True Green Cities / Celebrating a Waterfront on a Ten Year Anniversary

The view of Manhattan's East Side from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City.

The view of Manhattan's East Side from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City.

It’s been ten years since my best friends and I left Manhattan.  I moved to Seattle and they moved to Long Island City in Queens.  At that time, it seemed that they were moving further away than I was.  Long Island City’s waterfront at Hunter’s Point was still gritty and most definitely NOT Manhattan.  There were only a handful of new residential buildings, including Citylights, where they purchased their place. There was no grocery store, few restaurants, and no schools.  What they did have was the best view in New York City (of the East Side of Manhattan which includes the United Nations, Chrysler Building and Empire State Building) and a subway stop for the #7 train that was only one stop to Grand Central. Earlier this month I spent a week in New York City for work, staying in Long Island City, with my usual fantastic view of the Empire State Building.  I usually visit my friends several times a year.  This time the weather was surprisingly wonderful and I actually had a little time to enjoy the waterfront, the neighborhood and my friends. Gantry Plaza State Park
Looking back at the apartment buildings from Gantry Plaza State Park.  Citylights, the first complex to open in 1998, is in the center.

Looking back at the apartment buildings from Gantry Plaza State Park. Citylights, the first complex to open in 1998, is in the center. The support gantries frame the view.

Citylights overlooks Gantry Plaza State Park in Hunter’s Point, which I have decided is the best waterfront park in New York City and one of the best waterfront parks anywhere.  Now that’s saying a lot considering New York’s waterfront is being revitalized in every borough.  It didn’t happen overnight.  Ten years ago you could walk out the pier across the street from their place, admire the view and the Transfer Bridges and Support Gantries and that was about it.  Now you can actually spend an hour running around the waterfront, which I did one Saturday morning.  The 10-acre park first opened in May 1998 and was expanded in July 2009, with the latest section of the waterfront just opening this past summer. The southern portion of the park is a former dock facility and includes restored "contained apron" transfer bridges of the James B. French patent, and built in 1925, to load and unload rail car floats that served industries on Long Island via the Long Island Rail Road tracks that used to run along 48th Avenue (now part of Hunter's Point Park).
The famous restored Pepsi-Cola sign now a feature of Long Island City's waterfront park.

The famous restored Pepsi-Cola sign now a feature of Long Island City's waterfront park.

The northern portion of Gantry Plaza State Park was a former Pepsi bottling plant, and that famous Pepsi sign remains as a feature of the park.  Constructed in 1936 by Artkraft Strauss, the 120-foot long and 60-foot high neon Pepsi-Cola sign was located on top of the bottling plant before it was preserved and moved into a permanent location within the park. Hunter’s Point South Park Gantry Plaza State Park now is woven into Hunter’s Point South Park, the southernmost part of the waterfront and it’s not really clear where one ends and the other starts, not that it matters.  This 11-acre public park is the first section of what will ultimately be 40 acres and include more residential, a school and more services.  Here’s a terrific article that details the design of this new park, which is spectacular.
Rain gardens, park features and the waterfront frame the Empire State Building.

Rain gardens, park features and the waterfront of Hunter's Point South Park frame the Empire State Building.

Gantry Plaza State Park was developed in stages by the Queens West Development Corporation. The original section of Gantry Plaza State Park was designed by Thomas Balsley with Lee Weintraub, both New York City landscape architects, and Richard Sullivan, an architect. Stage Two, the 2009 six-acre section of the park, was designed by New York City landscape architecture firm Abel Bainnson Butz. Adjacent and contiguous Hunter’s Point South Park was designed by Weiss/Manfredi, Arup and Thomas Balsley.  The entire waterfront and parkland is sophisticated, sustainable and quite frankly just gorgeous.  A pavilion, which will eventually have 64 solar panels on its roof, houses a park maintenance facility, restrooms, a concession stand, and a raised plaza.  A dog run, water taxi stop, rain gardens, biking and running trails, and acres and acres of green space are woven along the East River.  The only new waterfront park that I think competes with this one is the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, also designed by Weiss/Manfredi. A Real Neighborhood
The beach and the Pavilion, which will soon have 64 solar panels that will power 50% of the park.

The beach and the Pavilion, which will soon have 64 solar panels that will power 50% of the park.

What makes this glorious waterfront even better though, is that it is part of a real neighborhood.  Grocery store, fantastic corner markets, block after block of good restaurants, the required green/second hand market, more and more stores, schools, families, and lots of dogs.  And no matter where you go, views of the most remarkable skyline in the world follow you. Most Manhattanites have known Long Island City for the French bistro, Tournesol, which is literally at the top of the subway’s stairs.  You could ride one stop into Queens, go to dinner and not even feel like you’d left Manhattan.  So if you haven’t been to Long Island City and its waterfront parks, now is the time to go and please, keep walking past Tournesol! To me there is no place better in the world than New York City and what the past ten years of transformation (in our lives and the city) have shown me is that sometimes getting to look at Manhattan might just be better than being in Manhattan.
New construction overlooks Hunters Point South Park where even the dog run is a work of art.

New construction overlooks Hunter's Point South Park where even the dog run is a work of art.

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Long Island City's market.

Long Island City's market.

               
A gorgeous park and a gorgeous view.

A gorgeous park and a gorgeous view.

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