Randall’s Island has long been a daunting landscape of deteriorating ball fields and overgrown parkland. But on May 19, the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation (RISF) announced the completion of more than 60 new athletic fields, one of the final pieces of a decade-long effort to revive the island as a recreational destination. Along with acres of landscaped open space, a waterfront promenade, and other public amenities, the vast project has transformed the forlorn site for residents of East Harlem and the city beyond.
The $130 million field project, launched in 2007, fulfills the dream of then–Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who in the 1930s aspired to transform the 480-acre island into playing fields and public pathways. “When we opened the fields the other day, Moses’ vision was finally completed—we are really turning the island into a state-of-the-art athletic facility,” said Rick Parisi, managing partner at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners (MPFP), lead architect for the project. The new fields are expected to double the island’s visitors, currently numbering 700,000 annually, with an array of facilities for soccer, softball, baseball, football, lacrosse, and cricket. Improvements also include artificial turf on 11 fields for year-round use, lighting for evening play, restrooms, dugouts, and bike racks.
The masterplan forged by MPFP recovered land from various institutions—including the Manhattan Psychiatric Center and the Wards Island Water Pollution Control Plant—that were a major obstacle to creating connectivity and giving the island an identity as a singular park. The present phase improves orientation in the landscape through a grid inspired by Manhattan’s 625-foot-long West Side blocks.
“The grid helped us to generate familiarity and orient the fields properly,” said Ricardo Zurita, principal of Zurita Architects, which collaborated on the masterplan and other aspects of the park, including the design of new sculptural comfort stations that serve as nodes along the grid. The artificial fields were also inserted along the edges of the island’s natural areas. “By doing this we tried to blur this very artificial landscape and blend it seamlessly with naturalistic elements,” Zurita said.
Other park additions include the planting of 4,000 trees in tandem with PlanNYC’s Million Trees initiative, as well as new waterfront pathways designed by RGR Landscape Architecture that offer scenic views along the East River. Elements remaining to be finalized are the restoration of shorelines—including sea wall, riprap, and areas of natural beach, as well as several more ball fields and a path providing access to a new bridge connecting to the Bronx Greenway.
The project marks a milestone for RISF, which manages the island as a public-private partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Aimee Boden, executive director of RISF, said the new work complements additions such as the 2005 Icahn Stadium and the Sportime tennis center, completed last year. “I really hope that this galvanizes the island,” she said, “and brings it to its place as a regional park facility where New York City goes to play.”