What would you do if you were in charge of the largest waterfront property in New York City?
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, New York Mayor Bloomberg and other dignitaries gathered earlier this week in New York City to discuss some possible answers to that question, and they involve plans "to revitalize Floyd Bennett Field and make Gateway National Recreation Area an iconic urban national park."
Their visit marked the release of a report by a Blue Ribbon Panel which calls for "a significant restoration of the 1,400 acre Floyd Bennett Field, the largest waterfront property in New York City." The goal, according to one source, is to "elevate Gateway National Recreation Area into an urban national park."
"National Parks are America’s most precious treasures and Gateway National Recreation Area is New York City’s rough-hewn jewel of open space. I’m so pleased that we now have a plan to make Gateway and Floyd Bennett Field a sight to see in New York City, and I look forward to turning this blueprint into reality in the years to come,” said Senator Charles Schumer.
The Blue Ribbon Panel was assembled by Schumer and former Representative Anthony Weiner to establish a shared vision for the future of Gateway National Recreation Area and Floyd Bennett Field.
"Gateway National Recreation area is a part of what makes New York the greatest City in the world. As one of the country's largest urban parks, it is home to immense natural beauty and an incredible variety of recreational opportunities—but we can make it better," said Congressman Weiner in previously prepared remarks.
The Blue Ribbon Panel was managed as a partnership between The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and Regional Plan Association (RPA), and their report includes an ambitious agenda to encourage both additional use of the area and restoration and preservation of park resources.
Goals for the plan include improved public transportation and access to Floyd Bennett Field via bus and ferry service and enhanced opportunities for bicycling in and around the park. A state-of-the-art education facility would serve the region’s millions of school children by "developing a comprehensive education and interpretation program," and an "expanded visitor experience would include eco-lodges and campsites."
In a city where many people do not own automobiles, bicycling is both recreation and transportation. Secretary of the Interior Salazar called for the completion of the extensive New York Harbor trail and greenway network in partnership with New York City and New Jersey agencies and local communities. The completed trail would allow bicyclists and runners to travel from many city and federal areas without interruption. This would include the development of a one-mile section through Gateway’s Jacob Riis Park, connecting the Rockaway peninsula with the Jamaica Bay Greenway.
The area's natural resources would also receive attention; the report calls for "restoring hundreds of acres of wetlands, grasslands, and forests as outlined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jamaica Bay Feasibility Study."
Salazar proposed establishing a Center for Urban Ecology, possibly at Fort Tilden, to attract resident and visiting scientists for research into nearby Jamaica Bay. The bay includes a significant salt marsh habitat and is one of the major stopovers along the Atlantic Flyway. The Center for Urban Ecology would feature laboratories, a library, lodging, office space, vessels and docking areas.
“Gateway is New York City’s greatest unrealized asset. With the leadership of Sen. Schumer, and the growing partnership between Secretary Salazar and Mayor Bloomberg, we can revitalize Gateway and Floyd Bennett Field and make it America’s great iconic urban national park,” said Alexander Brash, NPCA’s Northeast Regional Director. “With more than five miles of waterfront, wetlands, grasslands, and beaches, we must work together to implement the report’s recommendations for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”
The Panel's recommendations include "development of a new master plan for Floyd Bennett Field to make it more welcoming to visitors, including creating a consistent park design, restoring open space, preserving aviation history, improving access to waterfront and expanding recreational opportunities."
It's an ambitious proposal, and the group recommends establishing a new trust, as a partnership between New York City and the National Park Service, to help manage and facilitate these recommendations by 2016, the year that will mark the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. The report aims to "elevate Gateway as the country’s premier, iconic urban national park with Floyd Bennett Field at its center."
Floyd Bennett Field is located in Gateway's Jamaica Bay Unit, which also includes Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Canarsie Pier, Breezy Point, Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park. The "Field" in the site's name refers to its history as New York's first municipal airport; it later served as a naval air station until it was deactivated and transferred to the NPS in 1971.
The addition of urban recreation areas such as Gateway in New York and Golden Gate in the San Francisco Bay area marked a major new mission for the National Park Service. Some NPS supporters hailed the new areas as essential for gaining support from the country's increasingly urban population; others questioned the increasing dilution of scarce agency dollars.
Improving connections between a new generation of urbanites and the parks is a key element in the proposals. “National parks are a living laboratory for students of all ages,” said Deborah Shanley, Co-Chair of the Floyd Bennett Field Blue Ribbon Panel and Dean of the School of Education at Brooklyn College. “But too often young people in New York and other urban centers don’t have access to the outdoors. Our recommendations would ensure that Floyd Bennett Field and the rest of the National Parks of New York Harbor will be a welcome classroom for all children.”
You can view the full report with recommendations for Gateway at this link.