Save (What’s Left of)
East River Park
The Esplanade is Under Grave Threat
The city plans to cut off our only access to the last half-mile of our beautiful waterfront in October. They intend to erect a tall fence, shrouded in construction netting. They will strip away all nearby trees, shrubs, and greenery. That will close access to the river for the entire length of East River Park for at least three years.
Ask the City WTF (read on to learn specific, polite ways of saying it) via the East Side Coastal Resiliency overseer, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Their inquiry form is here.
Contact your City and State legislators: Let them know that the current plan for closing the entire promenade East River Park is utterly unacceptable. You can find a list of their email addresses here.
- Demand alternative solutions: Insist that other parts of East River Park are opened before the destruction of this northern section begins. This was the original plan. We cannot let this precious green space be amputated bit by bit.
- Hold them accountable: Challenge the bad faith of the Department of Design and Construction and our elected officials. Demand transparency and accountability.
Here’s a link where you can enter your address and find addresses for your city, state and federal elected officials: https://www.mygovnyc.org
Or if you already know, here are their email addresses:
Carlina Rivera: https://council.nyc.gov/district-2/,
Chris Marte: https://council.nyc.gov/district-1/ ,
Grace Lee: email@example.com
Harvey Epstein: https://nyassembly.gov/mem/Harvey-Epstein/contact/,
Mark Levine: https://www.manhattanbp.nyc.gov/contact/
Shekar Krishnan: https://council.nyc.gov/district-25/,
Brad Hoylman: https://www.nysenate.gov/senators/brad-hoylman/contact,
Brian Kavanagh: https://www.nysenate.gov/senators/brian-kavanagh/contact
Mayor Eric Adams: https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/mayor-contact.page
Below is more information to help you make your case to our elected officials and the DDC:
In place of the current half-mile of open promenade, a meager eight-foot-wide path will be built, barely half the width of the current esplanade. Bikers and walkers will be crammed together. Park users will face constant noise and dust from both the riverside esplanade demolition and the construction road (where they have already cut dozens of trees) along the FDR.
According to the DDC and our elected officials, 42 percent of East River Park is to remain open and accessible throughout the entire course of the East Side Coastal Resiliency (sic) (ESCR) project. As new parts of the park are opened more of the existing park would be destroyed and rebuilt. They may be adhering to the agreement to keep 42 percent open, but the way they are doing it–closing off all access to the waterfront and leaving remaining park space completely surrounded by heavy construction–is contemptuous, cynical, unjust and immoral.
As school starts, local sports teams and youth groups are using the north end of the park hourly on weekdays. Adult groups are using it fully each weekend. The proposal to close and destroy the esplanade and surrounding areas in the North end BEFORE the South end of the park is completed and open for use will severely impact healthful park usage for our local schoolchildren and families.
our smelly noisy busy neighbor
with your help
NYC’s Waterfront Access Study is underway. It professes to listen to our neighborhood’s ideas for the FDR Drive.
You can add your ideas (more trees and other plantings all over the neighborhood, stewardship to take care of the greenery, bioswales, green walls, real-time air quality monitoring with mitigations when there are hazardous levels of particulate matter, for instance):
Easy–fill out the project’s online survey.
This is a chance to advocate for improvements for air quality, noise and quality of life. (Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation, which is conducting the study, has said the popular idea of decking over the FDR Driving and putting parkland on top, is not feasible. We have to pursue that option as a long-term project, not led by the DOT.)
This study is especially important now, since the City is about to institute Congestion Pricing. This will give a free ride to vehicles that traverse Manhattan via the FDR below 61st St. We will experience more traffic, more emissions and more noise.
Contact your Elected officials. Tell them we must have oversight, accountability, and emergency greening:
June 26 was our first general meeting of East River Park Action in almost two years. The last time was in October 2021 at the still-existing amphitheater. The unrevised East Side Coastal Resiliency project is now under construction.
Do not despair! There is much we can do to improve our health and environment. We met to figure out how. We can make a difference. Here are the notes from the meeting with suggestions on steps we can each take. Please add your notes and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
East River Park Action meeting June 26, 2023
Agenda and Minutes
compiled by Billy Talen and Pat Arnow
Land Acknowledgment: Harriet Hirshorn
Our Health (cough cough): Wendy Brawer and Mary Jo Burke
What can we do on a policy level?
