Why Are there 3 New Off-Shore Parks?


Arising from the depths of international waters, an unsuspecting trend emerges that could not have been predicted even by the likes of Nostradamus or the Mayans - off-shore parks.

Just this year, three new off-shore parks have been proposed for major cities such as New York, London and Washington D.C.
Pier 55 (New York)

Pier 55

Pier 55

is looking to replace the rotting pier on the West Side of Manhattan near the Meatpacking District, as New York’s first off-shore park.

If approved, the project is looking to become a $170 million park on the Hudson River, with $130 million funded by Barry Diller and the remaining $39.5 million from the city of New York, which is surprising considering Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge for no new parks to focus upgrading currently neglected community parks.

The 2.4 acre stage of parkland will include an amphitheater, and other entertainment spaces planned by British architect Thomas Heatherwick.

Garden Bridge (London)

Garden Bridge

British architect of Pier 55, Heatherwick Studio has proposed to develop a pedestrian parkway across the River Thames. However unlike Pier 55, the Garden Bridge will be backed by the phenomenally gorgeous actress, Joanna Lumley.

So far the Garden Bridge has already received $4.7 million in support from Citigroup and has been made the official bank partner for the project. Additionally, the Transport for London and the Treasury have contributed around $50 million each. Although with a total $234 million cost of the development, the project still needs to raise plenty more funds.

11th Street Bridge Park (Washington, D.C.)

11th Street Bridge Park

As a dual project between Dutch architecture firm OMA and Philadelphian landscape architecture firm OLIN, the 11th Street Bridge Park aims to connect diverse neighbourhoods with the bridge park crossing the Anacostia River.

However, in Washington, D.C., there isn’t any mayoral demands for new iconic architecture nor any celebrity backing to assist the projects’ realisation. But what the city does have is a history of failed bridge designs! Although none of the bridges proposed to use the Anacostia River.

According to Kriston Capps of City Lab, former head editor of Architect Magazine and contributor to Washington Post, the 11th Street Bridge Park project is anticipated to be a more of a social balancing act than a structural one.

“The bridge design has to include education and conservation features to appease residents on both sides of the river, without stoking fears that the bridge park will spell gentrification and displacement for the much poorer residents on the eastern side of the Anacostia,” says Mr Capp.

Washington, D.C. has already put forward enough money for the project to be recognised by outside investors, including $2 million in the current fiscal year, and $6.5 million a year in 2016 and 2017. However, the current estimate is that the entire development will total $40 million, opening in 2018 at the earliest.
So why all the off-shore parks?
To be fair, since two of the new park developments have been proposed by Thomas Heatherwick, it seems tempting to think that these projects are a result of a niche architect. But the demand seems to be there, at least enough for the projects to gain investors and celebrity support.

When examining the context of these projects, similarities emerge between their respective cities, and it seems to makes sense why they’d be prime locations for off-shore parks.

  • River Banks
  • Important/Capital Cities
  • Densely populated
  • Scarce land availability
  • Common high Land and Real-estate Prices

According to a 2014 report from the Trust for Public Land, the average highly dense city provides 7.1 park acres per 1,000 residents. New York provides just 4.6 park acres per 1,000 residents despite having nearly 39,000 acres of parkland. While Washington, D.C., boasts 13.5 park acres per 1,000 residents.

So it’s an unsurprising development that these cities with lower park acreage per resident than other cities, are those which are producing off-shore parks.

Additionally a development like a park in one of these cities implicitly requires an innovative reason to justify its use of scarce and valuable urban land.

"Of course, the rising cost of land would precipitate people thinking creatively about using other available resources," says Peter Harnik, Director for the Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence.

The logic behind the development of off-shore parks seems a reasonable way of producing innovative architecture from limitations and using available resources, such as renewing ageing infrastructure like Pier 55.

However, that is not to say that the process of developing off-shore parks is the most economically reasonable.

"Building something over the water or in the water is really expensive. There’s undoubtedly parts of cities that are less expensive than building in the river,” says Mr Harnik.

“On the other hand, those might be run-down areas that are more dangerous, or less desirable, or off the beaten track, things like that.”

All three off-shore parks appear to acknowledge that the relatively sparse park space available in a global city is worth extending, even out into the water—whether that means replacing a disused pier, rebuilding abandoned bridge supports, or starting something new. And yet, these three proposals don't all entirely convey the egalitarian good will of free and equitable civic infrastructure.

"You have to consider the economics of being right offshore of the West Side of Manhattan, right offshore in the middle of the Thames, and right offshore in the Anacostia River, versus being in some obscure, faraway part of the city in any of those three cities," Mr Harnik said.

"Once again, it’s related to park advocates, and rich people who love parks, wanting to be where the action is. The one in D.C. is where the action will be, presumably. Anacostia is not really fully discovered yet, but there’s the idea that it will be discovered—just like the Chelsea area of Manhattan hadn’t really been discovered big time until the High Line." 

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