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Jamaica Me Crazy for Parks
Firms develop a vision for New York's Gateway National Recreation Area.
Jamaica Bay.
Courtesy Hargreaves Associates

In an effort to study the parklands surrounding Jamaica Bay, the National Park Service (NPS) has partnered with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Happold Consulting, and Hargreaves Associates. The extent of the study area is roughly 10,500 acres of city, state, and federally owned land forming a ring of natural and engineered terrain circumscribing the tidal water body. While the bulk of the property is within the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area, an agreement signed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2011 mandates coordination of park management. A vision plan is set to emerge this fall.


Hargreaves Associates, which is internationally known for its waterfront work, is leading the development of the vision plan. Hargreaves principal, Mary Margaret Jones, is looking forward to creating an exceptional park at one of the city’s densest and most diverse edges. The neighborhoods in the southern reaches of Brooklyn and Queens, Jones described, are as populated as the city of Atlanta. She said that an accessible, coherent park would be of great benefit to the youth. “Many of these kids have never been on a boat, gone camping, or seen wildlife before…Gateway could serves as a ‘gateway’ for these communities.”

Kate Ascher, head of Happold Consulting, agrees with Jones’ enthusiasm. “The idea of the partnership is to create something that is akin to a national park experience on the city’s doorstep,” she said in a statement. The challenges, however, are great. Once home to numerous fortifications, Jamaica Bay is well positioned for sea incursion and has once again been thrust to the front lines to defend New York City against rising sea levels.

Much of the NPS property in Jamaica Bay is composed of a series of islands forming an archipelago. These islands, according to Jones, are in danger of eroding until completely submerged. “In ten years, half of these islands will be underwater,” said Jones. “There must be some form of management in order to retain their ecological importance to one our city’s greatest natural resource.”

Not all will be lost. NPS sites like Fort Tilden, Breezy Point, and Floyd Bennett Airfield are all regularly used and are great indications of the park’s recreational significance. Jones believes that the design of a unified park system, coupled with the educational opportunities provided by NPS to the city’s youth, will enhance resiliency to future storms.

B. Tyler Silvestro