On July 19, the virtual doors will officially open to the latest park to grace the nation's most populous city, when The Hills makes its public bow on Governors Island, just off Manhattan. The park has been praised as a "stunning (and fun) transformation of a forgotten New York landmark," but is notable also for the fact that it has been purpose-built to withstand coming decades of sea level rise and possible storm surges.
Situated at the confluence of the East and Hudson Rivers in New York Harbor, the island's natural beauty caused it to be set aside by the British for "the benefit and accommodation of his Majestie's Governors;" following independence, it became a military post and then a major command center for the United States Army. In 1966, the Army handed over authority to the United States Coast Guard, which used the island as the base for its Atlantic Area Command.
The Coast Guard left in 1996, and in 2003, the island was divided into two parcels: 22 acres, designated as the Governors Island National Monument and administered by the National Park Service; and 150 acres administered by The Trust for Governors Island. Although it has since been open to the public on a seasonal basis, it has in some quarters been "dismissed as a string of dilapidated buildings that blocked views of the water, little more than a curious and quaint chapter in New York history."
RELATED: US Cities Under 12 Feet of Sea Level Rise: Photos
Determined to breathe life back into the former landmark, the Trust for Governors Island commissioned Dutch architect Adriaan Greuze to reimagine one large area as a recreational park; the result is "The Hills," a 10-acre area that will provide visitors with spectacular views of Manhattan and the harbor, and will be one of the few places where it is possible to see the face of the Statue of Liberty from land.
The elevated nature of the park certainly improves the views, but it also is specifically designed in that way to protect the park against the impacts of climate change - and in particular, rising sea levels and storm surges, a need that became clear after the area was hit by superstorm Sandy in 2012. The hills were made from fill created largely from the buildings that were demolished to make way for them, and are secured with jute mesh and an overabundance of plants and shrubs to protect them from erosion.
A rocky sea wall will break up the surf, and concrete seat edges at the bottom of some of the hills will act as water barriers, as will the hills themselves. And by planting trees and shrubs at a higher elevation, the park's creators safeguard them against intrusion from saltwater as sea levels rise.
"In essence we learned to accept that nature's not changing," outgoing Trust president Leslie Koch told Wired. "It's how are we going to live in it, not how are we going to stop it. This kind of thinking should be happening with every development in New York City."
WATCH: Which Countries Already Have Sea Level Rise Refugees?