Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park

Alexander Brash, Jamie Hand, and Kate Orff, eds. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011 ($60.00). Design: Elizabeth Azen/EA Projects, New York.

Van Alen Institute is pleased to announce the release of Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park. Now available from Princeton Architectural Press, this volume is the culminating publication of a multi-year research and design initiative that re-envisioned the role of urban nature in the twenty-first century. Encompassing 26,000 acres across the coastline of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and New Jersey, Gateway National Recreation Area hosts estuaries, salt marshes, bird-nesting grounds, historic military forts, beaches, and New York City’s first municipal airport. It also contains sewage treatment plants, sewer outfalls, landfills, and acres upon acres of “black mayonnaise.” Due to neglect and misuse, this extraordinary natural and national resource is in peril. Ninety percent of the salt marshes in Jamaica Bay—one of the most biologically productive habitats in the region—are at risk of disappearing in the next few years.

To address the threats Gateway faces, and to explore the myriad opportunities for recreation and wildlife it holds, Van Alen partnered with the National Parks Conservation Association and Columbia’s GSAPP in 2006. The result was a 2007 international ideas competition to re-imagine Gateway and look afresh at the fate of natural and cultural resources in dense urban settings.

This richly illustrated volume showcases entries from the competition, and considers them within broad contexts of ecological regeneration, cultural diversity, urban policy, and environmental education. With contributions from editors Alexander Brash, Jamie Hand, and Kate Orff, as well as reflections from historian Ethan Carr, critic Christopher Hawthorne, the National Park Service’s Rolf Diamant, former VAI executive director Adi Shamir, and others, the book documents the innovative competition process and ways that urban parks can foster democracy and community. Powerful photographs from Laura McPhee round out the publication, capturing Gateway’s sublime ruins and unexpected beauty. Gateway promises to be a valued resource for park lovers, landscape architects, academics, planners, and those who wonder about the future of open space in our increasingly urban world.

Stop by Van Alen Books to pick up your copy, and mark your calendar for a launch with the book’s editors, and contributor Sarah Williams on Thursday, January 26 at 7:00 p.m.