The Community Advisory Group (CAG) for the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project talks about monitoring. Wendy is East River Park Action’s representative. Other community groups are involved, but getting effective action on ESCR (covering the mountains of fill, wetting it and the roadway) is not often happening. Riis Housing’s faces extra air and soil contamination including arsenic from construction there that is digging up old gas plant soil.
(For real-time air quality readings in our neighborhood, see https://eastriverparkaction.org/sensors/)
This can be an important part of our ongoing work that should not be controversial. As one participant said, “Air Quality unites us as a community.”
* Call 311 when you see excessive dust from construction. The city tracks these reports and numerous complaints can be used to argue for better oversight.
* Report via the ESCR Community Liaison https://pima.ddccr.com/public/comment/project-comment-dynamic?project_id=14047
* Use box fan with a furnace filter taped over it and close all other windows. Take off shoes inside. Cooking with gas, nail polish and hairspray add indoor pollutants.
Environment of the Future: Tommy Loeb and Howard Brandstein
The FDR and our E. Village district will be even MORE toxic with congestion pricing coming up, which will give cars a no-toll ride on the FDR, and will mean more traffic.
Tommy says, “we have no seat at the table” to press effectively for changes. That is why we are looking at how to get change via the state constitutional amendment that guarantees a right to clear air and water and a healthful environment.
Some participants worried that Tommy was advocating putting a stop to Congestion Pricing. Wendy and others favor Congestion Pricing. Later, Tommy clarified:
“We are looking for fair mitigation, not to stop congestion pricing.”
One solution is to deck over the FDR to reduce emissions and noise and to add park space on top of covering over the highway.
Another is to turn one lane in each direction into a transit corridor for electric express buses.
* We can have an impact because “Waterfront Access Study” is now being conducted that will consider such measures as covering the FDR. There is a survey you can fill out to make your voice heard. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6RHWN8Q
There will be further workshops. If you fill out the survey, you can add your email address and get a notice of the next events. Here is the link for the overview and https://nycdotprojects.info/EV-LES-waterfront-access-study.
Here is Howard Brandstein’s feedback on the East Village/Lower East Side Waterfront Access Study workshop. There will be two more workshops where we can press for such good solutions as Howard suggests in the link–we’ll let you know when.
And here are more reasons for decking along with pictures of how it would look: https://eastriverparkaction.org/2021/11/11/cover-the-fdr/
Modification of ESCR, Possibilities for change in the design
Artificial Turf: Pat Arnow
This plastic grass is planned for several fields in the new East River Park. It is also ubiquitous in temporary alternate park spaces, especially Pier 42. Artificial turf is detrimental. It’s 20-40 degrees hotter than natural grass. On Pier 42, the infill is coated with Triclosan, a much-banned anti-bacterial substance that falls into the East River when it rains. There are many health risks. New York State legislators have introduced a bill to put a moratorium on new artificial grass until it is studied. (They banned it in Boston! We can too.)
*Write to your state representatives to support the moratorium. If it is ultimately banned, we can get natural turf fields for the new East River Park–and for playgrounds and fields in the neighborhood. See https://eastriverparkaction.org/2023/02/11/artificial-turf-real-damage/
Other possible changes to current ESCR plan: Harriet Hirshorn
The design has already been revised over and over by the Department of Design and Construction, which is overseeing the ESCR. It can be revised further with our ideas—finding ways to preserve the northern end of the park with more than 500 trees that hasn’t yet been razed.
We discussed the mess of construction, next steps to effect change and ways to keep our public officials accountable. Never stop.
Here’s a study we did not get around to discussing, but we should keep up with to make sure we get adequate protection in the future: The East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project will someday protect us from storm surges and sea level rise (at least for a few years). The levee will not solve the problem of flooding from heavy rainfall as we saw in Hurricane Ida in 2021. The decking over the FDR can be looked into as part of Rainproof NYC. https://rebuildbydesign.org/rainproof-nyc/
Add your questions. Together, we can create effective pressure to improve our health and the livability of our neighborhood.
The air quality on the Lower East Side near the river is often terrible. Lately, the smoke from Canadian wildfires has affected the whole Northeast. But when that air clears, there is still often bad air. Is it due to the construction and loss of trees that cleanse the air? We need accountability and remedies. See our post, What to Count and When to Breathe, and then, please contact your legislators!
