Staten Island Flyer to be Built, But at What Cost?

The media has been all over the Staten Island Ferris Wheel (which will be known as ‘The Flyer’) this past week, as it’s slated to become the tallest in the world. Rising over 600 feet, the Ferris Wheel project has been endorsed by Mayor Bloomberg, and is supposed to be complete by 2015. While the Ferris Wheel could end up being a draw, the plan has one major drawback: an outlet mall, which will actually add parking to the only location on Staten Island that has adequate public transit (ferry service).

The Ferris Wheel is benign. It’ll be a 600-foot hulking mass of metal, and may actually prove to be enough of a draw to lure tourists from the ferry terminal just a few hundred feet away. Supposedly the wheel will host 4.5 million annual visitors, which would certainly be a boon to Staten Island’s economy. 
Unfortunately, the development–as mentioned–will feature an outlet mall. The renderings of the project show just how wasteful and anti-urban the proposal is. To begin with, outlet malls are synonymous with McMansions and suburban waste–not something New York City should be striving for. While an urban-format outlet mall wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to the waterfront, the design shown in the renderings is terrible
Staten Island World's Tallest Ferris Wheel
The Staten Island Flyer & Outlet Mall: Image via Archpaper from the NYC Mayor’s Office
To begin with, the shopping mall itself won’t be a draw, merely a convenience for tourists who happen upon the Ferris Wheel. Staten Island already has several malls located at much more convenient locations for the local population. The proposed outlet mall is literally at the very edge of Staten Island, at the only place on the island that has sufficient transit. Let me repeat that: the only place
Parking is appropriate adjacent to the ferry terminal for those who are actually using the ferry, as it’s a means to an end: at least those driving to the ferry want to use public transit, and it’s not like there are viable alternatives for Staten Islanders to reach the ferry. 
Building an outlet mall right next to the ferry terminal in an auto-focused development is going to cause major problems for users of the ferry service. Parking needed for ferry users will instead be used by those going to the outlet mall. Congestion in the roads adjacent to the ferry terminal will also likely increase, as more automobiles will be using roads that are already over-capacity. Staten Island has terrible traffic as-is. 
Thus, travel times to and from the ferry terminal will increase for those who actually use and depend on the service every day. 
The second major negative factor to the development is its form. Instead of creating walk-able small blocks of mixed-use development, the outlet mall is just that–a mall. Slapping a grassy roof on a project does not make it green, and perhaps that’s what confused the officials who have approved the project. The fact that the space above the outlet mall is of a sufficient size to actually create a park should be a warning sign that the structure is hulking and anti-urban. 
Staten Island Ferris Wheel Mall
The Outlet Mall & Hotel: Image via Archpaper from the NYC Mayor’s Office
Instead of building an outrageous outlet mall that will only increase vehicle congestion, the Ferris Wheel should be accompanied by transit-friendly mixed-use development that takes full advantage of the project’s location, adjacent to the Island’s only legitimate transit option. 
The following renderings are of a project in Washington which is slated to break ground soon. The redevelopment of the Southwest waterfront is a major challenge for D.C., and the project’s developers have sufficiently addressed the problem with their master-plan. The project doesn’t just revitalize the waterfront with shiny (and dense) mixed-use buildings–it connects people with the waterfront, but most importantly it connects the development with transit
Linking development with the water in DC
Washington’s Southwest Waterfront Revival: Image from The Atlantic Cities
It would be ridiculous to argue that the project in Washington is a bad idea, given the scope, ambition, and benefits that will be provided. There will be minimal increase in automobile congestion given the new neighborhood’s proximity to transit, while an entire new section of the city will go from vacant to utilized, all the while enhancing the pedestrian experience for residents and tourists alike. 
The Ferris Wheel project is the worst kind of political project there is, and the Wheel itself is a guise for the development of the outlet mall. 
Whatever ends up happening is up in the air, but the format of the redevelopment is only a winner for the developers. The biggest losers in all this will be Staten Islanders, for two key reasons. The first is the increase in commute time inevitable when you plop an outlet mall mere feet away from the ferry terminal, which already sees heavy automobile traffic. The second is the continued stagnation of St. George, which serves as Staten Island’s defacto downtown. 
St. George doesn’t have to be a maligned and decaying hub that only exists because it’s where the ferry operates. As the plans in Washington show, there is ample opportunity to turn St. George into a vibrant, 24-hour neighborhood, all in proximity to the ferry. Prices continue to skyrocket in locations convenient to Manhattan, and St. George could easily take advantage of its location if it actually had mixed-use development
Creating a new neighborhood where residents can actually walk to the ferry would be a major boon to St. George, as it would alleviate auto-dependence. Unfortunately, that is not the plan–and what has been proposed could end up being very detrimental to the development of St. George. 

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2 Comments on "Staten Island Flyer to be Built, But at What Cost?"

  1. Excellent article, I agree not only as a native Staten Islander, but as an architecture student that chose this exact site for my thesis project before this plan was released.

  2. Thank you! It’s a shame such prime real estate is going to waste.

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