Urban Design Studio I: Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, Columbia University

Site Profile: Bay Street I Staten Island

Category : BLOG · No Comments · by June 6, 2017

Staten Island is the least densely populated of the five boroughs with only a little less than half a million residents. Its many parks, lakes and hills make it one of the most natural and biodiverse places in New York City. At 400 ft, it has the highest point in New York City, but much of its coastline areas are threatened by sea level rise and storm surges making it one of the hardest hit areas during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The map below shows evacuation zones, which correspond with flood threats.


IIn 1818, a ride on the Staten Island ferry would take you from the “bustling, foul-smelling Manhattan port to a quiet landscape soon to be dotted with mansions and retreat houses for the very rich.” St. George, a neighborhood known as New Brighton in the 1830’s and as Camp Washington before the Civil War, was used as a training ground for recruits as well as a lookout spot during the American Revolution. The St. George Waterfront, was once described as “a gently sloping greensward, dotted with trees and gray granite boulders”, its clean waters “laving the shores of a beautiful unspoiled point.” Being a “playground of the rich”, the North Shore once had a ferry exclusively for their section; commoners were prohibited from riding. Ironically, as better boats were introduced for the main line, the rich “patronized these instead and neglected their own.” The area south of present-day St George was farm land owned by the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1832 William J. Staples, a merchant from Manhattan for whom the neighborhood of Stapleton is named, as well as Minthorne Tompkins, (hence Tompkinsville) acquired land from the Vanderbilts and laid out the streets. Staples and Tompkins started a ferry service from the neighborhood waterfront to Manhattan and began advertising their new village in 1836.

Staten Island was incorporated into the City of New York in 1898, which strengthened it politically. One of the main goals of the Island was municipal acquisition of the Ferry and replacement of the fleet. This came to fruition on October 25, 1905, in which the city took ownership of the ferry and terminals. At the beginning of the 20th century, several other ferries still served the island, including a direct ferry to Stapleton from Lower Manhattan as well as a connection to South Brooklyn.

With the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964, and transportation infrastructure that favored car travel, the physical and demographic fabric of the small towns on the North Shore changed dramatically. Bay Street, an active small-town main street, is now dotted with vacancies, parking lots and a few entrepreneurial business who took advantage of the declining rents. A proposed rezoning of the area to allow for more density and affordable housing, is intended to change this. Today, the North Shore, unlike the other neighborhoods found on Staten Island, contains old infrastructure, dense housing as well as a diverse population evenly split among whites, African-Americans and Hispanics, a little over 30% of each ethnicity, coming from countries such as Sri Lanka, Albania, Trinidad, Liberia and the Philippines.

A number of active developments are about to change the North Shore. In 2010, The Department of Transportation and City Planning developed a comprehensive study of the North Shore. Later this year, the New York Wheel will open to the public, offering spectacular views of the New York Harbor. Adjacent to it, Empire Outlet Mall will open in 2018. Both are intended to bring more tourists to Staten Island. After Staten Islanders were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, several cultural institutions and other organizations began to organize, meet and develop their own response to resilience and the future development of the North Shore. This process, called Future Culture is ongoing, a helpful summary of the project and the North Shore is this initial report prepared by students at Cornell and the Design Trust for Public Space. For more links and information, refer to this resource page.