Porphyry like paving cubes are used throughout the renderings of this new park designed by a team under West 8, the landscape and urban planning firm.

In the past few years, Governors Island, the former military base in New York Harbor, has become the “it” summer destination for savvy New Yorkers. With free ferry service to the island on weekends, bicycle rentals, art exhibitions, food festivals, music and other cultural programs, Governors Island drew nearly a half-million visitors last year, up from 8,000 visitors in 2005.

A seven-minute ride on a free ferry takes you to this seasonal island sanctuary, a scant 800 yards from lower Manhattan. Thanks to its strategic position in the middle of New York Harbor, Governors Island was a military outpost and off-limits to the public for 200 years. It finally opened to summer visitors in 2006. The verdant, 172-acre isle still retains a significant chunk of its military-era architecture, including Fort Jay, started in 1776, and Castle Williams, which was completed in 1812 and used as a prison. The 22-acre area containing the forts and historical officers’ residences is now a national landmark. Today, the island is jointly run by the city, the state and the National Park Service, and it provides a peaceful setting for cycling (bring a bike on the ferry, or rent from Bike and Roll once there). The island hosts a program of events, such as concert series and art exhibitions (see website for schedule), and where else can you have a picnic directly across from the Statue of Liberty?

Governors Island
Governors Island just off Lower Manhattan

The Island’s future park and public spaces, designed by West 8, are now under construction.  The Bloomberg Administration is investing more than $250 million to build an extraordinary new park and public spaces and to bring the Island’s infrastructure into the 21st century.  Mayor Bloomberg, elected officials and The Trust for Governors Island broke ground on the new park and public spaces in May 2012.  When the first and largest section of the new park opens in October of 2013, the island will rejoin the city that was born there and 172 acres that New Yorkers barely knew existed.

The Native Americans of the Manhattan region referred to the island as Pagganck (“Nut Island”) after the Island’s plentiful hickory, oak, and chestnut trees. Its location made the Island a perfect fishing camp for local tribes, and many residents of the area used the island seasonally. In June of 1637, Wouter Van Twiller, representative of Holland, purchased Governors Island from the Native Americans of “Manahatas” for two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails. Though he was a representative of the Dutch government, Van Twiller purchased the island for his private use. The island, thereafter known as Noten Eylant or Nutten Island, was confiscated by the Dutch government a year later. In 1664, the English captured New Amsterdam, renaming it New York, and took Nutten Island, which had been left unfortified by the Dutch. The island, however, switched hands between the British and the Dutch over the next 10 years until the British regained exclusive control of the island for the “benefit and accommodation of His Majesty’s Governors.” Although it was not officially named until 1784, it thus came to be called Governors Island.

Landing Area on Governors Island

Most architects think visually. Good architects tend to all the senses. Even in the plans you can practically smell the saltwater and the echinacea beds, listen to the soft marine soundtrack of a post industrial harbor, and experience the varied textures underfoot of greenswards, granite mosaic, asphalt paths, and gravel beds. This is a park designed not just by computer, but by feel. The curvature of pathways and height of signs was calculated to keep bikers moving—slowly. Benches were given the butt test. Even the decision to create gathering spots for food trucks and stands, rather than build a permanent (and permanently mediocre) cafeteria is ultimately a sensual choice.


Porphyry’s composition determines its high compression strength, resistance to stains, slip resistance, and high freeze/thaw ratings.  The stone is the most popular paver in Europe, and is favored for its flexibility in design, beauty, durability and low maintenance requirements. ADA Compliant Porphyry pavers are also adaptable to a permeable paving set. The stone is by far one of the most durable pavers in the world.  These beautiful materials are available from Milestone Imports.   Milestone supports the creativity of architects, planners and designers. Porphyry offers surfaces of various finishes and mixed colorings, tending towards tones of grey, gold, violet and red, depending on where it is extracted.  The products are available in North America from Milestone Imports.  –  www.milestoneimports.com