Adrian Benepe donned swim trunks for the opening of McCarren Park pool (after the ribbon cutting, he jumped in and swam a lap). High Line co-founder Robert Hammond remembers him in bike shorts during the elevated park’s inaugural weekend. But on the steamy evening when the New York Restoration Project held its annual fund-raising dinner at Gracie Mansion, Mr. Benepe was dressed conventionally in a suit, albeit with a backpack slung somewhat incongruously over one shoulder.
The backpack, like the granola bars that he keeps in his office, suggested a recent or upcoming tromp through some greensward more rugged than Carl Schurz, making it an agreeable accessory for an event aimed at rehabilitating neglected parks. But the former parks commissioner—for that was how people introduced him, despite the fact that he has been working at the Trust for Public Land for the past year—checked the bag at the entrance.
Leaving behind the “best job in the world” at the New York City parks department, where he spent the better part of 40 years and the near entirety of his professional career, has been more difficult. Mr. Benepe no longer presides over the 29,000-acre emerald empire whose transformation from overgrown, shabby and often-frightening urban wilderness into one of the city’s major tourist attractions has paralleled not only New York’s shift from a down-and-out city to an almost terrifyingly prosperous one, but also his own rise through the department’s ranks.
Today, the city council is scheduled to vote on two plans to turn parkland over to private development, determining whether the United States Tennis Association will be allowed to expand its 46-acre footprint in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and if Governors Island’s zoning will be changed to permit commercial development on the island for the first time in its history.
Public-private partnerships have a long and contested history in the New York City Parks Department and as the plans for USTA expansion and Governor’s Island highlight, they can produce outcomes of widely divergent desirability.
It has been five years since Dan Doctoroff reported to City Hall for work, but the former deputy mayor and current CEO of Bloomberg LP still finds time to think up interesting, even outrageous visions for the city. Well, they would be crazy if they did not have a habit of getting built. After all, so many developments that came out of Mr. Doctoroff’s unsuccessful bid to draw the Olympics to the five boroughs have since been realized regardless, from Atlantic Yards to Hudson Yards to Hunters Point South, the No. 7 extension, water taxis—the list goes on and on.
These success suggest that even though Mr. Doctoroff is no longer in command, might it still be possible to see a gondola stretch across the East River between Lower Manhattan, Governors Island and Brooklyn? Or a light rail line running the entire length of the waterfront from Astoria in Queens to Brooklyn’s Red Hook? Or, most audacious of all, tearing down the Javits convention center and moving it to yet another decked-over rail yard, this time in Sunnyside, where it would be surrounded by apartment and hotel towers and a sizable retail complex?
It has been nearly 20 years—17, to be exact—since Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan persuaded President Bill Clinton to sell Governors Island to New York for a buck. The transaction took place as the two men shared a helicopter ride over New York Harbor in 1995, just as the federal government was preparing to close its Coast Guard installation on the island.
In the years since, development of the island has been caught up in silly New York politics—a development which would not have surprised the late Senator, who, late in his life, was less than sanguine about New York’s ability to build memorable projects. Now, however, the island’s potential finally is being realized.
Make No Small Plans
Last year, a not-entirely outrageous proposal by urban theorist and Columbia professor Vishaan Chakrabarti was put forward to use landfill to connect Governors Island to Lower Manhattan, creating an entirely new Battery Park City South of sorts. Compared to landfill efforts in Tokyo and other parts of China, the idea is actually incredibly modest. And here is how it could be done.
Make No Small Plans
Mayor Bloomberg likes to talk about the need to stay competitive with the other global cities, like London and Hong Kong and Tokyo. Among the challenges are the cost of development, in which we actually have a competitive edge over many of our rivals. Which is why some of them have taken to filling in the waterways surrounding them. One of The Observer‘s favorite urban theorists, Vishaan Chakrabarti is proposing the same thing, according to The Times, using landfill to connect Governors Island to the Financial District. It might seem insane, but there are even logistical reasons the proposal makes sense.
on the waterfront
Two weeks ago, Port Authority boss Chris Ward declared that one of the biggest projects the city could undertake would be the redevelopment of Red Hook. Not only would it vitalize another corner of the Brooklyn waterfront, but it would also become a critical connection to burgeoning development on Governors Island.
At the time, this sounded like pontification—Mr. Ward fought to keep the container terminal active at his previous job running American Stevedoring—but now it is looking more like prognostication.
Last week, it was revealed that the Port Authority had quietly cancelled its lease with American Stevedoring, which has led a handful of outlets to speculate that Red Hook’s redevelopment is in the near future. According to a highly placed source at the Port Authority, though, it will be at least a decade before the port ships out for good and the BroBos can move in.
on the waterfront
Since it opened in 2006, around this time each year, a press release would shoot out from Governor’s Island, a torpedo blasting across the harbor, trumpeting the latest attendance numbers. The ice-cream-cone-shaped island, for most of its life an off-limits military compound, had reason to crow. It’s visitor’s numbers were soaring, putting to rest questions of its viability as a new public park—purchased for all of $1 from the U.S. government in 2005. From 26,000 visitors that first year, attendance jumped to 443,000 last year, 60 percent what it had been the year before.
This year, there has been no press release, no champagne.
When Spider-Man went to Governors Island in issues 415 and 416 of Amazing Spider-Man this past December, it was unexpected. Of all the places you might expect to find New York’s homegrown superhero, it has to be near the bottom of the list: You can’t get there via web-slinging, for one, and there aren’t any Read More
In late 2006, as a set of projects calling for hundreds of millions in funds languished in their planning stages, Dan Doctoroff, then deputy mayor, became frustrated.
Operating under the code name “Project Repo,” aides to Mayor Bloomberg’s right-hand man for development drew up a clandestine list of where the city could seize control of Read More