Here are the four finalists vying to establish a climate solutions center on Governors Island

On Island Time

Here are the four finalists vying to establish a climate solutions center on Governors Island

View of a historic Governors Island building from Buttermilk Channel. (Avi Werde/Unsplash)

Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Trust for Governors Island have revealed the four finalist teams in the running to build, program, and operate a global hub on Governors Island that will be dedicated to “researching and showcasing how cities around the world can equitably adapt to climate change” per a press announcement released yesterday by the Mayor’s Office.

In October, the city shared news that it had received 12 expressions of interest from over 30 academic and research institutions seeking to engage in the creation of a Center for Climate Solutions on the 172-acre island in New York Harbor. Now open year-round, the island is a ferry-accessible recreational gem just off the tip of Lower Manhattan and home to National Park Service-administered historic sites, public art and cultural venues, the New York Harbor School, a luxury camping retreat, and a popular 43-acre park among other attractions. (Before opening for public use in 2005, the island, having served as a major military installation during the Revolutionary War, was home to a U.S. Army post from 1783 through 1966 and then a Coast Guard installation until 1996.) Plans for the center, which would anchor a rezoned swath of land on the southeastern end of the uninhabited island, were first announced in September 2020 with renderings from WXY architecture + urban design envisioning what the future climate research hub might look like. This past June, a competition was launched through the release of a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI).

The institutions revealed back in October were, not surprisingly, largely New York- and New Jersey-heavy, and the four final teams vying to create the center reflect that general geographic tilt with a particularly strong showing from the Bay State. The four teams are led by: The City University of New York (CUNY) and the New School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Northeastern University in Boston, and Long Island’s Stony Brook University. Some partnering institutions come from further afield including Tokyo, Seattle, Puerto Rico, and Palo Alto. A small handful of partnering institutions appear on multiple teams, such as Columbia University and the Cape Cod-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The size of the teams also varies; for example, the MIT-led team has two partners while the Stony Brook team lists ten.

Next, the four university-led teams will respond to a Request for Proposals process set to launch next spring in which they’ll have the opportunity to “further refine their program and design” for the Center for Climate Solutions. As outlined in the RFEI, respondents were given the option to either lease land within 33 acres of land within the redevelopment area and/or up to one million square feet of available space within existing historic buildings on Governors Island. At least one of the finalist teams has proposed the adaptive reuse route.

aerial photograph of governors island in new york harbor
Aerial view, looking south, of Governors Island in 2018. (Kailash/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

The Trust and the City of New York are making available up to $150 million in capital funding in support of the project (the final cost will likely be considerably more), which will “support the research, development, and demonstration of equitable climate solutions for New York City that can be scaled and applied globally” while also supporting the “growth of green and climate-related jobs driving New York City’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic” though numerous efforts including interdisciplinary education, training, and broad public engagement opportunities. It’s anticipated that the Center for Climate Solutions will generate 7,000 direct jobs on Governors Island alone and nearly $1 billion in fiscal impact for New York City.

“Addressing the climate crisis through inclusive and cross-sector approaches is imperative for cities, and an opportunity that New York City is poised to lead,” said Clare Newman, president and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island, in a statement. “The Center for Climate Solutions will advance New York City’s leadership in generating the innovative solutions needed to create a resilient future for cities around the world, while expanding the training and education needed to provide pathways to green jobs.

“These four proposals showcase ambitious and innovative approaches that underscore the urgency of addressing challenges posed by climate change,” added Newman. “We look forward to the next phase of this competition and bringing this project to life right here on Governors Island.”

Below are the four finalist teams, including the leading institution(s) and additional partners along with brief descriptions of their proposed visions for the Center for Climate Solutions as provided by the city. As noted in the announcement from the Mayor’s Office, each team was selected due to the compelling manner in which they responded to the city’s and Trust’s core goals as outlined in the RFEI including “advancing equitable climate solutions; making a positive contribution to Governors Island’s physical campus and existing community of partners and visitors; and creating broader opportunities for New Yorkers.”

CUNY and The New School | C3: Climate Center Consortium

Additional Partners: Columbia University, Barnard College, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York University, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Northeastern University, University at Albany, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

“C3 is a new consortium of academic, research, and community organizations, focused on merging the work of climate adaptation, mitigation, and environmental justice. Programming will include formal and informal K-16 learning opportunities, degree-granting courses, career and workforce development, and continuing education credentials for educators and practitioners. C3 proposes to utilize Governors Island as a living laboratory for just climate solutions through transdisciplinary research, prototyping, and commercialization, focused on building design, technology, and nature-based solutions. Disciplines proposed include natural and social sciences, engineering, design, the arts, and humanities. Adaptive reuse of many of the Island’s historic buildings will create classrooms, research space, and dormitories. New spaces include areas for conferences and gatherings, field and forest research, and public participatory and demonstration sites. C3 proposes to facilitate collaboration across disciplines and sectors to develop climate solutions with community members, environmental justice organizations, and stakeholder groups on Governors Island, throughout New York City, and the world.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Additional Partners: Columbia University and Barnard College

“MIT proposes to create a dedicated climate change solutions and innovation center on Governors Island to support the research, development, prototyping, and deployment of urban-based solutions focused on New York City communities, in partnership with industry and government. Managed by MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative, which is dedicated to mobilizing the Institute’s scientific, engineering, policy, and design capacity to contribute to addressing climate change, the Governors Island center would host researchers and faculty from MIT and other partner institutions who would focus on the testing, rapid commercialization, and deployment of climate solutions. Solutions-development would focus on the areas of transportation, energy, buildings, the circular economy, equity and citizen science, and biodiversity. MIT’s center on Governors Island is proposed to include research space with a shared public conference hall, prototyping facilities, and overnight accommodations.”

Northeastern University | Coastal Cities Impact Team

Additional Partners: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, The University of Tokyo, and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez

“Northeastern University is proposing to build a climate solutions research and innovation center on Governors Island that engages the citizens of New York with researchers from around the world. The proposed center will be dedicated to driving ideas and discoveries that make coastal cities and communities sustainable, resilient, equitable, and vibrant for all. The Coastal Cities Impact team, with external partners, is proposing to drive climate science, climate justice, and climate adaptation from the deep ocean to coastal environments to city neighborhoods. Northeastern would expand its internationally renowned Cooperative Education program to accelerate and expand educational and career pipelines to climate-related jobs for New Yorkers. Proposed facilities include research and laboratory space, space for start-up companies and entrepreneurs to collaborate on research projects, overnight accommodations, and a public exhibition hall with interactive learning displays.”

Stony Brook University | New York Climate Exchange

Founding Partners: Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, University of Oxford, University of Washington. Additional Academic Partners: Columbia University, Stanford University, Yale University, SUNY Maritime, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Tokyo

“The New York Climate Exchange, led by Stony Brook University, proposes to create an innovation campus dedicated to urban coastal sustainability, water, food and energy, and climate justice. The program would include continuing education opportunities, a solutions-focused semester abroad on Governors Island, a K-12 summer intensive program providing students the opportunity to work on hands-on projects alongside researchers and educators, competitively awarded research, testing, and demonstration space, and a fellowship and internship program. Continuing education opportunities are proposed to offer credentials and micro-credentials for accessing green jobs, focused on frontline communities and in collaboration with labor, workforce development, and community-based organizations. Proposed facilities include classroom and laboratory space, overnight accommodations and dormitories, and a conference center.”