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Van Alen Launches Design Competition for Gateway National Recreation Area


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Photo courtesy the Don Riepe/American Littoral Society.


A new ideas competition has set its sights on 26,607 acres along the New York-New Jersey coast—one of the largest open spaces in the region. Launched in late January by the Van Alen Institute, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to improving design in the public realm, the competition asks designers to re-conceive national parks in the context of a heavily urbanized region.

The area under consideration is the Gateway National Recreation Area, a series of large parcels of land and water that hopscotch from southern Queens and Brooklyn to Staten Island, then down the New Jersey shore. With parts of the national park less than an hour from Times Square, Gateway has provided a quiet counterpoint to the city since it is creation in 1972. Despite its proximity, though, it remains an underused amenity—and an insufficiently protected ecosystem. The U.S. National Parks Conservation Association engaged Van Alen to administer a competition to increase awareness about the park, improve access to it, and protect it from development.

 “Gateway is nearby, but there is no recognition of it. It will be reclaimed or it will disappear,” warns Adi Shamir, Van Alen’s executive director. She adds that the competition aims to “grant access to both the physical site, but also access to the issues.”

And issues abound. The park’s ecosystem supports 350 bird species, but also includes landfills, decommissioned military facilities, and a long-vacant municipal airport. Its proximity to the densely settled and highly urban areas of New York City and New Jersey also presents challenges, including pollution and the threat of development. Shamir hopes the competition will bring such issues into the public eye.

Columbia University and the National Parks Conservation Association are partnering with Van Alen in hosting the competition, which is being run entirely online. Entrants must register before February 28 and submit designs by May 7. The results will be announced in June, with the first-prize winner taking home $15,000. All entries will be displayed in New York City this fall. Visit for more information.

John Gendall