There’s nothing quite like Manhattan in summertime: scantily-clad office works spilling out of restaurants (and spilling rosé), firecrackers popping at every possible opportunity; all set off by an aroma of rancid hot garbage. New Yorkers long to escape to the beach during those baking-hot months to tan, flirt and on occasion entertain their children, but most options take forever to get to via subway if you don’t already live close by, say, Coney Island or the Far Rockaways (it’s in the name; they’re far). Or there is Fire Island and the Hamptons—all far from the city.
Now you don’t have to travel miles for the beach experience—well partly. Later in the summer of 2023, a brand-new sandy escape is set to open in the West Village—Manhattan’s first public beach. You just can’t swim.
“If you see like Christopher Street Pier in the summer, it is covered with sun bathers,” Day said. “People want a place to lay down and to take their shirt off, and that’s what they’re gonna have here.” T-minus 9 months until this place becomes a heavy-traffic dating app spot.
Noreen Doyle, CEO of the Hudson River Park Trust, told The Daily Beast: Gansevoort Peninsula Park, revealed plans for a 5-and-a-half acre recreational park on the Hudson River Waterfront, directly adjacent to the Whitney Museum of American Art. While you can sunbathe on the south-facing beach, please don’t swim: despite what you may have read in the Times recently, New York is not becoming L.A. and if you take a dunk in the Hudson you could risk getting hypothermia, or weird viruses.
“We’ve been clear from the get-go that this is not a swimming beach,” Doyle said. “The Hudson River has made a huge amount of progress in terms of its health since the Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s, but this is not designed as a swimming beach.”
The park also includes a 220 foot by 316 foot athletic field for adults and children that can be used for a number of different sports, a landing area for small boats and kayaks, tree-lined promenades, swathes of native grass for lounging and even a salt marsh, a feature that’s unique to the Manhattan side of the Hudson, for “habitat enhancement,” Doyle said. The trust also installed a number of juvenile oysters in small water structures north of the park to improve the river environment for the fish species that swim there.
On the whole, the beach only comprises a narrow swath of the south side of the park, but it’s dotted with umbrellas and broad lounge chairs. Around half of the space is dedicated to the large athletic field, and in between the field and the beach is an expanse of green grass dotted with trees that looks perfect for hours of relaxing. A wide path up the middle cuts the park in two and visitors can also traverse the border, making their way onto an extended dock to get a better view of the Jersey skyline.
“The reason it’s called the beach goes back to 25 years ago when the park was being planned in concept, even though all the money wasn’t in place for it yet,” Karen Tamir, a landscape architect and urban designer at James Corner Field Operations, told The Daily Beast. When JCFO received a request for a design proposal from the Hudson River Park trust, “the process came with the beach already,” Tamir said. “There were earlier discussions that we were not part of with the community that mandated” the inclusion of a beach.
After doing wave analysis of the Hudson River, JCFO architects assigned to the project determined that building a beach that sloped down to the water wouldn’t be feasible—“the first storm that comes along would just wipe it all out,” architectural designer Cricket Day said—so the team decided to perch the beach on a hardened rock wall that doubles as the kayak landing instead.
As one could imagine, community discussions about what to include and not include in the park were lively. When the Hudson River Park Trust began the design process for the park in 2019, local NYC baseball and soccer leagues—collectively referred to as the Champions—pushed for the athletic field right away.
“There were petitions as part of the process, and whoever carried the sports field torch did a good job, because they showed up all to all meetings,” Tamir said. “They had kids with them and they had parents with them.”
“I think the biggest thing was the sports field,” Tamir said. “We were wrestling with that. It’s a very large field, and we tried variations and splitting and smaller and multi-use. Every combination just to come back to really making it as big as possible.”
Representatives for Community Board 2 in Manhattan didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
For decades the park site was occupied by the Department of Sanitation, Doyle said. Now, it’s done a 180: adjacent to the beach is Day’s End, a mammoth permanent art installation by the artist David Hammons that was entirely fundraised by the Whitney Museum of American Art and donated to the public. The Whitney couldn’t immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
The work is based on another with the same name by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark, in which he attempted sought to rip open holes in Pier 52, a 19th century industrial building, and discovered that it was a popular queer cruising spot. Hammons’ Day’s End looks like the bare bones of a pier; it has the exact same dimensions of the original Pier 52 building, but it doesn’t block the view.
The Daily Beast asked if the park will be explicitly LGBTQ friendly.
“Hudson River Park has a historic and notable LGBTQ+ community presence throughout our long footprint and we expect this to continue to be the case at Gansevoort,” Doyle said. “Day’s End directly links the Peninsula to the LGBTQ community’s historic presence in this area. In the immediate area, we already have two memorials–one an LGBTQ+ memorial and the other an AIDS memorial–and then of course there’s the fact that we think the sunning lawn, sports field, dog run and all the other great features on the Peninsula will be used and enjoyed by everyone.”
“We think that the configuration of the site is unique,” Doyle added. “Most of our park piers are long and skinny, and in this case, we have a wide, five and a half acre expanse that will give people a unique perspective on the water, on the Hudson, on our city landscape and on our neighboring piers.”
Keith Neuscheler, Senior Project Executive at Gilbane Building Company for the Gansevoort Peninsula Park project, told The Daily Beast he thinks the public will love the park. “There’s something for everyone, from dog walkers to people that just want to sit and look at the water to the community that wants to play sports. Everything’s here. There’s not too many places in the city where you can do all that at once.”
And even though you still shouldn’t swim in the Hudson, New Yorkers always find a silver lining.
“It’ll be the only place you can go wriggle your toes in sand in Manhattan, so it’s pretty awesome,” Neuscheler said.