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Governors Island

About this listing

Former military base now transformed into a public park

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Governors Island
Parks and Gardens, What New Yorkers Find Beautiful, Recreation, Historic Site & Museum

Place Matters Profile

Governors Island is located in New York harbor between the southern ferry slips of Manhattan and the Red Hook shipyards of Brooklyn. Its commanding position on the harbor recommended it to the English early on as a defensive military post. In about 1800, its American owners formalized its use for the U.S. Army, first constructing several forts, and later turning the island into an arsenal and military base. When the army left in 1966, the US Coast Guard moved in, staying until 1996. In 2002/03, a deal previously struck by Senator Moynihan and President Clinton to return Governors Island to the people of New York was clinched. In a marvelous turn of events, much of the island's lovely acreage has been saved for public use, and its public stewards are asking us what kind of place we want it to be. Governors Island is partially open to the public, with...

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Interviews by Place Matters with Michael Shaver of the National Park Service, and Robert Pirani of the Regional Plan Association.

Booklets and other source material published by the National Park Service and the Governors Island Alliance.

On The Web

National Park Service website
Governors Island Alliance website


Judith Calamandrei

Beautiful architecture!

Dana DuGan

I spent many Thanksgivings at the Governor's Mansion on Governor's Island with my in laws in the late '80s. My uncle in law was the commander of Governor's Island, the last one I beleive. A New Yorker, I had never been there in my life and fell in love with the charm, the beauty and the sense of place and history. It's a gorgeous place, and notable for its architecture, history and as a spot of pure beauty. (Sept. 2007)

Robert Pirani

Governors Island is a special place -- filled with history and serenity and an overwhelming islandness. Its redevelopment poses a truly singular opportunity to think anew about New York and its harbor. The Island's massive stone forts -- complete with cannons, moats, and drawbridges -- are symbolic of a military tradition from the American Revolution to the Cold War. These monuments testify to the security needs of a small town at the edge of empire, and of a people breaking free of their colonial masters. Walking their ramparts will make visitors consider how New York's role in the world has changed. And how we address the vulnerability we feel today.

There are dozens of charming Victorian and federal-style buildings, all set among hundred year old shade trees and landscaped paths. These homes and offices tell of a small town life lived right in the heart of the great metropolis. Their cloistered intimacy evokes visions of a small college campus. Both central and apart from the buzz of Wall Street or the art scene in Brooklyn, Governors Island can become a unique urban chautauqua where students and scholars of all ages gather to share their ideas and inspirations.

The Island's shoreline boasts spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn port, and the Statue of Liberty. This unique perspective -- looking back at the City and its icons -- will transform New York's relationship to the water that surrounds us. While there are dozens of wonderful parks now rising on other shorelines, only Governors Island belongs to the Harbor as a whole. Filled with ball fields, playgrounds, and innovative arts and cultural venues, the Island will become a great destination for everybody -- a central park for the harbor.

Realizing these visions will be no small feat. Like so much of the waterfront, Governors Island is detached from the lives of ordinary citizens. It wasn't always so. In the nineteenth century, when boat travel was more norm than exception, the Island was a popular picnic destination. At least three legislative attempts were made to have the Island returned to the City for park use, all of which were defeated by its military occupants.

While the United States Army no longer stands in the way, there are other, perhaps even more difficult, challenges to the Island's reinvention as a great civic space. Its historic buildings need tenants that can ensure their long-term maintenance. New park spaces will require the public to invest millions of dollars.

But perhaps most critically, the Island needs the support of the public and its elected leaders. While it is just five minutes from either Manhattan or Brooklyn, there is no local constituency to rally to the Island's e. That means it is up to all of us to make sure we don't let this wonderful moment pass us by. Working together, we can reclaim the lsland, and make it New York's next great place.

The Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, a city-state entity, and the National Park Service are both preparing comprehensive plans for their respective portion of the Island. The plans are due to be completed in 2007.

For more information, go to: - GIPEC website - Governors Island National Monument website

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