East River Park ACTION is asking New York City to find a way to preserve and keep open as much of our park as possible while providing temporary and long-term flood protection. Here is why we oppose the plan and our proposal for a better plan:
1) UGLY AND CRUEL: According to the phased construction plan announced in October 2019, for at least two years (and likely much more–see “UNREALISTIC TIMELINES,”) the entire promenade will be closed, the river inaccessible, as an eight-foot seawall is built. While about 20 acres of the much-used 47 acre park will be open for the estimated five years total for demolishing and rebuilding the park, the seawall pile driving and building will be make the whole park noisy, and as the wall rises, boxed-in and breeze free.
2) UNREALISTIC TIMELINES: The city has not determined a schedule for dealing with complications: the sensitive Con Ed line, the time it takes for landfill settling on top of the original, uneven landfill, complications of dealing with contaminated soil in the park as it is dug up, not being able to pour fill into the space on windy days (which is most days in New York). Are there significant penalties as well as rewards built into the contracts? Even if the city did know how much time these complications would realistically take, New York is bad at finishing things anywhere near on time, and this is a giant project. We’re looking at many many years with a park that will be a noisy filthy construction zone.
3) INADEQUATE AND UNREADY ALTERNATIVES: The city is supposed to provide mitigation—alternate spaces—but what they’ve planned so far is pitiful and inadequate for a low-income, densely populated neighborhood. Nearby decent-sized parks Seward Park and Tompkins Square Park, are already crowded.
There are few ball fields nearby to replace the many in East River Park. There is no greenway for bikes and walkers and people who want to sit. There are no picnic and BBQ areas nearby to substitute for East River Park as a social hub in the neighborhood.
Here’s an example of why so many people mistrust the city’s timeline: The small Lower East Side Luther Gulick Park is undergoing renovation. In February 2016, the city started constructing a restroom, due to be done in Oct. 2016. It’s still not done. It’s now due to be opened until Dec. 2019. Just hold it until then. (Update: the bathroom opened in mid-2020. It was often closed after that because of a problem with the plumbing.)
4) ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION: Bulldozing 1,000 mature trees and all the greenery in the park is environmentally destructive–a way to speed climate change not just in the long term but in the short term for our neighborhood. We need the trees in our park to help cleanse and cool the air. This area has extraordinarily high asthma rates. It will take years to rebuild the park, and the new trees will be saplings. It could take a generation to get the same environmental benefits from trees that we now have—and since the park is only designed to accommodate sea level rise until 2050, it will have to be demolished again and rebuilt even higher in just as the trees provide meaningful health benefits.
5) HARD SEAWALL NOT BEST PRACTICE: A hard seawall against the river is not considered a best practice in parks around the world. Resilient, floodable coastlines can absorb storm surges. A seawall can abut the FDR Drive to provide protection to the neighborhood. (See States shift from Seawalls to Living Shorelines)
6) CARS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE COMMUNITY: One big reason the city changed the plan was to keep from having to close a lane of traffic on the FDR Drive to build flood walls along the highway. This has not been an impediment during other projects. When Rockefeller University and the Hospital for Special Surgery further north on FDR Drive put up buildings over the FDR, lanes were closed.
Comptroller Stringer has suggested eliminating cars totally during reconstruction of the BQE. They have also appointed a panel of experts to take a look at that entire project. (Update Aug. 2021–The city is reducing lanes on the BQE so promenade will survive and reconstruction can be put off.) We are still waiting for a serious look at decking over FDR as a means of providing needed protection, reducing pollution and expanding the park. The highway has three northbound lanes through the neighborhood, which merge to two lanes just north of our neighborhood. If construction closes a lane, they can just merge a mile or so sooner. It will have little effect on traffic. Even if it did, community should be more important than traffic.
7) CON ED EXCUSE: The current “Preferred Plan” will have a path next to the FDR with a steep hill rising to the elevated park. The DDC says this is to keep a “sensitive” Con Ed line from being weighted down and to have access to it. That is why the bike path will be essentially in a ditch next to the FDR where bikers can inhale fumes from vehicles instead of fresh air from the river. The previous plan allowed for a tunnel under the berms, but that better idea was abandoned with no explanation as to why it’s not acceptable. We have never heard from Con Ed about this. The MTA studied the L Train for three years and said they had an insurmountable problem that would require the full shutdown of the entire line. The Governor brought in a team of experts that reversed that decision in a week. We also need a panel of experts to reevaluate the reality of Con Ed’s needs–and the entire project.
8) INADEQUATE INTERIM FLOOD PROTECTION: Much of the public housing in the neighborhood is already receiving flood protection via a FEMA program. It will protect the buildings–people will still have to be evacuated in a big hurricane, so more robust flood protection is still needed for NYCHA, even as its infrastructure is protected already. However, parts of the neighborhood will have no defense against storm surges during the years of construction, not even the modicum of protection afforded by the park during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. We must have interim flood protection where needed.
