On the Boards: Play and Sports for All Ages



As we’ve been reaching out to the public through various avenues like this blog, exhibits, a survey, and meetings, people have given us all kinds of great suggestions for what they’d like to see and do in the future park. This “word cloud” shows you some of those ideas, with the size of the word corresponding to the frequency of the suggestion.




The West 8 design team took in those suggestions and other program activities and mapped them onto an outline of the Island. This “word map” shows the wide range of activities that will be available in the future park. Visitors of all ages will find something delightful, challenging, and fun as they play and explore. The park design will provide chances to do everyday activities in extraordinary settings. Playing ball next to the water with a view of the Statue of Liberty, going for a stroll to take in views of the entire harbor and envigorating salty breezes, freedom to fly a kite on a big open lawn…



On the Boards: Deepening the experience of vast water and big sky

As buildings have been demolished on the southern tip of Governors Island, raw open space has been created in the footprints of the old structures.  We’ve been working with the West 8 design team to imagine ways of giving this space character and turning a flat barren area into a great destination. This transformation will happen in a number of ways.


Looking north in the afternoon, 02.19.09. With some of the non-historic buildings down, we're seeing even more of the vast sky that surrounds the Island. West 8's design will highlight this sense of openness and exposure in some areas, while playing with the experience of shade and suprise in others.

For example, the tip of the Island is one of the few places in New York City to see a broad horizon but today it is a sea of asphalt next to a desolate motor pool and old warehouses.  The views here out to the water are spectacular, but it’s not an enjoyable place to spend time.

We’ve asked the West 8 team for a park design that deepens a visitor’s experience of the vast water and big sky. In response, the design team has been studying the Island at all times of day – in the rain, the wind, the sun, and the snow.  They’ve walked the water’s edge over and over and gotten to know the specific moods and qualities of the site – like the aspects of shifting light, the sensations  of the waves and changing tides, and the smells and sounds of various spots along the water’s edge.  Their research is informing each design decision big and small – everything from where to place the walking paths in relationship to the water, to what types of trees to plant and where for shade, to the design of seating for boat-watching and people watching, to the comfort of a guardrail for leaning against when at the water’s edge. This summer, you’ll be able to walk to the tip of the Island and see for yourself – what exists there now and contemplate what could be there in the future

Survey Says….

Earlier this summer, we conducted a survey of Island visitors.  Most New Yorkers avoid eye contact when approached by a stranger with a clip board.  We were amazed at all the visitors who were kind enough to help us, and were very enthusiastic in the process.  We interrupted your Scrabble game, your boat-watching, your miniature golf game – a big “Thank You” to the 472 people who took the time to fill out our survey and then go back to their fun. 

These survey responses, along with all the other feedback we’ve received, are helping to shape the park master plan.  We wanted to find out how people use the Island now and to gauge their interest in a variety of potential activities in the future park. 

Here’s what you told us…



“Percent of respondents who are very likely or likely to participate in potential future activities in a new 40-acre park”



“Percent of respondents who are very likely or likely to participate in potential future activities along the new 2.2-mile waterfront promenade”



“Percent of respondents who report that these potential improvements are very important or important”


Some of the interesting findings from the survey were:

  • While 1 in 4 current visitors ride a bicycle during their visit, 80% of those surveyed said they would be likely or very likely to bike in the future
  • Favorite activities included walking along the waterfront and riding a rental bike
  • People are interested in passive and active recreation (league sports, pick-up sports, lawn activities, kayaking, and boat-watching)
  • Among suggested improvements to Governors Island, diverse natural areas, places to get up high for views, and more places to eat were the most popular
  • People requested more open-air concerts, public art, places to enjoy the views, interpretation of history, and kid-friendly activities


1000 Days on Governors Island

The mobile park planning workshops this weekend were a big hit. They were a great opportunity for people to meet members of the design team and tell them their ideas for activities in the new park and great promenade. Six public workshops drew participants from a range of backgrounds – from people who have been thinking about Governors Island for years, to artists who have recently started mounting work out here, to curious folks for whom this weekend was a first visit.

We started with a tram tour of the Island, with an emphasis on the sites of the future 40-acre park and waterfront Great Promenade. We brought people to the southern part of the Island that is not yet open to the public. There they saw the decrepit barracks and warehouses left by the military, piles of demolition materials that contractors are sorting and recycling for reuse in the new park, majestic allees of London Plane trees, and – most surprising – sweeping harbor vistas and the best view of the Statue of Liberty anywhere. Since most people don’t have a sense of what an “acre” actually looks or feels like, the design team staked out a one-acre area in the future park site with orange construction flags to help people understand the scale of the project. 

After the tours, the participants split into smaller groups and were asked to talk about their first impressions of the South Island site of the new park. People were astonished by the expansive panoramic views and big sky.  They noted the wind and the sensations of being near water and the harbor. 

