Brian McGrath’s letter to City Council Member Carlina Rivera:
It is with great concern that I write in response to the independent report on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR). I lived in the East Village for twenty years, and continue to work nearby where I advocate for my former neighbors on community issues in my role as a Professor of Urban Design at Parsons.
I do not find the report from Deltares adequate or conclusive, and indeed Mr. Gehrels writes in the initial summary that there was a lack of publicly available information on several aspects of the ESCR design for him to make a conclusive evaluation. A much broader analysis and discussion must take place before the City takes on constructing this important project. Rather than making a rash decision based on the future control of tidal flooding of the park in the Rebuild by Design scheme (RBD), a thorough evaluation of the community and environmental impacts of the ESCR must be made. A more complex and nuanced solution must be designed with the community that takes into consideration the future of the FDR and inland neighborhoods as well as projections of sea level rise.
In my forty years in New York City as a professional architect and professor of urban design, I have lived in, observed and studied the East River Park and the neighborhoods that surround it. In morning walks and bike rides, I personally witnessed the slow erosion of the original Robert Moses era design in the 1980s and 90s, and began archival research of historical maps, views and photographs that helped me understand the social and ecological dynamics that have shaped both the Lower East Side neighborhoods and the park. It is with great disappointment that I witnessed the complete structural rebuilding of the Park without any acknowledgement of the sea level rise and storm surge and the ecological flaws of the original design. Historical research inspires much more sophisticated and informed possibilities.
Historical maps reveal the ecological importance of the wetlands formed on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as the tidal flow of the East River bends around the hill which stood at the present location of Grand Street. Construction photos show the construction of piers and fill and of the original park. Views of the park under construction inspire more cut and fill landscape options that might combine the best aspects of the two proposals being considered that push and pull the protection inland and to the edge in difference locations. I have attached images from this previous research to this e-mail to help everyone envision a synthetic compromise.
In spite of its better flood protection of the park, the ESCR plan is a far worse park design, sloping down to a highway rather than in relationship to the views and ecological dynamics of the East River estuary. We deserve much better than the ESCR plan given the years of thought and community participation that went into the RBD plan. A truly innovative synthesis of the two plans that projected the future of the FDR and the NYCHA housing inland as well as sea level rise would be the best solution for the future. We have scientific reports of what the sea level is projected to be in the future, but have we envisioned who we will be as a community resiliently facing climate change together?
PROFESSOR OF URBAN DESIGN, PARSONS
For More Background:
A good story about the Deltares report
Another story in EVGrieve, Oct. 11, 2019, about the Deltares report. Check out the especially pointed comments following the article by Amy Berkov and Howard Brandstein.
For our White Paper on the Deltares report, download the pdf: