Rising Currents
February 2, 2010  |  Rising Currents
Rising Currents: Governors Island

A few days after visiting the five teams at their open studios at P.S.1, I went for a walk on Governors Island to view the zones from the island’s waterfront promenade. Governors Island sits in the heart of New York Harbor, and the promenade provides the perfect vantage point from which to take in the harbor as a singular force and view the zones as they are today. Climate change and rising sea levels no longer seem abstract when you look out from the island and contemplate the potential impact of the one-hundred-year flood on different locations, including the island itself. I walked around the island clockwise from Soissons Dock:

View of Zone 0 (lower Manhattan) from Governors Island

We have a direct view of Zone 0, where a team led by Architecture Research Office is proposing to soften lower Manhattan’s edge with porous streets and an archipelago of constructed islands to blunt the force of storm surges. Our ferry terminal would be surrounded by green islands in the future envisioned by ARO.

View of Zone 4 from Governors Island

Walking eastward along the promenade, it’s not hard to imagine the SCAPE team’s oyster reef in Buttermilk Channel. On the way here, I passed the island’s own FLUPSY (Floating Upweller System), which is like a nursery for baby oysters. It is a project of NY/NJ Baykeeper and the New York Harbor School.

View of Zone 3 with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Governors Island

From the south end of the island, you can see Sunset Park, Staten Island, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The bridge crosses the waters between the harbor and the ocean. Out here is where nARCHITECTS imagines a buffer zone and a new community over water that would form the first line of defense against storm surge.

View of Zone 2 from Governors Island

The team lead by Mathew Baird Architects focuses on the southwest corner of the bay, which includes the waters around western Staten Island and the port of Bayonne, NJ. Viewed from Picnic Point on Governors Island, the massive cranes, container ships, and the bridge across the Kill Van Kull highlight the Harbor’s regional economic uses and the working waterfront further developed in the Zone 2 project.

View of Zone 1 with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from Governors Island

From the western edge of the island I have a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which is connected to the vast expanse of Liberty State Park. From this vantage point, I can really visualize LTL Architects’ response to the extreme climate change risk for this site, and their strategy of creating a more active park and changing the currently flat landfill of the state park.

At GIPEC, we’ve been working with West 8 on the Governors Island Park and Public Space Master Plan. This plan, which encompasses eighty-seven acres of open space on Governors Island, specifically responds to issues of rising sea level and climate change. With new topography changing the elevation of the island’s southern landfill, the park will address the threat of more severe and frequent floods and raise the root levels of new trees, preserving their longevity. The most dramatic of those shifts in topography will give visitors a new 360-degree perspective on the harbor from the top of a new hill.

West 8 Design Competition rendering

When the island reopens to the public on June 5, visitors can walk or bike the promenade not only to enjoy the views but also to contemplate the harbor’s history, its future threats, and the imaginative responses envisioned by the five teams whose work will be on display at MoMA.

For more information about Governors Island, visit


We now know that there have been lots of errors and outright fraud in the climate change “science.” How does the exposure of those errors and related fraud affect the planning for Governors Island? With “science” compromised, how can the Island’s planners evaluate possible threats? I’m afraid a lot of money will be wasted to plan around nonexistent threats.

Fascinating perspective from the heart of the harbor. Thanks!

Is there a “time Line” with this study or is it eminent??

Great work Barry–Late yesterday I headed down to MoMA to check out the Rising Currents exhibit, having a somewhat direct interest with my apartment about 15 feet above sea level and over looking the East River. MoMA commissioned five design teams to work at P.S. 1 Queens to look at the implications and possible solutions to the Sea Rise which may well be the consequences of climate change and maybe as high as 20 feet above sea level before the end of this Century. All the solutions were very interesting many including manmade barrier reefs & Islands, windmill powering pumps (New Amsterdam indeed!) and new flood absorbing wetlands surrounding Manhattan Isle. Well worth a visit and food for thought about the consequences of our late modern life style. I was left wondering what the rest of the world’s sea coast cities and settlements will have to do to survive the rising seas. Just imagine the implications of a very slow but unrelenting tide around the globe. Bravo MoMA (and to Barry Bergdoll) for putting the Museum in the forefront design thinking concerning perhaps the greatest issue we will face in this new Century.

A quick note to Edith: Though some may celebrate any errors that may have occurred in past investigations regarding climate change, the science that we do have is pretty conclusive. Receding ice caps and swings in the jet stream are facts that are measurable and occurring and at increasing rates. Well will have to address these changes in every way we can. Most will be by reducing our impact on the planet and reversing what we have caused as much as possible. Some will have to be with innovative engineering and planning as in this exhibit. But much will have to be by our acceptance of the change. Nature does not chose winners and losers or right or wrong. Nature does not reward or punish. Nature just has consequences.

hello i’m from cambridge and i need a cup of tea i think this museum is interesting

hi! I just got to this museum and I think its really cool! I just saw that the currents are rising and I have an idea to stop it now, and fast. :0 ;). We should stop littering all of the country, and the water will stay still. We should also help the water by stopping fishing for a while. We can always eat less fish! It would be helpful to new york and also the animals on land and water. I hope you like my ideas!

As a young boy (maybe 12 years old) living on Governor’s Island with my parents in the late 1950s, THANK YOU for the terrific views of the island. I was an elementary school student on the island, at the time an “auxiliary” of P.S. 3. Over the years, flying into and out of NYC, often with great views of the Island, Governor’s Island retains a big chunk of my heart. One summer soon I’ll make sure I return to the island. Congratulations for the great efforts at preserving the Island’s early years. BILL SMITH, P.O. BOX 516, Malibu CA 90265.

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