West Harlem Pier Park, by W-Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC, in West Harlem, New York City. What is a public space? Are we prisoners of the cities in which we live? Are we powerless against events and bigger forces? What is the value of our desires? This is the story of a place built amongst the abandoned manufacturing and industrial areas of New York City’s West Harlem neighborhood, a place that was once a bustling harbor, but faded into decay after the construction of the George Washington Bridge and the Henry Hudson Parkway. The area that is now West Harlem Piers Park had lost its strategic value, remaining a marginal area cut away from the city by vehicular and subway viaducts, left to the destiny decided by its owners’ succession. The narrow area situated in the northern section of Manhattan’s peninsula, with a potential westerly access to the river, fell victim to pollution, criminality, unemployment, and social disadvantages.
West Harlem Pier Park
Things could have gone from bad to worse if not for the development of the park, thanks to the design by W-Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC and the resolute perseverance of 40 fervent groups of citizens, which took a position against city proposals to use the land in ways that didn’t satisfy the real needs of the local neighborhood. Reviving the River The park, first proposed by these groups and the city at the end of the 1980s, reached the design stage in 2003. It was built in 2008, healing wounds to the urban pattern and reviving access to the Hudson River, previously denied by fenced zones and parking lots.River Related Articles:
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A Charming Design The charming design opens view corridors to the water directly from the streets, inspires itself from the cove and the valley, mimics the movement of the river, and creates a connection between the urban area and the water. Thanks to a new zoning plan relocating narrow activities in favor of small shops and bars, new life has been breathed into the area.The design of the two new piers follows the lines of the urban matrix together with the lines of the cove, opening up options for open-air activities, such as fishing, kayaking, environmental excursions, biking, eating, or relaxing on the lawn. The strong diagonal lines of the park give a modern and minimalist feature and widen the space perception. Indeed, the lines seem to be generated directly from the city itself, defining sharp profiles. Next to lawns sloped by retaining walls, we find triangular steel planters, seating and details characterized by neat lines that intersect in granite benches and cobblestone pavements. The viaduct is underlined by the use of a particular colored lighting that gives a more peculiar aspect to the waterfront at night.
Preserving the Past at West Harlem Pier Park
But memories haven’t been lost: Many elements of the design, such as the benches, come from the area’s original narrow bulkheads and seem to have been carried by the force of the river to be set down in the park. The renewed viability, the relocation of the parking lot from the waterfront, the widening of the park area by the half closure of the marginal street next to the park, have all created a haunting park that includes post-industrial-themed sculptures by Harlem-based artist Nari Word. The sculptures underline and reflect the narrow personality of the area.The Most Popular Bike Route in The United States Visitors picnic on the sloped segments of the lawn. They fish and take ferry rides from the pier. Children safely ride their bikes, weaving through the sculptures. The park is a place where the people can relax while remembering its past, giving the park an additional cultural and historical value.The park was also the missing section in the 32-mile Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, the most popular bike route in the United States. The Birth of a New Identity The West Harlem Pier Park can be seen as a model, a place that has discovered a new identity based on the needs of the population and the city’s willingness to listen and to invest resources to solve social problems and re-evaluate one of the most underutilized areas in Manhattan, creating a shower of collateral benefits. Environmental Justice The environmental and social benefits are clear: Continuity of the corridor improves not only human free time, but also the ecosystem and the river’s quality. Artificial “reef balls” were arranged along the river in order to offer a better habitat for the fish, giving back a sense of additional environmental justice to all users — humans and animals alike. In conclusion, we can say that this is winning example of how social priorities can merge well with environmental ones in order to improve everybody’s quality of life. Have you ever thought about environmental justice? What are your hidden desires for your neighborhood? Recommended Reading:
- Design with Nature by Ian L. McHarg
- Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature by Douglas Farr
Article by Valentina Ferrari Return to HomepagePublished in Blog