At one point in time, you could walk from Brooklyn to Governors Island. During low tide, as one story by Walt Whitman goes, Revolutionary War-era farmers would walk their cows across a sandbar to graze on the island. If they were too late in walking back, and the tide rolled in, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle further reported in August of 1900, the water would affect the cattle’s “lacteal processes,” and result in sour milk. Which is one of the most tantalizing explanations for how this tidal straight, long since dredged for cargo ships, came to be known as Buttermilk Channel.
Artist Nancy Nowacek discovered this story after moving to Columbia Street a few years ago. From the back windows of her apartment, she could see Buttermilk Channel and Governors Island, and it struck her that the island seemed terribly close. In fact, it’s only roughly 1,200 feet away, the equivalent of four city blocks. “You think about that as a New Yorker, “ says Nowacek, “and you think, ‘That’s nothing.’”
She soon found herself imagining ways to reconnect the island to Brooklyn. It had been attempted before—Robert Moses once proposed a superhighway bridge connecting the Belt Parkway to Lower Manhattan via Governors Island, and the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava envisioned a futuristic gondola. But both these ideas seemed out of scale to Nowacek, too capital- and labor-intensive to bridge such a small distance. So, said Nowacek, “The question became ‘Could it be possible to reconnect Brooklyn to Governors Island by hand, with the most minimal means necessary, without large, industrial infrastructure?’” For the past two years, she’s been answering that question, and has already developed working prototypes, one of which she’ll unveil at City of Water Day on Governors Island tomorrow. (more…)
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