Volume 20 Issue 7 | June 29 - July 5, 2007

Hargreaves Associates, Team 2, was one of two design teams to clearly show sports fields in its ideas for Governors Island, but officials say all five designs have room for fields.

Island planners now ready to ‘play ball’ with community

By Skye H. McFarlane

Any new design for Governors Island will include an ample mix of active and passive recreation — including ballfields, the head of the island’s development corporation said Monday.

Downtown parents and sports league officials were riled a few weeks ago when the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation released the five entries in its contest to design the island’s park space. Only two of the five plans appeared to include sports fields. Athletic space in Lower Manhattan is already scarce, even with the Little League playing a number of games on Governors Island’s temporary fields. The island must provide more field space in the future, not less, the league parents said.

“The Little League did push very hard to get people on the island and there’s something to be said for that,” said Liz Lamere, a Community Board 1 member and Downtown Little League parent. “Unless we actually carve [fields] out and make it a specific request, we’re not going to get it.”

Conscious of these concerns, GIPEC President Leslie Koch clarified at a C.B. 1 meeting Monday night that each of the five new designs included athletic fields. The problem, she said, was that the compact versions of three of the designs did not “articulate” the fields clearly.

Koch therefore used Monday’s meeting to spell out the field plans in each design.

Koch, a design contest jury member, could not express what she liked or disliked about the designs, but she did give the board members a quick run-through of each proposal. Koch also answered questions about the design process, stressing that GIPEC is seeking to choose a “team not a scheme.” Whichever team wins the design contest will have revise its plan to meet the needs of both GIPEC and the community.

Koch said she was pleased with the contest format, since it had attracted creative entries from an international cast of landscaping and architecture firms — consistent with GIPEC’s desire to make Governors Island into a “world park.” Nevertheless, she recognized that the contest setup has encouraged the design teams to be a bit more theatrical than they would be in an ordinary request for proposals.

One designer rode into a June 20 public meeting on a wooden bicycle, while others inserted things like fog misters, “fanciful topiary” and cylindrical buildings into their plans. “There were also a lot of shellfish references,” Koch joked as she pointed out the difference between one team’s “Mollusk” plan and another team’s “Oyster Quay.”

Because designing the new park will be a long process, members of C.B. 1’s Waterfront Committee decided it would be more effective to give GIPEC a list of community concerns — leaving the choice of design team up to the jury. In addition to the need for both ballfields and passive green space, committee members expressed concern over the elaborateness of some of the designs, particularly the dramatic landforms included in two of the schemes.

“Simple is better for me,” said Joe Lerner. “I see these gorgeous designs and I think ‘dollars, dollars, dollars.’ The more dollars, the more private development you are going to need to make it happen.”

Koch said that GIPEC encouraged the teams to create artificial hills, since the demolition of old coast guard buildings on the island will create a great deal of reusable rubble. As for commercial development, Koch stressed that while the island will eventually become a mixed-use destination, any commercial uses pictured in the current designs are merely an expression of “poetic license.” The winning team will only be hired to develop the island’s park elements.

Committee members discussed a need for lots of water-dependent activities in the park, as well as promotion and preservation of the island’s historic legacy. The committee plans to review the five plans in detail and draft a final set of recommendations sometime in July. The public can view and comment on the designs all summer at the Center for Architecture at 536 Laguardia Pl., on Governors Island, and online at

This summer, the island is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with ferry service from both Manhattan and Brooklyn. There are special events scheduled each Saturday, as well as tours, lectures and access for both cyclists and kayakers.

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