Though Manhattan’s an island, it hasn’t had real beaches for a few hundred years—sand once stretched from the lower tip up to what is now 42nd Street, but it’s long gone. A new project wants to bring a tiny piece of the sand back, artificially, by transforming an old shipping barge into a mobile beach that could float in the Hudson River.
"There are beaches in New York, but if you live in Manhattan, you'll probably travel at least 45 minutes to get to one," says Blayne Ross, who is designing the new fake beach along with workshop/apd and Craft Engineering. "This whole thing started for me when I went out on a weekend along the West Side, and the park was packed. There was not a blade of grass to be seen. It showed me that we want to be outside, but we don't have enough spaces to do that."
City Beach NYC, now raising money on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, would turn the upper deck of a barge into a sand-covered space with beach chairs and umbrellas, while the lower deck would include a restaurant and a science museum for kids.
If it can get permits to dock in several locations, the beach could travel up and down the West Side. In the winter, it would head to a shipyard for storage.
"I think that when you can come up with a space that is temporary and it fills a need, that’s where this gets interesting," says Ross. "I saw an opportunity for us to add to the shoreline without having to reclaim new park space or mow down buildings."
More adventurous visitors might be able to swim off the beach, if the city allows it. "I'm a triathelete, so I swim in the Hudson, and I haven’t grown a third arm," Ross says. "If we're allowed to by the government agency, we'd love to let people swim."
The project plans to offer free access to the beach for about 500 to 600 people at a time. "There are a lot of possible models, but ultimately we would like to have a title sponsor come on the way Citibank stepped up for CitiBike," Ross explains.
As the team navigates through red tape and the engineering process, they plan to share each detail that could be helpful for others taking on similarly ambitious projects.
"With this process, one of the most interesting things is how do you get something like this done," Ross says. "We’re going to spend a good deal of time documenting and talking about the process, so we can start laying out a plan for other people to inspire and help them feel like they can do these kinds of projects and not be totally overwhelmed."
If all goes as planned, the fake beach could be ready by 2016. In the meantime, New Yorkers on the Lower East Side can check out another tiny new sandy beach that was just built on the remnants of an old railway bridge.