By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) has completed 72% of the entire park construction which started over 20 years ago, and is now designing the 5.5-acre Gansevoort Peninsula directly across from the Whitney Museum of American Art on Gansevoort Street. The design process will include several more workshops this spring and summer, and more this fall. The site, where the “White Fort” was built under Dutch control, extends from the southern edge of the demolished Pier 52, across the peninsula cleared of former city utility buildings, and over to the northern side where Pier 53 is the home of the NYC Fire Department’s Marine Company 1, a functioning fireboat house and pier. The western edge was once part of New York’s 13th Avenue!
HRPT released a summary of community feedback on the design of Gansevoort Peninsula stating that community members want the space to include a soccer field, open green space, and some sort of water-related feature such as a beach. But, in fact, according to testimony at Community Board 2 (CB2) meetings, residents want and need active sports fields more than anything else; couldn’t the entire available site get playing fields?
HRPT endeavored to influence the community at their workshops to create “balanced plans” with many uses, despite being aware of a community petition signed by more than 2,000 individuals requesting a field measuring 75 by 120 yards as the highest priority for the site. The Trust’s misrepresentation left many community members, including CB2 committee-member Daniel Miller, skeptical of the Trust’s intentions. Rich Caccappolo, another CB2 member, said, “We are looking for a design that makes more for the local community and less a destination.”
The Meatpacking District is now a hot cultural center, and community members are concerned about how the waterfront is changing; they don’t want a tourist destination entertainment center that crowds out community uses, like Pier 55 and 57 will, or as the High Line already is.
The CB2 Parks and Waterfront Committee and a special Task Force for Pier 40 spent years surveying the opinions of over 3000 people in the community about park uses. Although targeted at Pier 40 uses, many survey questions regarded general park use and character. Their November 2017 resolution report found that 85% are concerned about privatization of public (park) land; 80% are concerned about loss of neighborhood character; 81% are concerned about tall buildings along the park; 79% are concerned about increasing traffic on nearby streets.
Design goals that celebrate the “serendipity” of the waterfront park were described: provide visual connections to surrounding landscapes and the river; respect and emulate the streets, scale, modulation, and cultural energy of the adjacent areas; promote sustainability and environmental stewardship with attention to climate and resiliency; provide a landmark with lookouts to the river and the city; offer multiple through-paths with natural meeting places between use-designated spaces. High quality urban and landscape design will be essential, reinforcing the role of the park as a space of transition from intensely developed urban streets to the serene presence of the powerful Hudson River.
The greatest support for Gansevoort uses came from local youth sports programs. There was clear testimony given that sports playing fields are in very short supply in our district, and that the need for more can only be met by utilizing the large open area here. An article in the May issue of WestView News, “The Future of Our Fields” by Lara S. Mullarkey, states this priority clearly and concludes with, “Local politicians promised the new park…would serve the needs of this community…We plan to hold them to that promise.”
HRPT representatives encourage as many uses as possible here but, clearly, other uses are taking place at surrounding areas within a 10-minute walk and don’t require large open spaces. Pier 51 has restrooms and a playground and water play area fenced in for small children’s safety; Chelsea Piers has a shopping mall with indoor amenities; Piers 45 and 46 have turf play areas, lawns, picnic areas and concessions; Pier 57 is under construction with a public roof deck assembly area above a shopping mall; the construction at the adjacent Pier 55 is well under way and will add even more passive recreation, gardens, and small gathering spaces. Within a five or six-minute walk are the Seravalli Playground and basketball courts, the 14th Street Park lawn for passive relaxing, and, of course, the High Line. None of these uses need to be duplicated at Gansevoort when there is such a need for open sports fields.
The HRPT team includes (among several others) landscape designers James Corner Field Operations, Langan Engineering consultants responsible for marine and geotechnical engineering, CAS Group for hydrology & sediment modeling, eDesign Dynamics for natural resources, Silman for building and site structural considerations, and KS Engineers for bathymetric surveying. The HRPT website displays the need to prioritize green architecture, flood resiliency, and wind and solar power. This location must be climate change certified as per past CB2 presentations, one commenter wrote.
When the Whitney Museum first presented plans for the artwork “Day’s End” by New York artist David Hammons in October of 2017, director Adam Weinberg said, “It will not impose on any uses of the Gansevoort Peninsula; you can still have baseball fields, you can still have park. There are essentially no shadows, it’s completely open to the light, to the air…” The artist’s frame of brushed stainless steel (non-rusting) posts and beams would exactly duplicate the outline and location of the original 373 feet long, 50 feet tall Pier 52 shed, and would become one of the largest public art installations in New York. The sculpture would sit at the southern edge of the current peninsula, canopying the new sand and (non-swimming) rock beach. An easement for the existing massive Texas Eastern gas pipeline lying just north of the beach dictates a clear surface above it. The art installation would belong to Hudson River Park Trust, which would maintain it with Whitney Museum funds.
In the last WestView News issue I wrote, facetiously, “isn’t that site of former city utility buildings more appropriate for another building project than building over water?” But the promoters of large office buildings on the water probably weren’t being facetious, though they should have been; the community must be diligent to prevent improper uses in their parks.