Governors Island is peaking.
The Trust For Governors Island will open its newest public space, The Hills, a sprawling, 10-acre site near the island’s southern point on July 19.
Ten years in the making, The Hills features four rolling peaks, each with unique characteristics, that all gesture to the Statue of Liberty across the harbor, offering picture-perfect views.
“We had an idea that, at the time, people thought was really stupid…that the island was an incredible place because everything you can do in the park you can do in view of the statue,” said Leslie Koch, president of the Trust, during a media tour of the space Tuesday. “And so our [design] brief said to give the statue back to the people of New York.”
No more obvious is that mission than from the top of Outlook Hill, which stretches 70 feet above the island, unfurling a wide look at Lady Liberty and the skylines of Manhattan, Jersey City and Brooklyn as the Staten Island Ferry lumbers across New York Harbor in the foreground.
“I grew up in this city and could never imagine this view,” Koch said, after scaling Outlook.
That’s especially true given that the former site of The Hills included abandoned buildings and a parcel of parking lot, left over from the 172-acre island’s military era, on land flat enough to hide the ocean from sight.
Outlook Hill, the tallest of the four, is accompanied by Grassy Hill, Discovery Hill and Slide Hill, which range from 26 to 39 feet high. Each hill was partially built out on top of debris from demolished buildings and parking lots. Coated with a layer of topsoil, landscape architects Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects brought in mostly native or locally adapted plant species—54, to be exact, including almost 43,000 shrubs and 3,000 trees picked specifically to handle the harbor’s salty water.
“The island has had a history of brackish water, so we were convinced as landscape architects that the way to build a park would be to go higher,” said Adriaan Geuze, co-founder of West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture. “So, by elevating the island, we could also make the island gentler and introduce topography.”
Paved trails are lined with white stone, which serves as “eyeliner,” according to Geuze, to accentuate the slopes and greenness of grass. Peppered along those footpaths are reclaimed granite blocks that had served as island seawall for more than 100 years. (As part of the project, architects replaced 1.1 miles of seawall to improve resiliency.)
The $70 million space, funded through a public-private partnership, is meant to draw crowds of all age groups. Slide Hill features, of course, four slides, including what the Trust calls longest in the city. It winds some 57 feet down the hillside. Discovery Hill features an art installation from Britain’s Rachel Whiteread as well as Geuze’s favorite spot—a quiet knoll at its southern face.
“This is a very Olmstedian world,” Geuze said from the mound, envisioning scenes to come. “The rolling landscape…beautiful morning sun; people running, playing soccer or Frisbee on the lawns…you can oversee the whole thing; be the spectator.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Adrian Geuze’s name.