This letter is from Lower East side eighth grader Amalia H. She tells Gov. Cuomo how East River Park is her refuge and gives a cogent argument for a change in plans to demolish the park.
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building Albany, NY 12224
RE: East River Park Flood Wall Plan
Dear Governor Cuomo,
Since Hurricane Sandy hit, New York City has been trying to find a way to protect the east side of Manhattan from hurricanes. As a Lower East Side resident, I feel that it is my responsibility to help improve my community to the best of my ability, and advocating against the new flood wall plan is one way to do so.
I am writing to inform you about the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) plan, and why you should not support it. Over the pandemic, East River Park has been one of the only large green spaces in my community where people can take their children to play, or just relax in the open air. My family has taken our dog there every morning since we got her. The park was also significant to me in April, when I couldn’t visit my grandma (the photo above shows the family visiting with Amalia’s grandmother, who is second from right). This was hard for my family, and the park was the only place where we could see each other and be properly socially distanced. Taking this park away will remove a community gathering place that is much needed to stay sane, safe, and healthy, especially during the pandemic.
Here is some background on the ESCR plan which threatens the Lower East Side’s beloved park with a death sentence. Due to the destruction of the park after Hurricane Sandy, the city worked with the LES community to develop a flood wall plan to make the park resistant to storm surges. In 2012, they came up with a 770 million dollar plan to build a flood wall along the FDR. This would ensure that if there was a storm, it wouldn’t get into the city and the coast would absorb the storm surge. It would also make the park more enjoyable, as you wouldn’t see or hear the cars. Unfortunately in 2018, the city suddenly adopted an expensive, resource intensive, destructive plan: to build the flood wall on the coast, raising the park by 8 feet. This new plan will cost the city 1.45 billion dollars, and will cause sections of the park to close for 5 years or more. The old plan wouldn’t mean demolition, just construction, and would take much less time.1
Since the city is planning to scrap the diligently created and detailed plan from 2012 in order to save the park, it is forcing the community to stay in the polluted air that the LES already has to suffer from. The air quality in the lower east side is 12 out of 100, which is extremely low compared to the US average of 58 out of 100. Having to intake all this toxic air is certainly not good for the people living in the LES, and the air quality is not going to improve with the pandemic. Additionally, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) campuses adjacent to the park have had hundreds of trees cut down, are surrounded with chain link fences and have ongoing heavy construction for a separate flood control project. There is no place in the crowded neighborhood to go for fresh air, peace, and health – except East River Park.
Although this new plan will prevent the city from having to rebuild the park again, it will still destroy the park’s ecosystem and nature. More than 1,000 trees will be cut down due to the construction, which will result in many birds and other animals losing their habitats. Even after building the new park, it would take a while to reconstruct the ecosystem. The park was remodeled around 7 years ago, and it has only now become full of life.
In order to protect from floods, many cities are switching to living shorelines rather than seawalls. Living shorelines are flood walls made of natural materials like rocks, sand, and dirt. These materials help break up the waves and absorb water before it reaches land. 2 The wall plan from 2012 would also allow for absorption even if it isn’t a living shoreline, as the nature in the park would absorb any overflowing water. In the newer plan, the hard wall existing directly against the coast would make waves crash with more force, which would cause the effects of a storm to be harsher. This would make it dangerous for the city, which defeats the purpose of the floodwall. Spending 1.45 billion dollars on a plan that puts citizens at risk is not worth the effort.
Mayor De Blasio is planning to close 60 percent of the park soon 3 unless you take a stand. Raising the park eight to ten feet will be an environmental injustice and cause a public health crisis for the communities of the Lower East Side. This is not only a bad choice for the city, but it doesn’t make sense. If we kept the plan from 2012, New York City would save around 680 million dollars. Mayor De Blasio’s 2018 plan causes us to spend double the money. We need you to do what’s best and safest for the east side of Manhattan: to change back to the plan from 2012.
Sincerely, Amalia H
March 5, 2021
- “East River Park ACTION.” https://eastriverparkaction.org/
2. “INSIGHT: States Shift From Seawalls to Living … – Bloomberg Law.” 10 Jul. 2019, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/environment-and-energy/insight-states-shift-from-seawalls-to-living-shorelines.
3. “To Save East River Park, the City Intends to Bury It – The New York ….” 18 Jan. 2019 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/18/nyregion/to-save-east-river-park-the-city-intends-to-bury-it.html.