What do you do with Staten Island? What is its role in the future of New York City? How does the city develop accessible areas while opening up other parts of the island? And should these other parts even be opened? These are the perennial questions facing the city’s isolated borough, and with development plans on tap and a mayoral election in full swing, Staten Island is inching, perhaps reluctantly, into the spotlight.
Over the next few years, for some reason or another, the St. George area in Staten Island may become a destination. Near the ferry terminal is a quaint minor league ballpark where some of the greenest prospects play, and in a few years, a 350,000 square foot outlet mall, a 200-room hotel and a 625-foot tall Ferris wheel are set to debut. These aren’t attractions for the natives; they are very much designed to attract tourist dollars to the area.
The city is actually being blatant in their attempts at drawing people to Staten Island. NYC & Co. recently unveiled a new initiative promoting day trips to Staten Island. The campaign encourages visitors to check out the North Shore, and The Wall Street Journal recently urged its readers to look even further than that. Anne Kadet urged her readers to dig deeper, and Staten Island’s politicians hopped aboard the effort.
“We welcome thousands of visitors who travel on the Staten Island Ferry every day, and we’re glad for this opportunity to show them a few more family-friendly reasons to visit with us,” Councilwoman Debi Rose said. “There’s no shortage of things to do, places to stay, and places to eat for visitors coming to Staten Island. We’re not ‘the forgotten borough’ but ‘the unforgettable borough.'”
So that’s all well and good, but what about Staten Island’s problems? We can send a bunch of tourists to Staten Island on the ferry, but then they will find themselves stranded at the norther end of the borough trying to decipher a convoluted bus map or relying on expensive cabs to get anywhere else. Tourists, by and large, don’t rent cars when traveling through New York, and the car ride to Staten Island — via congested roads in Brooklyn — is hardly an easy or convenient trip. The Staten Island Rail Road serves some of the island, but large areas are without easy transit access. What can the city do?
The easy solution is a North Shore rail line reactivation. Despite the glaringly obvious need, the MTA over a year ago issued a feasibility study promoting bus rapid transit instead. A subway connection, via the Narrows to Brooklyn or the harbor to Manhattan, is discussed only on message boards devoted to our transit dreams. Meanwhile, the plans for these St. George attractions call for a considerable amount of parking. Shocking, I know.
There’s no easy solution to this problem, and many Staten Islanders are OK with that. They don’t necessarily want the density that comes with transit or the crowds that come with tourist attractions. The city though is intent on turning at least a part of Staten Island into a destination for better or worse, but they’re doing it without addressing fundamental problems of access and accessibility. We may not want a giant Ferris wheel sitting in the harbor, vulnerable to whatever weather may come its way, and we certainly don’t want a Ferris wheel, mall and hotel without a way to get there that doesn’t involve more cars on the road. But that’s what we’re on the verge of getting.