Riverside South is a new residential community along Riverside Drive South from 59th Street to 72nd Street. The Park is the last link in the continuous riverfront promenade connection from Battery Park to 125th Street.
In 1991, Thomas Balsley Associates was asked to lead the master planning design effort for the project’s 29-acre waterfront park along the Hudson as well as its streetscape. This coordinated design effort involved urban design, environmental considerations and highway relocation. It required a creative, yet efficient, design approach that was responsive to intractable U.L.U.R.P. timetables, as well as agency comments, community participation, and client objectives. Designs were carefully developed in presentation format suitable for public viewing and were then transformed into CAD documents for final submissions. Numerous meetings and presentations with community groups and public agencies were conducted prior to and during the U.L.U.R.P. phase so that the design reflected the community’s needs. Park design guidelines, cost estimates and phasing were included in the final report.
The park design strives to transform this piece of the Hudson River shoreline into a waterfront park unique to Manhattan—proud and expressive of its industrial and transportation heritage, yet ecologically sensitive to its river edge environment. The bold plan to relocate the existing Miller Highway beneath the proposed Riverside Drive South extension provided a truly unique opportunity for city residents to walk directly to the park and river without obstruction. As extensions of each street corridor, park entrance foyers are enriched with sculpture park portals or pavilions and offer accessible street level seating areas with dramatic views. The 40-foot grade change from the street is carefully sloped into a dramatic decent to the river using natural walkways, terraced overlooks, stairways and an elevator at the 70th Street café entrance. Esplanades, broadwalks, marsh grasses, piers and intimate coves provide a variety of water edge experiences. The pathways move through tidal grasses and coves and past stabilized gantry towers and piers, which have been preserved as visual benchmarks of the site’s industrial past. This diverse landscape has been woven together into a compelling park environment that draws upon the tradition of Olmsted’s Riverside Park to the north and heralds a new future for city waterfront parks.
Phase I opened in March 2001 and features the firm’s restoration of the 750-foot long pier at 70th Street. The pier has become the new common ground shared by bikers, joggers and strollers from the adjacent buildings and the neighboring community. A sensitive balance of active and passive recreational opportunities such as game courts, ball fields, community gardens, interpretive stations, play areas, café terraces, public art, turf amphitheater and open lawns reflects the diversity of our city and its culture of recreation.
“Drawing on the tradition of Olmsted’s Riverside Park to the north,” says Thomas Balsley, “we tried to celebrate the history of the place and, in some subtle way, infuse it into the park experience.”
Phase I received the Governor’s Waterfront ReDiscovery Award, which recognizes excellence in waterfront development in New York State.
Phase II, three acres along the Hudson River stretching from 70th St. to 65th St., is a series of vibrant pedestrian river edge experiences along an extensive network of boardwalks, river overlooks and civic plaza spaces that terminate at the western edges of the streets. Riprap is used along the river edge to blur the lines between the large expanses of river edge grasses, public lawns and the river. This softer river edge, along with the lower elevations of the boardwalks, provides more opportunities for pedestrians to get closer to the river and preserves New Jersey views across the river.
New, dedicated bike and in-line skate paths connect Phase I’s plaza with the new Hudson River Park bike path system that skirts the western edge of Manhattan from the Battery to 59th Street.
Elevated above the water’s edge is a series of timber and steel overlooks, providing intimate viewing spaces and seating areas adjacent to the main walkway. Aligned with the original outline of the piers, these overlooks also contain interpretive signage that tells the cultural and physical history of the rail yards. At night, these overlooks are illuminated by a combination of contemporary light poles, first used on Pier I, and small linear lights integrated into the railing system.
A pedestrian walkway at 68th Street extends the street alignment from the upper park and terminates at a small public plaza at the river edge. This plaza provides protected shaded spaces for gatherings and also functions as a gateway between the upper park and the animated park experiences along the Phase II river edge.
This phase, costing $8.5 million, introduces the visitor to the naturalized shoreline and historical narratives envisioned in the original master plan’s park experience. As a complement to the promenade and bikeway, wooden walkways meander through coastal marsh grasses and provide an intimate encounter with the river edge and ecosystems unique to Manhattan’s Hudson River shoreline. Direct pathways from the community terminate at raised terraces and plazas that overlook the river.
Infused throughout the park are abstract and literal landscape narratives that inform the park visitor about the site’s rich history of railroads and rail cars transfers to barges. For instance, the pier’s unique 22-degree angle is a function of the maximum turning radius of trains at the time. The park’s design language and underlying geometry are direct reflections of this angle and, in turn, create a dialogue between the historical and contemporary materials of this 21st Century park.