See also the our report on the city’s Interim Floor Protection feasibility study.
9) NEW DESIGN COMMUNITY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY UNSOUND: The new park design is in fact environmentally unfriendly and community unfriendly. It has large swaths of unshaded concrete. It has fields of artificial turf, which are also environmentally unfriendly and unhealthy for people who are exposed to them, especially children. The BBQ areas for instance, are now shady, friendly areas. The new ones will be slabs of concrete. The city’s plan is unimaginative. We are asking for a series of walls along the FDR, grassy berms, hills, and marshlands. This is what Rebuild by Design and the community designed over a period of four years and $40 million in planning. The city dropped that plan last fall for the current, much more expensive, drastic, and destructive plan.
10) THE STATE SHOULD HAVE A LOOK: If a city “discontinues use as a park,” it must seek what is called Alienation from the state. The city is refusing to do that. State Senators Brian Kavanagh and Brad Hoylman along with Assemblyman Epstein agree that the city is required to seek Alienation for this project and will pursue remedies if need be. This would require the City to demonstrate they have provided the appropriate mitigation–alternate park sites–to the community (and it’s clear they have not), and provide stricter oversight of the plan. (update: Our lawsuit for this is on appeal.)
11) LOSS OF UNIQUE FEATURES: The new park offers no flood protection for the historic Fireboat house that houses the Lower East Side Ecology Center, a wonderful neighborhood institution. It demolishes the lovely and unique Seal sculpture water park where kids play all summer. It demolishes the historic Amphitheater where Shakespeare in the Park was founded and which is still used constantly. It is now surrounded by magnificent shade trees on high ground that was not flooded. It will be replaced with a soulless, shade-free amphitheater. The current one is shabby and needs to be refurbished. But it doesn’t deserve a death sentence. Neither does the newly refurbished track costing $3.5 million, the magnificent promenade that was closed from 2001 to 2011 and fixed for $66 million. the East Side Coastal Resiliency will demolish the Art Deco restroom facilities that are eligible for landmark status.
12) A BETTER PLAN: The cost of the project is now $1.45 billion–and is already over-budget before work has really gotten going. What we are proposing is a reevaluation and adaptation of a forward-looking, environmentally friendly earlier plan developed with the community (mentioned above). It can be adapted to preserve much of the park and keep it open during construction and provide the same flood protection at a lower cost. With interim flood protection and NYCHA protection now being built, also mentioned above, we do not have to rush to destroy the largest park in Lower Manhattan that is vital to the mental and physical health of our neighborhood.
–Pat Arnow with Tommy Loeb
8 thoughts on “Stop the Death Sentence for East River Park: a Dozen Reasons Why”
Pat and Tommy. THANK YOU so much for your hard consistent work. It is sincerely appreciated by myself. Regarding the track in East River Park. As you stated it was “rebuilt” at a cost of 3.5 MILLION dollars. Guess what .. the track is INACCURATLY measured. A standard track (WORLDWIDE) is 400 meters. This “improved” track measures 402 meters. It is 7 feet too long. I understand that this is not important to most people BUT it is a travesty. It illustrates how the authorities see OUR neighborhood. WE don’t deserve accuracy.. we don’t deserve things done correctly..we will take what they give us. How can you spend 3.5 million dollars and do it WRONG??? I got this information from Mr Vaccaro the head of the Parks Department. It seems Rivera want to dazzle us with “big words (see her absurd new press release.. “destroy a Park to help the environment “. IF she sells US (the community) out on this issue WE MUST DO EVERYTHING IN OUR POWER IN THE FUTURE TO SEE SHE IS NOT RE-ELECTED . This is a personal assault on OUR neighborhood, our Country, our Earth. In conclusion I thank you again for all your hard work. F A Schiro. http://www.lestrackclub.com.
Stop Stop Dont Take Our Park Away. Dont Close The Whole Park Do It In Sections, So Many Seniors Will Be Lost With Out Our Park, Children , Families, Joggers, Bikers, Picnics, Music, Relaxing, Also People With Depression Go There To Relax
Thqanks, Pat. Ms. Rivera, as a LES resident I urge you to vote against this plan.
Great piece and a reminder that our neighborhood deserves–no, it actually *needs* better! And that the larger impact of this plan needs to be considered in terms of climate change, as well.
Thank you Pat & Tommy, for your excellent “11 reasons Why”. I have lived in the East Village since 1989. I attended the City Council meeting at City Hall today, Oct 3rd. I wasn’t able to stay long enough to comment (work) but I was able to hear Lorraine Grillo of DDC speak. If the DDC is going to be prioritizing our community, as they say they are, why do they need to LIE?? Maybe they’re taking a page from 45’s playbook?
1-“..close to a 100 Town Halls, ULURPs, etc…” No, I don’t think so. I’ve attended a grand total of 5 since May 2019. They only just proposed this monstrosity in Oct of 2018, how is it that they’ve held 100 public gatherings since then? It’s a LIE!
