Leslie Koch, President, Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC)

The Park at the Center of the World: Five Visions for Governors Island opens Thursday, May 31, at the Center for Architecture (See On View At the Center for Architecture). e-Oculus had the opportunity to sit down with Leslie Koch, President of (GIPEC) to talk about the five finalist entries, the exhibition, and future development on the island.

There will be a panel discussion about the exhibition at the Center on June 11, 6:00pm; a public forum at the Fashion Institute of Technology June 20, 6:30pm; park tours organized by the Governors Island Alliance take place June 21 and June 27, 5:00pm; and a walking tour and scavenger hunt with the Center for Architecture Foundation will happen August 11, 9:45am. Go the AIANY website for more information on all of these programs.

e-Oculus: How do you see the parks on Governors Island being unique and unlike other city parks? What activities do you see happening on the island? What will attract New Yorkers as well as tourists to the island?
Leslie Koch: The experience of traveling to the island by boat and enjoying its views and green spaces offer a unique “holiday” for New Yorkers and visitors. The parks will be designed for the unique island location at the heart of New York Harbor. We envision many activities for children and families (water play, picnicking, exploring), active recreation (biking, walking, lawn sports) and programming such as water-based and ecological activities, music, performance and public art, and festivals.

e-O: There are three main features to the GIPEC master plan — the Great Promenade, Summer Park, and the restoration of the Historic District. Please describe these aspects.
LK: The 2.2 mile Great Promenade around Governors Island will feature unsurpassed views of Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, New York Harbor, and the Statue of Liberty. The new park on the South Island will be a “Summer Park” oasis in the city full of active recreation choices and activities that appeal to families and children. The northern Historic District is a green, civic space surrounded by historic homes and buildings dating from 1810 shaded by a verdant mature tree canopy. Design teams will rejuvenate these spaces while respecting their historic character.

e-O: What types of infrastructure will be developed to help facilitate getting people to and around the island?
LK: The passenger ferry access to and from the island will be augmented with frequent service from Lower Manhattan and other embarkation points in the harbor. We are exploring the feasibility of an aerial gondola connecting Governors Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

On the island, there will be a fleet of green vehicles providing public shuttle service. GIPEC is considering a special “free” or low-cost bicycle program for transportation and recreation on the Island.

e-O: How does the GIPEC master plan fit in with Mayor Bloomberg’s plaNYC 2030? Were the teams that responded to the RFP and RFQ required to incorporate plaNYC into their proposals?
LK: GIPEC is committed to sustainable development and green design meeting the policies advanced by both the City and the State. Many of GIPEC’s sustainability goals were laid out in the design guidelines given to the competition teams. Sustainable site planning, reduced energy usage, landscape and habitat enhancement, reduction of wastewater treatment, use of environmentally appropriate materials, and solid waste management are all areas GIPEC will develop with the winning design teams. The teams were required to offer innovative, sustainable, and practical park design proposals, and they responded with a wide variety of ideas including ones addressing energy use, carbon emissions, and storm water management.

e-O: What distinguished the five final teams from other entrants?
LK: The five finalist teams exhibited a nuanced understanding of the island’s special circumstances and its design and programming opportunities. Each of these teams has worked on important public projects and done excellent design work in the past.

e-O: Discuss the selection process.
LK: A jury of design professionals, government officials, and citizens will review the design proposals and make a recommendation to GIPEC. GIPEC will select a team, not a scheme, and will work with public input to design the open spaces. The selection criteria were outlined in the RFP and include: Vision, Design Approach, and Quality of Work Product; Methodology; Relevant Past Experience and Expertise; Feasibility and Cost Effectiveness; Fee; Staff/Team; and Compliance.

e-O: What do you want exhibition-viewers to take away from the exhibition?
LK: GIPEC wants them to understand the exciting possibilities of the island coming back to life through a series of great design and programming visions. We’d like the viewers to visit the island to see for themselves what an extraordinary site this is for a once-in-a-lifetime project. And we’d like to hear reactions from viewers on the website.

e-O: Describe the timeline of development. When will a team be selected, when will construction start, when will the master plan be complete?
LK: GIPEC intends to select a park design team this summer and to begin the design process in the fall. The start of construction will be dependant on many factors including public funding and public review of the project. The public open space designs will be incorporated into the overall master planning for the island, which is ongoing.