New York City will demolish a big, wonderful park in the name of flood control. There are better plans.
We live in the un-trendy, un-rich, un-touristy, homely high-rise, crowded eastern side of the Lower East Side/East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Our language might not be English, our incomes might not be decent, but we possess something wonderful that no one else has.
We must cross footbridges with high chain link fences over the noisy, polluted six-lanes of the FDR Drive to go to it, but we do. Because we come to our East River Park, a big, open, lovely, free place that makes us feel privileged. We play ball, our kids play ball. We picnic and barbeque and dance and lounge around in the shade. We forage. We sit on benches and breathe the fresh air, so unlike the haze in our streets. We walk and talk and bike and fish and play. Along the one and half mile promenade we lean on the railings and watch the tides swoop in and out.
The last of East River Park
That will end next year when the city starts demolishing East River Park to rebuild it eight feet higher for flood control. It’s a big destructive unnecessary plan that will rip out the heart of our neighborhood. East River Park ACTION formed to oppose the plan and advocate for a better one that will preserve our park and give us flood protection. It can be done.
The storm surged. We worked out a thoughtful flood control plan. Then somebody swooped in with a big ugly monster bulldozer to kill our park.
When Hurricane Sandy raged through New York in 2012, parts of the park and our Lower East Side/East Village neighborhood flooded. The park lost trees but quickly recovered. The neighborhood is still recovering. We need flood control for future storms and to protect from sea level rise due to climate change.
A plan for the park that would give the neighborhood flood control was developed in a four-year, $40 million collaboration with community residents and an innovative group, Rebuild by Design. There would have been construction but much of the park could stay open and be preserved. It would cost some $770 million. See There Was a Plan, and We Want It Back
Flood walls and berms (long hills) would be built along the FDR Drive for storm surge protection. The park itself could be flooded during a hurricane. It would help absorb the overflowing waters and quickly recover.
Further ideas were put forward. We could cover the FDR with parkland. Everyone loved that. It would abate noise and pollution from the highway and give us more green space.
But oops, the city kept tinkering with the plan. There was no more covering the FDR. Most of the trees would be felled, and much of the park closed for years. The plan became a bloated version of the Community/Rebuild plan. It became Option 3 in the Environmental Impact Study. (Option 1 was to do nothing. Option 2 was simply flood walls.)
Then the city got even more bulldozer happy. In late 2018, it suddenly decided the whole 47 acre park should be demolished. A seawall along the river will hold back the water. Landfill will raise the entire park 8-10 feet. That’s Option 4, what the city calls “The Preferred Plan.” That’s the $1.45 billion plan that’s hurtling toward passage in the City Council right now. We object.
Sandy Didn’t Kill East River Park. New York City Will
Next year the city will start building this heartless, destructive, expensive, unnecessary boondoggle. They seem to think of our park as a tear-down—not worth saving. It will take at least five torturous years and will become a McMansion of charmless expanses of concrete and baby trees, artificial turf and shadeless picnic areas. Our beautiful, disheveled and much-loved and much-used park filled with a vast, spirited neighborhood flavor will be gone.
This plan is bad for our neighborhood, our city and our earth. In other words, it’s environmental injustice and an environmental catastrophe.
The nearly 1,000 mature trees in the park bring our neighborhood health. Consider this: The evaporation from a single tree can produce the cooling effect of 10 room size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. Demolishing the park will destroy all these trees and every bit of biodiversity that cleanses our air and soothes our souls. During construction, fill dirt will clog the lungs of people who already have high asthma rates, who already suffered respiratory illnesses because of 9/11.
There will be constant heavy construction operating over more than a mile of parkland spewing diesel and fumes, using vast amounts of energy and resources, disturbing of contaminated soil, importing of massive amounts of fill arriving via barges spewing more diesel. If you want to speed climate change, just demolish a living park and rebuild it according to the Mayor’s “Preferred Plan.”