2.. “most trees would have to be cut down anyhow, due to the possibility of salt damage…” Um, MOST of them have been pretty much fine since 1938. Why now, all of a sudden, they all need cutting down. I don’t think so… It’s a LIE!
3- ConEd lines would be accessible in the “preferred plan”. They would also be accessible in Plan #3. This is called LYING by omission.
4- …”Plan #4 would eliminate the need for extensive nighttime noise from pile driving that would be imposed upon the NYCHA residents”.. And how is it that you could implement plan #4 without driving any piles? They’re going to be driving piles over on the waterfront to build that 10 foot wall and that will be affecting the people that live near there in the same way! Because it’s going to be a “steep hill” sloping down to the FDR? Sounds like a flood waiting to happen to me. And this time full of uprooted saplings and MUD from god knows what kind of landfill. And why exactly did you need to plan do that pile driving needed to implement Plan #3 at night? The FDR could have one lane closed during the weekend days. Or even weekdays. PUT TREES over CARS!
Then came more lies from the Dept. of Parks & Recreation, via spokesperson Mitchell Silver.
1- He falsely claimed that there had been “monthly flooding” in the East River Park. Um, I cycle on the esplanade four mornings a week and there has been 0 floods every time I have been over there.
2- He falsely claimed that the “preferred plan is meeting the desires of the community”. Which community? It’s not called the East Village or the Lower East Side Community!
3- He stated that in 2014 258 trees had to be removed. OK. Perhaps. Then he claimed that the other 981 mature trees “may likely have to be removed”. ‘May’ and ‘likely’ are not ‘certainly’ or ‘surely’. How can this kind of wanton destruction be justified??? LIES!
Now, what I would have said if I had been able to stay and speak: I would have cited Chapter 2.0 in the NYC ESCR, from page 15 where there is an underlined section listing three reasons why the #4 Plan is the “preferred plan”.
Reason One is now a moot point because we have gotten phased construction.
Reason Two has also become much less urgent, due to Flood protection plans already under construction at several NYCHA areas.
Reason Three is the REAL reason the City, the DDc and the NYP&Rec want Plan #4. It doesn’t close one lane on the FDR!
Why do we , in the face of certainly C02 caused Climate destruction, continue to put CARS over People?
The ConEd lines can be accessed by a box built under the berm. We need to cover the FDR with an earthen berm, to save the trees, plantings, and wildlife, expand the park and cut down on noise and pollution in the park. A hard wall on the shore is not a smart way to do the job, and I’ll bet you that is exactly what that independent engineer from the Netherlands is going to say in their report next week.
Thank You Carlina Rivera, for listening to us, the community that you represent. Please, I trust that you are going to do the right thing and vote NO on the expensive, destructive, unwanted, and rushed Plan #4. NO DEFORESTATION IN THE NAME OF FLOOD MITIGATION!
Great catches on the lies. I’m sorry you couldn’t stay and testify, but do send in your testimony by end of day Tuesday, Oct. 8. Email the testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org
Date of the hearing: Oct. 3, 2019
Subject: East Side Coastal Resiliency
Committee: Subcommittee on Landmarks, Sitings, and Dispositions
You can send copies to all of these who are involved in the plan:
City Council Member Carlina Rivera
City Council Member Margaret Chin
City Council Member Keith Powers
KPowers@council.nyc.govManhattan Borough president Gale Brewer
Please send a copy to email@example.com and let us know if we can quote from it.
This sounds like the city is taking the park by eminent domain. Am I right/
I trained for 7 marathons in East River Park and watched its transformation to a destination park. What they are doing is saving a highway instead of a Park.
Flat out wrong.
I fear developers are waiting in the wings to start building on that 57-acre park. The views are spectacular.
Across the river, the Brooklyn Bridge Park is built right to the water’s edge. The City isn’t proposing a 10 foot wall there. That’s because the residents of the area will raise whatever funds are needed to stop City Hall.
It does look like the city is saving the highway from lane closures rather than preserving the park.
The city swears the park will always remain a park, and developers won’t swoop in. Do we trust the city on this? It might be true. What the new park will be is one that is attractive to gentrifying in the neighborhood. It’ll look just like those uninspired flat parks with no shade along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. All neat and tidy and ready for rich people. Our diverse neighborhood that uses the park constantly will lose our disheveled beloved park space and feel unwelcome as the shady picnic areas and park benches become swaths of unshaded concrete.
Brooklyn Bridge park that you mention is a resilient, floodable park with salt water resistant plantings. That’s what we want. Replace the trees as they fail, not all at once. Let the park flood–it will survive just fine. Build flood walls and berms along the FDR.
Instead we’re getting a monster dumped on us–8-10 feet of landfill and a tall hard wall against the river. Boy is that ever not considered best practice for a resilient coastline.