Just days before the 10th anniversary of the catastrophic, climate change–fueled extreme weather event that deluged the Big Apple and large swaths of the coastal Northeast to the tune of $65 billion, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has unveiled proposals from a trio of university-led finalist teams vying to create a world-class facility dedicated to the “education, training, and development of equitable climate solutions.”
The proposed urban climate solutions hub is planned for Governors Island, a 172-acre uninhabited island just off the tip of Lower Manhattan in New York Harbor that’s northernmost section is administered by the National Park Service as the Governors Island National Historic Monument. Outside of that area, the rest of the ferry-accessible island, including a massive swath of new-ish parkland designed by West 8 and the soon-to-be-expanded New York Harbor School, is operated by the city-created nonprofit Trust for Governors Island.
The so-called Center for Climate Solutions would anchor the island’s 26.5-acre Eastern Development Zone (established in West 8’s 2010 master plan) and would entail both new construction and the adaptive reuse of existing historic buildings. As detailed by the Mayor’s Office, the center, which would be built out by private developers, is envisioned as including study and research space for an anchoring academic institution, programming space for environmental justice organizations and other nonprofits, dormitories and/or faculty housing, dedicated spaces for cultural events and commercial innovation, and a large community venue that “offers opportunities for New Yorkers and visitors to engage in conversations about climate change.”
Ongoing litigation over upzoning on the island has, however, has cast a shadow over the ambitious plans.
Yesterday’s announcement by Adams and the Trust follows the revealing of four finalist teams in December of last year. The four-team shortlist was pulled from a total of 12 expressions of interest submitted by more than 30 global academic and nonprofit research institutions, all of them seeking to engage in the creation of the Center for Climate Solutions. Each of the shortlisted teams were then invited to partake in a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process launched in April 2021. The finalist proposals, viewable here, include “ambitious visions to advance interdisciplinary research focused on urban adaptation, urban environments, public policy, environmental justice, and public health while expanding educational and workforce development opportunities for New Yorkers,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
Plans for the center were first announced in September 2020 with renderings from WXY architecture + urban design envisioning what the future climate research hub might look like. In June 2021, a formal competition was launched through the release of a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI.)
Of the four shortlisted teams, proposals from the City University of New York (CUNY) and The New School, Boston’s Northeastern University, and Stony Brook University on Long Island all participated in the RFP process. A shortlisted team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in partnership with Columbia University and Barnard College did not. MIT, Columbia, and Barnard aren’t completely out of the picture, however, as the schools are now part of the larger CUNY and New School team.
Conceptual renderings accompany each of the three finalist proposals although it has not been made public which set of renderings belong to which team due to the highly competitive nature of the procurement process.
The full finalist teams are as follows:
New York Coastal Climate Center | CUNY and The New School in partnership with Barnard College, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Columbia University, Cooper Union, New York University, University at Albany (SUNY), Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty, and additional nonprofit and on-Island partners.
Coastal Cities Impact Team | Northeastern University in partnership in partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Fordham University, Cooper Union, Manhattan College, Johns Hopkins University, Jackson State University, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, University de Los Andes, Pontificia University Católica de Chile, Imperial College London, Ben-Gurion University, University of Ghana, Ashesi University, University of Tokyo, and additional non-profit and on-Island partners; and
New York Climate Exchange | Stony Brook University in partnership with International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), Georgia Institute of Technology, Pace University, Pratt Institute, University of Washington, Duke University, Moody’s Corporation, Rochester Institute of Technology, State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College, Oxford University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, URBS Systems, General Electric (GE), and additional business, nonprofit, and on-Island partners.
The winning team is expected to be announced next year following a robust proposal evaluation period helmed by a selection committee comprised of representatives from the Trust for Governors Island, the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, the Mayor’s Office of Equity, and the New York City Department of City Planning. A community briefing on the three finalist proposals was also held last evening with another scheduled for November 14. Public input from the community briefings along with input from the Trust’s Climate Advisory Community will play into the selection process.
In a statement, Adams proclaimed that New York City will be a “global leader in studying and tackling climate change while rapidly growing our green economy – and the Center for Climate Solutions on Governors Island is at the heart of that vision.”
“These finalist proposals reflect our bold vision for a climate hub that will train and employ the next generation of climate experts, not only creating economic opportunity for New Yorkers but also positioning us at the cutting edge of critical research and at the front of the line to benefit from the big ideas that will emerge from here,” Adams added. “I look forward to advancing a project that will surely be a game-changer for this city and the entire world.”
It’s expected that the Center of Climate Solutions will create 7,000 permanent on-island jobs when fully completed and generate roughly $1 billion in economic impact for the city.
Outside of the planned climate research hub, the larger scheme to redevelop the southern section of Governors Island to make way for nearly 4 million square feet of new development potentially including office, hotel, and retail space in subsequent phases has proven to be a lawsuit-prompting controversy-maker. The rezoning of the impacted area was approved by New York City Council in May 2021 and swiftly met with legal action. The resultant case is currently being heard in State Supreme Court, with plaintiffs arguing that the rezoning is in direct violation of a 2003 transfer agreement made between the state and the federal government (the island was a longtime U.S. Coast Guard base and before that a major Army installation prior to being turned over for public use) that stipulated a majority of the undeveloped island must be preserved and protected as public open space. The Trust has argued that future development activities do not violate the original deed.
“The City has long envisioned the South Island Rezoning as a critical investment in the future of Governors Island as a resource for all New Yorkers, and the planned Climate Solutions Center is at the heart of that vision,” a spokesperson for the Trust for Governors Island told AN last year. “We are fully confident that the rezoning was undertaken and approved in accordance with the law.”
In the finalist proposal reveal, the Mayor’s Office and the Trust for Governors Island did not explicitly mention future commercial development on the island but did note that “the [climate center ] project will also support an increase of publicly accessible open space and facilities on Governors Island, while preserving and expanding the Island’s existing open space and community of tenants and partners. At the same time, the Trust plans to continue to issue requests for proposals for historic buildings within the North Island, including cultural, educational, and amenity uses to support expanded public access.”
In addition to the Climate Solutions Center proposal unveil, Adams has also observed the forthcoming Superstorm Sandy 10-year anniversary by announcing a Climate Strong Communities program to spur funding for resiliency projects in vulnerable areas of the city overlooked during initial Sandy recovery efforts and by breaking ground on the the Brooklyn Bridge-Montgomery Coastal Resilience project, which will safeguard the Two Bridges neighborhood in Lower Manhattan from a 100-year coastal storm surge through a combination of storm walls and deployable flip-up barriers.
We’ll circle back when a winning climate solutions hub proposal for Governors Island is announced next year.