A flying visit to New York City

photos by Robert Schäfer

It is only seven minutes by ferry from the southern point of Manhattan to Governors Island, used as a military base until 2003, when it was returned to the citizens of New York. One arrives in a world that seems to be hundreds of miles from Wall Street. Only the perpetual noise of helicopters taking off and landing at the Manhattan heliport disturbs the idyllic setting.

In 2007 Dutch landscape architects West 8 won the competition for the island’s redesign. Wildlike plantations, playgrounds, winding trails for cycling as well as spacious meadows and lawns stand out from the first construction phase and are already in use for a few years. Some plantations, above all the parterre in front of Liggett Hall, have suffered from the climate, soil conditions and the legs of playing children. But this has been restored by the opening of the second phase on the 19th of July. „The Hills“ is the name of the landscape which, especially from Outlook Hill, is now offering New Yorkers a unique view of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan and New Jersey, as well as upstream until the Brooklyn Bridge.


Governors Island, © Robert Schäfer
The topography of differently shaped hills is the highlight of the new park. What seems to be impossible elsewhere is possible here: you can let your children run around freely.

Governors Island, © Robert Schäfer
Governors Island, © Robert Schäfer
Governors Island, © Robert Schäfer

In the summertime you can take the ferry directly to the park, which extends from the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn (Michael van Valkenburg Associates). New uses have been created on and around the old piers. Pier 6 already shows a dense vegetation, dividing and secluding different play areas for children and some places for adults as well. Walking north, the eastern side is dominated by the ongoing construction of a noise barrier hill towards the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, while the sports and play areas, on Piers 2 and 5, and the Greenway Terrace and beach, Piers 3 and 4, are extremely popular and heavily in use. Here you can experience how the combined stormwater catchment and noise reduction measure works.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, © Robert Schäfer
Brooklyn Bridge Park, © Robert Schäfer
Brooklyn Bridge Park, © Robert Schäfer
Brooklyn Bridge Park, © Robert Schäfer

The ferry passes Hunters Point South Park (Arup, Thomas Balsley Associates, Weiss Manfredi) before heading to 35th Street on Manhattan. A short visit to Bryant Park, one of the most cherished public spaces in the world, re-designed by Olin Partnership as a type of quasi-green roof on top of an underground building that is part of the New York City Library. In the 1980s it was a no-go area, but is now a popular meeting place, operated and maintained by a private company.

1691-Bryant Park Olin Landscape Architecture
Bryant Park, © Robert Schäfer

Time for a quick glance at Times Square, the liveliest place in Manhattan. The courageous city planner Janette Sadik-Khan is to thank for the temporary markings and furnishings that have tamed the traffic at the intersection of Broadway. Snøhetta ultimately received the contract for the complete redesign of the Times Square area. Because the newly designed pedestrian heaven is even more frequented than before, visitors hardly notice the design achievements of the landscape architects. It became necessary to designate entertainment areas where body painted girls and artists hunt for attention and tips. Specially marked express lanes are dedicated to pedestrians who try to cross the square – hilarious.

Times Square, © Robert Schäfer

Times Square, © Robert Schäfer

Times Square, © Robert Schäfer


Storytelling combined with the right marketing campaigns have also made the High Line a world attraction. (Diller&Scofidio, Field Operations). From the disused elevated railway over a highly adored ruderal object to an artificial and very expensively maintained park, the High Line is definitely a success story. Due to new investments, triggered by this success, a walk through the second and third phases is a promenade between scaffoldings.

The High Line, © Robert Schäfer


The buildings extremely close to the High Line are prime addresses. They will make you feel like walking on an elevated canyon with lush vegetation. Once finished, the walk will be quite unique, but far away from the original idea, when The Friends of the Highline started fighting the planned demolition of the tracks.
The High Line, © Robert Schäfer

The High Line, © Robert Schäfer

The High Line, © Robert Schäfer

The High Line, © Robert Schäfer

Given the construction boom, a small detail, but significant when it comes to achieving the right design: the elegant flooring allows for not only interlocking slabs with newly introduced vegetation, but also creates a stumbling block for inattentive visitors. To correct this, iron posts and ropes were introduced, rudely crossing the floor design to fence people off. At the outset simple and cheap, the ropes now present themselves in elegant black with more sophisticated poles. The planners shrug their shoulders, as though nothing better can be offered to the most expensive green area in New York. So wait until when the third phase of the High Line will receive an adequate design after the buildings on Hudson Yards are completed. There you can still admire real ruderals and original tracks, all of which were eliminated at phases 1 and 2 during the complete renovation of the elevated railway structure. The High Line has nevertheless established itself in the compulsory program of tourists. As to whether the project can serve as a long-term showcase project for the use of industrial relics, at the moment I wouldn’t necessarily answer in the affirmative.

Published on July 22, 2016

One thought on "A flying visit to New York City"

  1. karl says:

    well chosen, interesting inormation – please carry on with this type of articles

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