IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK

She Covers the Waterfront

by Paul Hond
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There’s a cyclical wonder to it. A pre–Revolutionary War military installation, boldly expanded, beginning in 1903, to more than twice its size (using landfill from the new Lexington Avenue subway line) by an unyielding administrator, becomes, 100 years later, a giant playground. Picnickers and cricketers share the rolling green of Fort Jay, visitors press their noses against the windows of the yellow Victorian mansions of Nolan Park, bicyclists and walkers traverse the three-mile esplanade, with water surging all around. There’s the Brooklyn Navy Yard, yonder across Buttermilk Channel, and Staten Island to the south, and, closer, looking as if she’s standing on the roof of a passing orange ferry, the Statue of Liberty. Waves lap the seawall, sending light spray upon the faces of watergazers seated on the movable benches, while behind them, readers lounge peaceably in hammocks, unwinding with the length of day.

Governors Island feels like a small miracle, an alternate reality in which the island was not, as almost happened between the two world wars, turned into a municipal airfield, or, as suggested by a revenue study commissioned by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s office in the 1990s, made home to a gambling casino.

In the end, the public stretches of New York’s 578 miles of waterfront will have been won by advocates who know how to work the system. And if it takes, say, a Moses-like power broker to do it, Buttenwieser isn’t complaining.

“No,” she says, with a twinkle of sage humor. “I think we need a czar.”

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