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/

Big Red

Gateway to Governors Island

Visitors to Soissons Dock may notice that there is something different about our front door, but not be able to place their finger on it. As part of on-going maintenance we re-painted the big gantries that work the liftbridges. RED! Red? Why red? Why not red…

A nod to the history of red working maritime structures on Governors Island and in the harbor – navigational towers, buoys, gantry cranes. A red front door is a traditional sign of welcome. Welcome and enter here…


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