In mid-February 2006, New York City's mayor was thinking big. Superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, designer of hundreds of fantastical bridges and buildings worldwide, had conjured images of an aerial tramway connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan via Governors Island (home of all-quiet and closed-for-the-season Governors Island National Monument).
We found ourselves reminded of AT&T's television advertising campaign, "Ski Lift," which had its debut February 10, using similar imagery to "lift U.S. Olympians to the top of a mountain in Torino while, in the process, lifting the viewer — and all Americans — to similar heights in spirit."
"It's an elaborately overblown structure for such a limited function," wrote Nicolai Ourousoff of The New York Times in a Critic's Notebook column re: the Governors Island concept, "and it would tamper with one of the world's most spectacular views. But Mr. Calatrava's sketch is really nothing more than a teaser to give the project some desperately needed cachet. The underlying message to developers is that the city will go to remarkable lengths to overcome Governors Island's isolation from tourists milling around downtown Manhattan."
Governors Island offers a prime view of the Manhattan skyline and of the Statue of Liberty. According to the National Park Service: "From 1776 to 1996, the military installations on the island protected the United States, and the ideals the statue across the harbor represents." In 1966 the Army left, followed thirty years later by the Coast Guard. In 2001, a portion of the 172-acre "preserve" was designated a National Monument, to be administered by the US Department of the Interior. In 2006, "Governors Island [was] not fully operational and [was] open only on a seasonal basis... services and facilities [were] extremely limited."
Meanwhile, according to Times reporter Mark Caldwell, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) and the Governors Island Alliance had considered all manner of possibilities for the place, including a school, an arts center, an outdoor concert hall, a giant ferris wheel, a cruise ship terminal, a children's park, "a walkable, wadeable and even navigable miniature model of New York Harbor," and a stateside replica of London's Globe Theatre.
Ourousoff was worried about the lack of a "cohesive master plan" by the city: "An aggressive government role in galvanizing the best creative minds is virtually nonexistent in the United States, where political and financial power has shifted to the private realm. That's why New York has fallen behind cities like Barcelona, Rotterdam and even London in terms of the level of ambition behind public works projects. In New York, the system can foster a poisonous mix of political self-interest and commercial greed, as it did at ground zero."
At BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh had some truly fabulous notions:
...gondolas linking to gondolas, which in turn link to more gondolas. Gondolas switching through Ferris wheels. Gondolas connecting to the space elevator – which leads upward to gondolas in space... then back to Greenwich Village. Return trip: two hours. Etc.