Stretching along Manhattan’s west side, Riverside Park South is an urban miracle on the Hudson and the last link in Manhattan’s west side greenway. Its creation involved working with local and state government agencies, community groups, stakeholders and the client to create a vibrant new public space that reintroduced the community to the water’s edge and responded to the unique industrial history and riparian ecology of the site.
It is a massive, multi-phase project of sweeping ambition and historic scope. Combining new greenspace, new infrastructure, and the renovation of landmark industrial buildings, the master plan—originally devised by Thomas Balsley Associates in 1991—has come to life as a 13-block extension of Frederick Law Olmsted’s famed Riverside Park. The bold scheme calls for the elevated Miller Highway, long a barrier between the city and its waterfront, to be dropped to grade and covered with a park, affording unimpeded access from upland neighborhoods to their riverfront.
The dynamic landscape narrative of Riverside Park South brings together the highest standards of environmental, social and cultural sustainability. This extraordinary park features a series of special architectural structures and landscape spaces that vary in scale and highlight the experiential qualities of the park. Terraces, expansive lawns, architectural shade structures, recreation areas, lawn mounds, and intimate tree groves create viewing areas, spaces for play, and draw one down to the water. The 40-foot grade change from the street is carefully sloped into a dramatic descent to the river using natural walkways, terraced overlooks, stairways and universal access ramps. Visitors are led through a sustainable landscape of the 21st Century where a riparian environment of tidal grasses and coves is fused with stabilized historic railroad gantry towers and piers that have been preserved as visual benchmarks of the site’s industrial past. A circulation system of esplanades, marshland, boardwalks, native planting habitats, and bike paths tie the individual places together. Overlooks, terraced walls and a two hundred and fifty meter long pier take visitors to the shore and beyond.
A new stairway in historic Riverside Park at 73rd Street leads the visitor south to an esplanade, sport field and pier whose café plaza connection to the park is also the social activity node. The 750-foot long pier’s dramatic setting deep into the river’s width has become a beacon for unique river views.
A pedestrian bridge sweeps out across a historic cove with reconstructed upper marsh grasses. The design of the park is sensitive yet bold, inviting people to the river to explore the variety of experiences found here at the edge of New York.
Planted riprap is used along the river edge to blur the lines between the large expanses of river edge marsh grasses, public lawns and the river. This softer, naturalized river edge, along with the lower elevations of the boardwalks, provides contact with the river. The three-block long spartina habitat laced with narrow timber walkways gives New Yorkers a truly unique and intimate river experience. Poking out at the water’s edge, at each old pier location, is a series of interpretive overlooks that offer educational and intimate viewing spaces. Aligned with the original, angular 21degree outline of the piers, these overlooks also contain interpretive signage that tells the cultural and physical history of the rail yards. At night, these overlooks are illuminated by a combination of contemporary light poles and small linear lights integrated into the railing system. The looming gantry tower is preserved as a permanent reminder of the site’s rich history and serves as a gateway to the acres of coastal grasses and timber paths beyond. The tower and pier have been designated as the future ferry site for the West Side ferry and water taxi.
Shaded by simple red metal canopies and inspired by the scale and architecture of the historic railyard shed buildings, a large public terrace provides public gathering spaces overlooking the river. Overlooks add smaller-scaled spaces along the main public walkway and trace the original line and 21 degree angle of the piers that was determined by the train’s turning radius.
Riverside Park South Waterfront, a well-loved New York City park, has been honored with awards from the Waterfront Center.
Images Courtesy of Thomas Balsey Associates