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Dutch government spearheads 2009 Governorís Island Quadracentennial event

Following Henry Hudsonís footprints


Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

NEW YORK Ė The recent visit of a Dutch delegation to Governorís Island, just off the coast of Manhattan, was a vastly different occasion from the one nearly 400 years ago. Back then, the when Dutch merchant ship De Halve Maen landed there to explore the coast for a passage to the East Indies and to take in fresh water. Headed by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the 2008 delegation came to explore too. They wanted to see the site of the Netherlands Ė New York 2009 Quadracentennial festivities and to use the opportunity to plant a commemorative walnut tree.

Balkenende stepped off a ferry accompanied by a group of impeccably dressed politicians, diplomats, top bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and designers. Captain Hudsonís men used oars to paddle their small boat ashore to an island of the new world that had been sparsely inhabited until then. Once again an uninhabited island, Balkenendeís visit there heralds a series of undertakings that are to culminate in the commemoration of Hudsonís arrival of 400 years ago, an event eagerly used by the Dutch to underscore their long ties with New York. Since 1783, the island was used as a U.S. Army post and a U.S. Coast Guard base. It was abandoned in 1996.

With New Yorkís skyscrapers in the background, Balkenende dug the hole where the commemorative notenboom was to be planted in recognition of the islandís first governor, and a play on his surname, Noten. The tree planting had other symbolisms, too. Part of Governorís Island will be further developed as a park under the supervision of Dutch architectural firm West 8, which was selected for the project late last year after winning a special design contest.

Gift

On the west side of Manhattan, along the river named after Henry Hudson, famed Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudhof is in the process of adding linear green areas, to be graced by typical Dutch streetmeubilair (street furniture). In addition, the southernmost point of Manhattan, now called Battery Park, where the Dutch originally settled on the continent, will be the site of a pavilion designed by architect Ben van Berkel.

The new pavilion in Battery Park is a gift from the Netherlands to the American people and will be made up of the latest in building materials: environmentally friendly and biodegradable. A venue for exhibits, the pavilionís other function will be as a place for recreation.

Polyglot

The festivities on the now 172-acre Governorís Island next year, are not intended to be typically Dutch in character. They will be reflective of the 1579 conscience clause in the text of the Union of Utrecht. The first settlers in what was then called Nieu Nederlant, although arriving from the Lowlands, were largely French-speaking Walloon refugees looking for a new home. They included Pierre Minuyt (known as Pieter Minuit in Dutch), the West Indies Company official who in 1624 was responsible for the first real estate transaction in New York. Soon after, the colonyís population became a mixure of nationalities who were allowed a measure of liberty to practice their own religion, although Dutch was the official language. New York City, after the English renamed it Nieu Amsterdam, has remained a centre of different cultures and ethnicities to this day.

For now, the Dutch government has earmarked $10 million for the 2009 Quadracentennial and is looking for additional private participation and sponsorships. Crown Prince Willem-Alexander joined Prime Minister Balkenende and Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Timmermans at a special luncheon with prospective parties to promote the islandís Quadracentennial. Currently, a ferry takes passengers free of charge to the island-heritage site from May through October.

Liberty

The 2009 commemorations are the first of many other such remembrances that could be held over the next number of decades as future dates coincide with the Dutch push inland in the early 1600s to build forts and trading posts in their colony.

The liberty or conscience concept of the 1579 Union of Utrecht has frequently been cited as the model for the American Constitution principle and continues to be advanced by U.S. historians and academics in such books as The Dutch Republic, Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806, and The Island at the Center of the World, The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America. Both titles are available at www.GoDutch.com.