New York's Governors Island offers art, history and playgrounds

By Karen Matthews

Featuring a grove of hammocks for tired parents to rest in and 17-metre-long slides, New York's new park on Governors Island is one cool redevelopment of a public space.

Four new hills built on New York City's Governors Island offer sweeping views of the Statute of Liberty and lower Manhattan, unique places to hike and climb, and massive slides that dwarf those found in any playground.

Opened last month, the park spanning over four hectares and called The Hills at Governors Island is the newest piece of the redevelopment of the once off-limits former Army and Coasts Guard base in the heart of New York Harbour.

The four hills, built in part with fill and debris from demolition of the island's old barracks, range from eight to over 20 metres high, and have been lushly planted with trees, shrubs and grasses.

One, aptly named Slide Hill, has four stainless-steel chutes that run as long as 17 metres.

"One of the signatures of Governors Island is this idea that play is for everyone," Leslie Koch, president of the trust created by the city to oversee redevelopment of 60 hectares of the island.

"There's no age limit. Adults are invited to play, not just children."

Gulls cawed overhead as Koch described how the hills were designed to take advantage of the island's 360-degree vantage point, offering views not only of New York's skyscrapers and Lady Liberty, but of burgeoning Jersey City, New Jersey, and the Brooklyn and Verrazano bridges.

"With each foot that you go up the hills, you get more and more," Koch said.

The Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8, based in Rotterdam, designed the park. Designer Adriaan Geuze said the pathways that wind around the park's hills create "conceal and reveal" vistas that create a sense of anticipation.

Outlook Hill, at over 20 metres the highest point on the island, can be ascended by strolling up a sloping path or by climbing over granite blocks salvaged from the island's old seawall.

Other hills include the gently sloping Grassy Hill and Discovery Hill, home to a site-specific art installation called Cabin, by the British artist Rachel Whiteread. The concrete shed is meant to evoke a Thoreau-like retreat overlooking the busy metropolis.

Governors Island was off limits to ordinary New Yorkers during most of the past 200 years, and Koch said the redevelopment over the past decade has been aimed at making it part of the "living, breathing city."

Other attractions include tours of Castle Williams, a 19th-century fort built to prepare for a British attack, bike trails and Hammock Grove, which has playgrounds for children and 50 hammocks for their parents to relax.

IF YOU GO

Further details: Located in New York Harbour, Governors Island is open to the public from May 28 to September 25.

Getting there: Ferries run daily from the Battery Maritime Building in lower Manhattan and on weekends from Pier 6 in Brooklyn. The ferry is free for everyone on Saturdays and Sundays until 11.30am. Cars are not allowed on Governors Island, but visitors can bring bicycles on the ferry or rent them on the island.

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