We then worked together to imagine a wonderful day in the new parks on Governors Island.  We talked about the variety of possible activities, what might you do on GI that you can’t do elsewhere in NYC, what’s the most delightful thing you can imagine doing with your family, your friends, your date?  What does the special setting of GI suggest to you about activities here?  We wove the ideas into storyboards.  Then we asked – What would bring you back again for another memorable day- what would you be doing?  what would you tell your friends to check out? 

We call this exercise “1000 Days on Governors Island” and heard wonderful stories – about family reunions, first dates, kids running free, and days packed with music, movement, good food, and good friends.  Stay tuned – in the coming weeks we will share some of these on the blog.

From pogo sticks to pumpkin patches…


Many summer visitors have been stopping by the “What’s Happening on Governors Island?” exhibit and giving us great ideas for the future park.  Over 500 people have done drawings or left notes.  Here’s a sampling:


  • Salsa music jam
  • Butterfly garden
  • Movies on the lawn      
  • Yoga under the trees
  • A place for all ages to get wet
  • Camping
  • Viewing telescopes
  • BBQ grills
  • and the everpopular “ICE CREAM!”

Anyone else interested in a wading pool or lockers and showers?  Keep those ideas coming.  We read every one of them and will share them with the park designers.  Kids have been loving this activity.  Some leave festooned with stamps on their hands, legs and faces – a souvenir of their day on Governors Island.  


Fun for friends and families

Last summer, we asked you to tell us what you thought about the park design competition proposals, and one of the topics you mentioned over and over again was the importance of serving families and children.  You said, ” We want to see Governors Island used as a place that encourages families and friends to get together,” and “Governors Island should be a place that all families within the NYC boroughs, of all incomes, can experience.”  You asked for a variety of hands-on educational activities for children, more family activities, and more oppportunities for childrens’ adventures.  As we start park master planning, we will be exploring ways to do all of these things because we agree that they are really important to making Governors Island a great destination.

(Artist’s rendering of competition proposal)

Already, Governors Island is a wonderful place to bring a kid, or just feel like one! Everyone loves the boat ride to the Island, and it’s free. Kids who like to be at the front window of the first car of a subway train can try riding up high and up front on the boat. (Did you know that the ferry, the Samuel L. Coursen, has two front ends and no back ends?)  Fort Jay has a really cool dry moat to explore and real 19th century cannons to discover.  The Island has acres of lush green grass – sunny and shaded.  A lot of people like to picnic here, walk barefoot, fly kites, run free, and roll in the grass.  Bike and Roll’s Governors Island location rents many different sized bikes for family car-free biking. In addition to grown-up’s bikes, they have kids bikes, kids trailers, baby seats, “tagalong” kids tandem attachments, and bike surreys that seat up to six. They even little red wagons for dragging getting kids and toys to the perfect picnic spot. Teach a friend or child to ride a bike, or try your hand at fishing.  When you are ready for a break or a treat, have an ice-cream cone or a popsicle and watch the harbor boats go by. 

Please stop by the “What’s Happening on Governors Island?” exhibit in Building 110.  You can tell us more about the kinds of public activities and spaces you would like to see in the future park.  Even the little kids who are too young to write can leave an idea for our park designers with a handmade drawing or a rubber stamp creation.  Help us make this an even better place for families and friends!

(Photo: Travis Huggett)

Learning from Canada

Starting this fall, landscape architects West 8 will begin designing a park master plan for Governors Island.  We invite New Yorkers and park users to tell us what you would like to see and do in the future park.   Send your park suggestions to info-gipec@empire.state.ny.us, and we’ll make sure to read them and share them with the designers. 

To get your imagination going, come out to Governors Island this summer to ride a bike, hear a concert, or experience the stunning views.  And we’ll continue to post about fun things people do in parks and examples of great parks around the world. 

One of our favorite urban parks is in Canada – Toronto Islands.  These Islands have been a summer refuge for Tornotonians for generations.  Like coming to Governors Island, in Toronto you take a short scenic ferry ride from downtown and suddenly you are in another world.

People of all ages, interests, and backgrounds use this park and love it.  There are all kinds of activities for kids (storytelling, swan boats, petting zoo) and families (barbeque, frisbee golf, bike trails).  Music and food festivals are annual events.  All public school children spend time on the Island learning about nature and ecology.

If you came out to Governors Island with your friends or grandparents, what else would you like to do besides lying on a grassy lawn, eating delicious food, and watching boats sail by?

Two of the things that make a public open space alive and dynamic are great people-watching and proximity to good food choices and other interesting “stuff”.   This is an area in Tornoto, the Distillery district, that has been reborn through a mix of retail, food, and culture re-using historic buildings and courtyards with great architectural charm and character.

This is a artisans’ workshop on the Toronto waterfront that is open to public viewing – you walk right through the ceramic studio.What do you think would make for great people-watching in the future park on Governors Island? 

To see some of the preliminary concepts for the park proposed in the design competition click here:  http://www.park-centeroftheworld.org/

To learn more about the selection of the winning West 8 design team click here:  http://www.govisland.com/Press_Room/12-19-07selection.asp

 To learn more about Toronto Islands:  http://www.toronto.ca/parks/island/


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