's still possible to see that Dutch architecture firm West 8 created a world-class, resilient green space in the middle of the New York harbor. During the last weekend of the season, West 8 principal Jamie Maslyn Larson gave tours of the new space, highlighting the park's sustainable features and flood-resistance.
When Hurricane Sandy hit last year, construction had already begun on the new parkland. Thinking about sea level rise and climate change is integral to all of West 8's work, and they designed the new Governors Island landscape with both of these things in mind. The edge of the park is already 8 feet above the harbor, and West 8's landscape incorporates hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of fill to create even more elevation. During the hurricane, the construction workers moved their vehicles to the very top of the hills taking shape in Hammock Grove because it was the highest point on the island, and they suffered no damage. Larson says the new ground did not even shift because the fill is so sturdy and compact.
Hammock Grove is one of the first parts of the new park that visitors encounter. You walk through the arch of Liggett Hall into Liggett Terrace, which will be planted with a shrub maze and flowers, and the landscape starts to rise up before you. What looks like a nursery now will grow into a densely planted forest filled with 60 species of new trees. The undulating elevation?the grove hills peak at 27 feet?raises the tree roots away from flooding, and it gives the winding walkways ever-changing views of the harbor and downtown Manhattan. "If you walk through the center path [of Hammock Grove], you crest the hill, and you see the harbor before you. You see the Statue of Liberty. And it's this incredible "'aha' moment," says Ellen Cavanagh, the Director of Planning at The Trust for Governors Island. "You come to the top of the hill and you have this moment where you think 'I am on an island, in the middle of the harbor, in the middle of the greatest city in the world.'"
Cavanagh, who first visited Governors Island during an Open House New York tour back in 2005, has worked with the Trust since 2006, so she's seen the creation of the new parkland from the very first planning stages. Back then, the island, a former Army and Coast Guard base, was little more than a historic "ghost town," but there was "a tremendous opportunity here to do something for New York that the city was really missing."
That same year, the Trust and city issued the Request for Proposals?which called for creating a space that could provide two and a half hours of delight?to redevelop the southern part of the island into new parkland, and in 2007, West 8 was chosen to create the master plan. The first 30 acre phase, which includes Hammock Grove, new ballfields, and a public lawn, will open in the spring, while future phases, including 10-acres of rolling hills, are still under construction.