It was on a sailing trip in the New York harbour that I first saw the ghost island. The water was calm and eerie, a thick layer of mist kissed the horizon line. Inside the boat the cruise operator was pointing at various places of attraction. Up ahead lay a thin slither of land. The buildings in Manhattan looked like fists in comparison to the flat landscape of this new space. “This is Governor’s Island” the tour operator interjected “no one lives there.”
Manhattan is home to the most expensive real estate in the world, and 1000 meters from its shore is an empty island.
Back home I Google searched the Island. I learned that from 1783 to 1966 the island was a military post for the U.S army. Next it became the headquarters for the United States Coast Guard, Atlantic division, until it closed in 1996 as a cost cutting measure. The Island was in limbo until it was purchased by the State of New York for the princely sum of $1 in 2003, and the question of what to do with Governors Island has loomed ever since.
Although the initial outlay was small the island is expensive to keep, with a $12, 000 000 annual maintenance spend. It is not insignificant in size, at 172 acres the island provides roaming ground for the public for a few days each week during the summer months, but other than that is unused.
Now, after years of failed plans and fallen initiatives the island has a future plan. In 2010, going back to it’s roots in more ways then one, a Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8 stood up with a tree planting scheme. Their felt tipped pen sketch of a vertical landscape, or tree skyline, was among the ideas that won them an international competition for regenerating the space. The public was asked to input too. One New Yorker wanted to plant an ambitious 1,000 000 000 trees, some wanted music, and others no music at all. Another ideas person just wanted to “spend time with the one I love”.
Fixed suggestions now range from a hammock grove, a play lawn, a hilled area and a terrace with views of the Statue of Liberty. Plans are still growing and it is this year, the deciding year that the plans will be finalized, ready for construction in 2012.
Of course, the tour guide in the boat didn’t tell us any of that. He was too concerned with telling us about the real estate prices and the financial district and how he was a proper New Yorker. As the boat turned around I remember looking at Manhattan, the great exclamation point of the East coast, and next to it Governor’s island, just a comma in the ocean. Now I know it’s a comma with potential.