Governors Island Climate Solutions Center: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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The global competition submission period for a world-class climate solutions center on Governors Island off Lower Manhattan closed in late September with an impressive collection of 12 partnerships representing 30 different organizations, entities, businesses and universities vying to make the hub a reality. The interest from academic institutions in particular — hailing from everywhere from Idaho to Japan — has been nothing short of amazing. 

Too little attention has been paid to this potentially game-changing project. We believe it merits dedicated support for a host of reasons.

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co downtown 109 e1613404745535 Governors Island Climate Solutions Center: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Jessica Lappin. Photo: Aaron Adler/For Commercial Observer

In June of this year, the city and the Trust for Governors Island released a Request for Expression of Interest, or RFEI, to lease land within 33 acres — for up to 1 million square feet of development. The Trust and the City of New York have partnered to make available up to $150 million of capital funding that may be allocated to support this project. The returns on realizing this project and that public investment will be broad and deeply meaningful.

Nine years ago this fall, Superstorm Sandy breached our seawalls and flooded our streets, subways and power plants. Climate change has only become a more pressing and dire challenge since then. On top of the environmental crisis that we are facing, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our city’s economy. 

So, the promise of some 7,000-plus direct new jobs and approximately $1 billion in economic impact from a big, bold project like the climate solutions center looks like just the injection of optimism the city could use at this moment. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a climate research hub minutes from Manhattan and Brooklyn, yet in many ways a world apart from the city. 

Lower Manhattan is already home to a wide range of industries, including finance, tech, media and design. If Governors Island does become home to a major climate research center, we could add sustainability to that list. The facility would draw scientists, researchers, advocates, students and other worldwide experts in the field. And it could potentially create a broader ecosystem, attracting similar tenants and allied industries to not just Lower Manhattan, but to our entire city. 

Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined with the Trust for Governors Island in announcing the plan to create the center, seen as a way to cement New York’s leadership in climate action; but what happens next is unknown because nothing will happen without the focused and active support of the next mayor. Even with such mayoral support it might take a decade to make this dream a reality. We all need to lend our voices and persuasive capacity to move this inspiring initiative forward.

Proposals are being evaluated by a selection committee, including representatives from the Trust team, the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability, the Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency and the New York City Economic Development Corporation over the coming weeks.

Commitment to a climate solutions center can simultaneously stimulate an economy battered by one major global crisis and perhaps one day help stave off another. Turning New York into the epicenter of sustainability can help save our city — and the world. This perfect use for Lower Manhattan’s unofficial backyard deserves all of our support.

Jessica Lappin is the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York.