Rivers, islands and summer fun
You are never too far from water in Lower Manhattan and this is the best time of year to appreciate it. Last weekend, over 100 hearty swimmers dove into the Hudson River for the first race of the season. This week the fifth annual River to River Festival kicks off and this weekend public access to Governors Island resumes with a free family festival June 3.
River to River, with hundreds of events on the Hudson and East Rivers and many Downtown places in between, offers something for everyone. Whether you are a fan of mountain music or classical, blues or salsa, jazz or rock, fireworks or performance art, there are free events for you this summer.
As for Governors Island, we have often said that officials have been free to let it languish because so few New Yorkers have ever experienced the bucolic 172 acres seven minutes from Downtown. The Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., run by the state and city, is doing precisely the right thing this season by running free ferries and expanding the uses and days the island will be open. The Downtown Little League will begin using the islands fields this weekend and it is increased use by groups like this that will help spur interest in improving the island.
The pressure to build the Hudson River Park started in a similar bottom up fashion when Tom Fox, then the president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, pressed for a bikeway/walkway along the water and the crowds grew bigger each year. A decade later, the West Sides waterfront is more popular than ever, parts of the permanent park have been built, and more are under construction.
Without more people demanding action, Governors Island will continue to be under-utilized. The problems developing the island may very well be more daunting than building the riverside park, but the pot of emerald at the end of the rainbow should be even bigger. Instead of a narrow strip of land and piers along the Hudson, the island will have 40 acres of concentrated park space and a circular esplanade if a workable plan is put into action.
There is a reason the Coast Guard left the island 10 years ago. It is expensive to provide services and supplies to a relatively small island. Mayor Bloomberg was right when he said the islands isolation is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
GIPEC is now feeling out developers for interest in the island. The island park in a colonial setting will not happen without annual revenue from the island. A marina, bike rentals, an historical museum will generate money in ways that will add to the islands allure, but it is unlikely that these sources will be enough. A hotel-conference center is an oft-mentioned use that may help. Crowds and activity on the island will spark more ideas and interest, so go out and visit the island this summer. Take visiting friends and relatives there too.
We know school is still in session and the calendar claims summer is a few weeks away but the seasons spirit is here now. It is the time when Downtowners fancy can turn to the rivers to see what they are now and what they can be.