Floating an Idea

Kickstarter campaign for a floating bridge from Brooklyn’s Red Hook to Governors Island

East Urbanism
(Courtesy Citizen Bridge)
(Courtesy Citizen Bridge)

The Citizen Bridge will allow New Yorkers to walk on water over a leisurely six-block span from the piers of Red Hook to Governors Island. Think of it as an engineered version of the sandbar by which Brooklyn farmers once walked their cattle across Buttermilk Channel at low tide. A four-year adventure now in its seventh prototype, the floating pedestrian bridge is designed in its latest iteration from angular blocks of Styrofoam planked with plywood, fastened together and anchored at regular intervals for stability. The last prototype, the Superblock, withstood its first experiments in not plunging its inventor into the river.

(Courtesy Citizen Bridge)

(Courtesy Citizen Bridge)

Pioneered by artist and designer Nancy Nowacek (full disclosure: a former Metropolis colleague and friend), its Kickstarter campaign launched last week evokes the spirit of invention that created the New York City subway system, except its creator doesn’t aspire to capitalize on alternatives to the dreary transportation of the day. The Citizen Bridge appeals to the collective power of residents to reshape the city and reclaim their relationship to the waterfront. “There should be space in waterways policy for imagination and innovation beyond navigating vessels,” Novacek said.


Novacek is working with teams of structural and marine engineers from Thornton Tomasetti and Gloston, as well as architects, environmental lawyers, and sundry New York City bureaucrats and citizens to test the floating devices and navigate regulatory issues. The project has been buoyed by residencies on all sides of the East River, among them a current one at Eyebeam in Sunset Park, as well as at the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program in DUMBO, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space residency on Governors Island, and a Recess studio at Pioneer Works in Red Hook.

(Courtesy Citizen Bridge)

(Courtesy Citizen Bridge)

The $25,000 crowdfunding campaign will pay for a 100-foot proof-of-concept from Brooklyn Bridge Park to a temporary anchorage platform and back. To accommodate the final 1,200-to-1,400-foot installation, for one day each year, maritime traffic would be rerouted around Governors Island as a part of a summer celebration of the waterways.

“The goal of the project writ large is to get people to turn back towards the water,” Novacek said, “and to think broadly about what it means to be living in a coastal city, all of the ways in which the water will affect us, and all of the ways in which we can learn to come to terms and cope with that.”

The system, which could eventually cost more than one million dollar to complete, might be capable of being shipped and deployed in other locations around the world.

Related Stories