Walk on the Water
by Mary Jasch
South Cove in Battery Park City Park is a place of change, a passage from the natural world to the civilized, from liquid to softscape to built environment - like the process of being born or waking from a dream. But for New Yorkers and visitors to the city, the South Cove offers the opposite - a return to an original peace, with the sight, scent and sound of the Hudson River, wrapping you in the feel of water.
Enter the Cove at South End Avenue for a grand view of New York Bay. There are several ways to get down to the water. The quickest is the small walkway to the right on the Cove's northern edge, nearest the water and the warmest place to sit and dream. At high tide the water may splash up through the planks to touch you.
“I was interested in getting people down close to the water," says New York City artist Mary Miss, lead designer of the South Cove. Miss collaborated with architect Stanton Eckstut and landscape architect Susan Child. The South Cove was completed in 1987.
Follow the water on a slightly higher walkway that goes along the edge. The eye skips from groups of pilings lightly covered in algal green to across the bay to the New Jersey shoreline. “I put pilings into the water to make a visual transition between the land and the water,"¯ says Mary Miss, public space artist. They accompany the walker all the way to the southern end of the Cove.
“The shape here was already a given," she says. The shape of the cove existed since the early 1970s when landfill was removed to build the World Trade Center site.
On an embankment to the left away from the water, an alee of honey locust, naked with outstretched limbs appear as filigree against lower Manhattan's glass buildings. In winter, the bare limbs of other trees strike toward the sky with lampposts and buildings, demanding your vertical attention, while fluffy seed heads of Miscanthus under the trees soften winter's harshness, and a river of boulders holds it all in.
“The rocks suggest what the river's edge might have looked like," says Miss, who directed their placement as a crane lowered them one-by-one into position. The acoutrements are aplenty for enjoying the space. There are benches to sit on, some moveable in the summer, and kids can play on the rocks. “This whole ground is alive," she says.
In the summer time, the gardens above the rocks are lush. There is an upper level with multi-trunked honey locusts and benches to rest on and spread your feet. In one of the gardens plots near Battery Place, snowdrops bloom now in the myrtle under the trees. These are soft gardens - gardens of quiet.
A metal lookout tower, a sculpture in its own right designed by Miss, permits a 360-degree view. “I am interested in not having things inside galleries, but rather being outside where people can use them,"¯ she says. The tower bridges the water world to the towering buildings across Battery Place. Looking through the tower's thin black slats, notice the river rolling under piling caps where part of the platform was removed. “There is a constant change of tides with a seven to ten foot difference. Sometimes it totally covers the piling caps. The place really changes from day to day," Miss explains.
As you look down from the tower, the exposed pilings are to the left of a walkway, and to the right is a garden of small shrubs in the footprint of the missing platform. Take the walkway over the pilings and look at the water.
“It's one of the most glorious sculptures along the Esplanade,"¯ says Leticia Remauro, vice president of communications relations and inter-governmental of the Battery Park City Authority.
Walk down to the curving jetty, where trumpet vine grows on the pergola. Standing under the pergola, turn around and you can see how the water moves in under the land for 40 feet, where it hits the sea wall and swirls away.
“One reason I wanted to get near the river was to look out and see the juxtaposition of land and water.To get the feeling of the water, this jetty allows you to get out into the water,"¯ says Miss.
The intense blue walkway lamps set the South Cove apart from the rest of the Esplanade that runs north to Rockefeller Park.
Suddenly Miss stops and says, “Hear the sound now? Something's gone by."¯
The water crashes around the pilings and waves rise up against the seawall. Indeed, a sea-worthy vessel is riding the river.
“You hear it. Smell it. Get your feet wet if you sit on the north end. I really wanted to make a place that is very much a relief from the interior of the island. You come to the edge and get a sense of the edge. I'm always interested in how the built environment and the natural environment contact.
"This place of the senses, we haven't had access to it for years. We've lived in Manhattan but haven't been able to get to the water. We're re-establishing contact."
Take a walk on the water.
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published February 01, 2004