I always love the view walking west on Atlantic Avenue from our apartment in Cobble Hill. The road dips down under the BQE and tumbles right into Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 6.
As we were walking this route on Saturday the sun was shining, the breeze was cool, and there wasn’t any humidity in the air. Quite a rare day for New York City. To celebrate the perfect weather, Miranda and I decided to take the ferry from Pier 6 to Governor’s Island, the small island–turned public park just off the southern tip of Manhattan.
Miranda and I had been to Governor’s Island a few times before, but we hadn’t been for two years and we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew there was some off-and-on construction on the island and we were interested to see if there were any new developments. As the ferry cruised across the East River, everything appeared normal until the ferry bypassed the usual docking location and cruised half way around the east side of the island. This was different, but totally ok.
As we exited the ferry and walked onto the island, we were blown away. In front of us were freshly paved walking routes lined with thick rows of vibrant yellow Black Eyed Susans, freshly manicured lawns, and cheerful people all around. Woah – what a difference from our last trip. This place was beautiful. The yellow of the Black Eyed Susans made us feel like we were in the Wizard of Oz and the undulating hills made each turn of the path a new adventure. We walked a little bit south and saw dozens of red hammocks suspended over perfectly green grass. There was greenery all around and plenty of shady trees. There were even sports fields, picnic grounds, and sculpted hedges. For the first 30 minutes of our trip we couldn’t believe all the work they’d done.
Then we realized that the entire southern half of the island was completely closed.
As we walked around a little more we noticed a few other things: some of the large buildings had doors that were blocked off. Miranda and I peered into the window of a building that looked like a dormitory and saw mold on the ceiling and a thick layer of green vegetation growing from the floor.
On the way back to the ferry, we noticed that some of the buildings we had walked right past on the way off the ferry actually had broken windows. One even had a collapsed roof!
We quickly went from skipping down the yellow brick road to walking through what resembled a junk yard. What a dichotomy.
One of the things that really impressed me though was the ability of Governor’s Island to give us a positive experience even though so much of the island is under construction or, in some areas, in the process of being reclaimed by nature.
The folks responsible for Governor’s Island could have closed the entire island for a few years and totally rebuilt it before opening it to visitors. Instead they found a way to give visitors incremental value as they continued to build out their product.
Additionally, by sending the incoming ferries from Brooklyn around to the East side of the island, they curated the experience of their users to experience the maximum value possible. Instead, Governors Island put their most valuable new feature right up front and that helped distract away from all the rough edges around the perimeter.
The island today is certainly not perfect, but Miranda and I had a delightful day and a partially complete island is infinitely better than no island at all.