See Benefits of Trees, hazards of bad air, and more
What’s wrong with the plan
Besides that it’ll kill the whole park? Here are 11 more reasons including construction timelines ripped from fairy tales and no flood protection for many more years.
And to sell it to us, city officials tell us Lies. Misinformation. Falsehoods. Whoppers. Tall tales. Read Lies the City Tells Us.
Here’s another reason we don’t trust the new plan. We have experience. Unfortunately.
In 2001, due to damaged bulkheads along the waterfront, the whole promenade was closed off with a chain link fence. Work didn’t start on fixing it until 2005, a two-year project. It was completed in 2011.
Why do our Community Boards, City Council members and Mayor like the new plan so much?
It’s a mystery. It’s not fast, it’s not pretty, it’s not progressive, it’s not climate friendly, it’s not environmentally conscious, it’s not environmentally just, it doesn’t protect us for several more years, and much less destructive plans could give us the same flood control in the same time frame.
Let’s see the city try this kind of brute-force 20th century-style destruction in a rich neighborhood. Oh yeah, they did try that. They had a plan to demolish the Brooklyn Heights promenade to put in a highway while they rebuilt the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. That plan lasted about five minutes before the residents raised $100,000 and got an expert panel to work with city officials to find creative ways to keep their park intact. The city is now even talking about getting rid of the BQE. Stopping vehicles!
Let’s do that for our neighborhood. Let’s consider community over cars. Trees over traffic.
Let’s deal with the effects of climate change in our neighborhood–the coming floods and sea level rise–by covering the FDR with a park and making the highway a public transit and biking corridor. How about doing something positive about climate change right here in our unwealthy enclave?
Has the city heard a word anyone has said?
Why yes it has. The first request from many community members and elected officials after the plan was announced in late 2018 was for phased construction—making sure parts of the park would stay open throughout destruction and rebuilding..
After studying the plan, most of the park’s advocates have realized that phasing is not the answer. We’ve researched our park-loving hearts out. We’ve provided strong testimony. We’ve been clear. Phased construction is just phased destruction. On Oct. 2, the Mayor’s office said OK to phasing. “The community spoke and we listened,” said Mayor de Blasio.
About that phased construction
Through the scheduled five years of phased construction (and of course it will be much longer because it always is), the park will still be demolished–it will be slow and agonizing rather than somewhat quicker and agonizing.
Even if we didn’t mind losing the whole park over time, this phasing plan cynically includes closing the entire length of the promenade for two years while a solid 8-10 foot wall is built (that’s the schedule, but remember, this is New York where schedules are written by Kafka).
Hey kids, here’s a ball field where you can play, but you won’t get to see the river for a few more years unless you go to some rich neighborhood in Brooklyn. (See above photos of 10 years of no access to the river).
And wait a minute. The city said one of the major reasons they adopted the Kill the Park Plan was because it was a fast track to flood protection–it would supposedly be done in 3 1/2 years. The earlier community/Rebuild by Design plan would take five years. So, NYC, time to find new justifications. Or….Or…
Or Listen, NYC. Our ideas will make you look good
Thousands have signed various petitions against the plan. Hundreds of people have testified and protested at meetings about the plan in the past. (Few testify for the plan. They apparently have clout.) Those opposed to the plan have carefully studied the flaws, the solutions, the ways to make it better.
Here is some of the passionate and well-informed testimony opponents of the plan gave at the City Council Oct. 3: A Mountain of Testimony Against a Pile of Landfill
And here’s more testimony from earlier hearings. Hello? Hello? NYC Can You Hear Me?
East River Park ACTION is making our voices heard through–
Protests to make city officials understand how many people oppose closing and killing the park. We came out some 400 strong to protest Sept. 21. We’re a growing grassroots group! Check it out on our blog post, We Buried the Plan
And a video by Harriet Hirshorn, “East River Park March and Rally” shows why so many of us oppose the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan.
Investigating legal action over the destruction of environment and threats to health of residents
Developing the plan that is truly best for our neighborhood, city, and to ease climate change.
Sign our online petition
Learn more about the various plans on our Resources page.