Staten Island’s North Shore key to developing water-front

October 2, 2008 at 4:34 pm 1 comment

There are three reasons the American Institute of Architects put Staten Island’s North Shore at the center of its recommendations for revitalizing the waterfront boroughwide:

* It’s one of the nation’s most significant maritime centers.

* It’s the site, if there is one, of Staten Island’s “downtown.”

* And for tourists and ferry riders, it’s the borough’s front door.

The Regional/ Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) last week completed its study of Staten Island — the product of a dozen urban planners from other parts of the state and nation who volunteered to provide an independent vision for the Island.

The plan focused on connecting the public to the waterfront and promoting maritime industries along each of its coasts. But the lion’s share of their recommendations applied specifically to the North Shore, with particular attention paid to St. George.

On Tuesday, City Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island), Borough President James Molinaro and Linda Baran, president of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce called on the Bloomberg administration to identify all city-owned waterfront properties and investigate how they could be revitalized based on the R/UDAT findings.

“St. George has been, and remains, Staten Island’s downtown for many generations,” the R/UDAT team wrote in the plan they titled “Your Staten Island.” “While the Island population has grown and travel has shifted to the automobile, St. George’s role has been compromised. A new focus on St. George and the surrounding areas will help resurrect the area and revitalize its role as the transportation, art, civic and culture center of Staten Island.”

An improved St. George would build on its strengths: Its arts community, its historic buildings and the 20 million riders who take the ferry each year.

Local artists, investors and entrepreneurs should take the initiative to revitalize small businesses, form art space collectives and find new uses for beautiful old buildings, they said. Resurrecting the Lighthouse Museum and looking for other tourism incentives would draw riders off the boat.

St. George also must address its weaknesses in order to flourish, the R/UDAT volunteers said.

The area is full of what social scientists have generically termed “broken windows” –scarred streetscapes that “lead to disorder because they are signs to the community that no one cares,” said urban planner Bob Shibley.

Broken sidewalks, faulty benches, above-ground utility poles, the non-working fountain in front of the Supreme Court, lack of attention to cleanliness, quality-of-life problems such as public drinking, the lack of clean and safe services and other ills all give the impression that Staten Island’s downtown is unsafe, the R/UDAT team said.

Among their suggestions: Organize business improvement districts; provide more housing and retail opportunities downtown; improve the streetscapes; make the walk near the ferry more pleasant; use the prime real estate next to the ferry terminal for a use other than parking; convene a downtown task force; hold more special events and festivals; create a “tool kit” of incentives for downtown building renovations and tenant improvements, and call on the borough president to lead volunteer clean-up efforts.

One of the major recommendations of the R/UDAT team was to provide a continuous path around the entire Island, near, and where possible, directly on the waterfront.

Their sketches show a continuous promenade along St. George and the Stapleton home port, with streets ending at the waterfront with parks or cul-de-sacs that pull the existing grid to the edge of the water.

Their futuristic vision for the old Gypsum plant on Richmond Terrace shows a building directly on top of a working North Shore rail line track and an artfully angled art space on stilts above the promenade.

Some of the R/UDAT sketches illustrate the potential of “small foot print” towers to frame views of the street, while others show lower-height structures creating interior streets for residents and framing the public promenade.

The North Shore of Staten Island already plays a significant role in the region’s maritime trade, and various studies have pointed to the vast potential for the industry to grow, to provide cleaner transportation methods and high-paying jobs in the borough.

To help the maritime trades flourish, the R/UDAT team recommended amending the zoning laws so that industries along the water would be required to be water-dependent.

An Island-based craft training center could teach skills to Islanders who could find jobs in the marine trades.

The R/UDAT team also recommended expediting and streamlining the permitting processes along the waterfront and stressed the need to aggressively court new maritime businesses.

Richmond Terrace, which was built to handle normal vehicular traffic, needs to be upgraded to handle heavy trucks that service its maritime businesses, the R/UDAT team said.

The urban planners also noted that the International Speedway Corp. (NASCAR) property presents an opportunity to develop a specialized ocean terminal, such as a temperature-controlled warehouse to support the trade of chilled fruit.

Supporting new maritime businesses and the growth of existing ones, such as the New York Container Terminal, will also mean supporting the swift completion of the new Goethals Bridge. With the expansion of the Panama Canal set for 2014, R/UDAT team member Jake Jacobi said a solution should be sought to allow vessels with air drafts to sail under the Bayonne Bridge.

The R/UDAT team’s 60-page report also stressed the need to develop neighborhoods throughout the North Shore, including the former home port site in Stapleton, and Port Richmond Avenue.

Reducing visual and actual barriers such as fenced stairwells near Staten Island Railway stations and removing ugly fencing along Richmond Terrace could alone go a long way toward connecting people to their city and its coast.

See the full R/UDAT report at

Tevah Platt

Staten Island Advance


Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Public Waterfront, Staten Island. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Joe staten  |  October 3, 2008 at 10:20 am

    great article, we hope this comes to pass


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