Visions for an Urban National Park

I’ll admit that I had no idea a reasonably large national park existed within the boundaries of New York City. Even after a short-lived but legitimate childhood obsession with national park trivia, and after having worked in a national park in Wyoming for a little while, this urban recreational area escaped me. That is until opening Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park, a book recently released from Princeton Architectural Press. It catalogs the collaborative effort between the National Park Service and a host of designers, mostly landscape architects, in telling the story of this park while continuing to write it.

Maybe I missed Gateway, because it has yet to find a clear identity. As Alexander Brash, a director in the National Parks Conservation Association, writes “Gateway really has no clear thematic past, nor has an easily recognizable and unifying vision for its future been embraced.”

  • Gateway is split in to three units: Staten Island, the Jamaica Bay section of Brooklyn, and Sandy Hook in New Jersey. There’s no clear way to tie them together.
  • Gateway’s history is split between a location of early native Lenape trails, the site of NYC’s first airport, and America’s largest World War II naval base. Less glamorously, it contains a quarantine island that housed sickly immigrants, as well as the final and gruesome destination for most of the city’s 19th century transportation system.
  • Gateway is an important estuary for migratory birds, but also a grand experiment in the remediation of over a century worth of unmitigated pollution.
  • Gateway also functions essentially as a regional park for seven million people a year, allowing many to benefit from a national park who may otherwise never visit one.