Staten Island: North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railway
You may have heard about the city’s ambitious Freshkills Park project, which aims to convert New York’s former go-to landfill into a massive wetlands park. Problem is, that site is on the west side of Staten Island, far from the closest Staten Island Railway stop and the free ferry the borough is known for. Well, it just so happens that a disused passenger rail line runs along the north shore of Shaolin Island, connecting the Saint George area where the ferry lands to Port Ivory, which is about two thirds of the way to the future Freshkills Park for visiting New Yorkers. That abandoned stretch of the SIR follows the north coast of the island, in places running along the water’s edge and elsewhere gliding over neighborhoods, High Line-style.
Can you say bike route? With a bike-share program at the Saint George ferry landing, day trippers can pedal along the converted rail bed all the way to Port Ivory, and from there south to Freshkills along a purpose-built extension. Also, since green has become the central pillar of the city’s public relations program, the North Shore Park’s waterfront stretches will be conspicuously adorned with wind turbines and the country’s first tidal power generator. Those shore stretches will also feature year-round bird-watching facilities, which will become among the richest and most popular in the region as wildlife returns to post-landfill Staten Island. These sections will also feature new and refurbished piers from which visitors can fish for trash or fly plastic bag kites. Inland stretches of the North Shore Park will be kept semi-wild, allowing for bike and pedestrian passages while maintaining the local ecosystems that have reclaimed the rail bed. Elevated sections of the railway in dense neighborhoods will have space set aside for community farming where locals can grow produce and keep chickens and bees.
Just because the High Line is all glitzy and glam with fancy lighting and encroaching luxury buildings doesn’t mean the next slate of urban-industrial parks can’t function as extremely utilitarian green spaces that bring visitors and developers to areas that really need them. With the city undertaking a major green makeover since the High Line project was first announced, it doesn’t seem completely unrealistic to imagine these and other environmentally friendly retrofits being applied to some of our romantic industrial and infrastructural ruins. Of course, knowing the way funding for public parks gets distributed around here, the next major makeover will probably be in Manhattan — urban farming on the elevated sections of FDR Drive anyone? With a little luck, we’ll see some of the seeds sewn in West Chelsea sprouting elsewhere in the city over the next decade. •