In the middle of the New York Harbor, where unused, decades-old buildings once stood, four hills are taking shape, sloping up toward the sky and pointing to the Statue of Liberty. The man-made mounds are the newest parkland on Governors Island, and when they open in 2016, visitors will be able to climb 80 feet up to see some of the best views anywhere in the city. Giant slides, wooded pathways, and grassy lawns will cover the hills, which are constructed entirely out of fill and debris from the buildings that used to occupy this part of the island. Dutch architecture firmWest 8 designed the new landscape, and the Trust for Governors Island took the first visitors to the hills last Friday during a Jane’s Walk with the Municipal Arts Society.
The hills are the final piece of the island’s new 30 acres of parkland, all designed by West 8. Last year, Liggett Terrace, the Play Lawn, and Hammock Grove opened, giving park-goers rolling hills and a forest (well, what will eventually be a forest) with 60 species of trees. The new park was created with climate change and rising sea levels in mind (the Dutch know a thing or to about floods), so the landscape is flood-resistant.
When the hills open, they will be the southern most feature of the island that is open to the public, though they will eventually be joined by future developments. To get to the hills, visitors walk through the Hammock Grove, where the trees are starting to fill in. Ellen Cavanagh, the Director of Planning at The Trust for Governors Island, explained that since the climate on the island is harsher than inland, they deliberately chose young trees so they can establish their roots and become stronger over time. As such, they only lost eight trees in the first year.
The hills are located just south of the new ball fields, and currently, they are just giant piles of dirt. Grassy Hill, the smallest of the bunch, is at full height, and when you walk to the top, it feels like you’re well above the rest of the island, but Cavanagh points out that the elevation is no greater than the highest point in Hammock Grove, about 27 feet up.
At 70 feet, Outlook Hill will be the tallest. Currently, it stands at 50 feet, and it already feels incredibly tall compared to everything else around it. Cavanagh says they have been able to build at 10 feet a month, but after each level of fill is molded into place, they have to pause for it to settle and monitor it so it doesn’t move. All of the fill and debris that the hills are made from came from other parts of the island, including those buildings that they imploded in 2013.
The hills are currently on schedule to open in 2016, but Cavanagh says that could change. “We are designing with nature and nature doesn’t always cooperate with your construction plans.”