Artist Plans to Put a Pedestrian Walkway on Top of New York Harbor


When artist Nancy Nowacek moved to the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, she could see Governor’s Island from her home, seemingly only a stone’s throw away across the river. At the time, the area was just being turned from a Coast Guard station to a public park. She felt a “secret intuition that we should be able to walk there,” she told mental_floss in an interview.

As she became more interested in how people connect to nearby waterways, she came up with an idea: what if you could walk there? Since 2012, she’s been trying to figure out a way for New Yorkers to walk on water. Her Citizen Bridge, now raising money for a pilot run on Kickstarter, would be a modular bridge structure, allowing people to walk across the approximately 1400-foot span between the Brooklyn waterfront and the nearby park of Governor’s Island.

The Citizen Bridge would be a one-day-only event, since Buttermilk Channel—as the strait is called—is actually a working commercial waterway. The bridge would be assembled and disassembled for one day each year, ideally, and could travel around the world for similar events, Nowacek says. Surrounding that one-day event—planned for August 2017 right now—would be a month of programming designed to connect people to the water, such as boat-building classes, lectures on futuristic aquatic robots, and more.

While it would be nice to have a permanent way to walk across the channel, the short time span of the event is actually an advantage, according to Nowacek. The limited run “adds to the art-ness of it,” she explains. “It makes it a really much more intimate and powerful experience.”

The Kickstarter, with a goal of $25,000, would pay for a proof-of-concept for the project, the last stage before launching for real. Nowacek has already amassed a team of some 200 volunteers over the last four years, and has gotten in contact with regulatory agencies and authorities from the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers to New York’s Mayor's Office of Sustainability (and its Bloomberg-era predecessor, the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination). She admits that the process of gaining approval for her project is a maze of bureaucracy, but remains hopeful that it can happen. "No one has said no yet,” she says.

As climate change brings the waterfront farther inland and makes flooding more regular, it’s important to help people understand how waterways affect our daily lives. “The water is coming back to us,” Nowacek says. “Most people see the water as an inconvenience or a threat. We need positive experiences with the waterways to catalyze our engagement.” And walking on water is one way to do that.

All images via Kickstarter