Take heed from the recent article in the NY Times “It’s Going to Be a Hot Summer. It Will Be Hotter if You’re Not Rich.”
Everyone knows that we need trees for clean air, cooling shade, and other benefits. Regardless, every day 80-year-old oak and London Plane trees are being felled, at a rapid rate, in the “open” portion of the East River Park, on the Greenway from East 6th Street to E. 10th Street. Approximately seventy were cut down on the Greenway in May, along with forty-four in Corlears Hook Park, around the temporary lawn near the ferry landing, and along the FDR Drive bringing the total count up to over 600 mostly mature, healthy trees killed.
What happened to the assurances that, with phased construction, at least 42% of East River Park would stay open throughout construction? Access to the parts of the park that are not under construction is difficult, and seemingly random closures of fields leave community members without a healthy place to run, relax, refresh their spirits and cool down. 42% open was a mantra—repeated over and over to persuade the City Council to vote for the City’s abysmal “flood protection” project.
Lack of oversight, and obfuscation, lets Con Ed, the DDC, and other agencies pass the blame baton back and forth—without anyone stepping in to protect community health. This demonstrates disdain for the lives of everyone on the LES, including those who voted for the candidates who backed the inadequate and destructive ESCR plan. Why does a massive, “first of its kind” project in New York City have virtually NO OVERSIGHT?
Going forward: Why does NYC keep banking on concrete, one of the worst materials for the climate, rather than working with natural systems and strengthening social readiness to address the ever-larger storms to come? ESCR is a model of what not to do, and its mistakes shouldn’t be applied to Wagner Park and other places—without an honest and transparent review of the decisions made by former Mayor De Blasio.
With half of East River Park’s once verdant space now a barren construction zone, the vegetation— that formerly filtered emissions from the FDR Drive, the Williamsburg Bridge and Con Edison — is gone. How will the quality of the air be affected as a result?
We’re wondering as well, so LES Breathe placed air quality sensors in the community to measure breathable particles (PM2.5), heat and humidity. Check the current readings at Purpleair.com (or use this shortcut bit.ly/pa-les). See how to understand the results at eastriverparkaction.org/sensors.
We’re often asked how Con Edison’s power plant impacts our air quality, since it is powered by fossil fuels. Here’s a response, with a powerful action you can take today to help improve our air, our climate and our common future.
A peer-reviewed study in Environmental Research (April 2021), concluded that air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for nearly one in every five deaths worldwide. The eastern United States is one of the areas significantly impacted by mortalities from PM 2.5 exposure. This effect on human health, especially on children, goes hand in hand with the greatest threat – catastrophic climate change, which is a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. This combustion fills our fragile atmosphere with ever increasing amounts of greenhouse gases that cause our cities, the oceans and polar regions to overheat.
So here’s what we can do right here in New York State
Take a minute today to support a meaningful step that the Governor, along with leaders of the New York State Senate and the Assembly, can take as they negotiate the State’s budget for this year. Take this action today!
Please call Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins at 518-455-2585, and Speaker Carl Heastie at 518-455-3791 along with your senators, listed above. At the end of the last legislative session, the bills were stuck in committee. C’mon!
1. S6453, the Build Public Renewables Act, which would give the publicly-owned NYPA (New York Power Authority) the ability to own and build new renewable energy sources, and to provide 100% renewable energy to all state and municipal properties and transportation by 2025.
2. S6843B, the All Electric Building Act, to ensure that no permits can be issued to new buildings unless all their energy is supplied from electricity, effective January 1, 2024 (with some consideration for special circumstances).
These bills are the first steps in wresting control of our energy from the investor-owned monopoly utilities (Con Edison, for us) and toward a just transition toward jobs in a cleaner energy future for workers in the fossil fuel industry. There’s a larger plan: please take a look at https://www.publicpowerny.org/
Take people power seriously, and help make our dependence on fossil fuels history!
You can look at East River Park photos and also upload your own to this Flickr (photo sharing site) group, East River Park, New York City https://flic.kr/g/3fN7Kd
We also have a biodiversity photo archive at iNaturalist:
You can click on “filters” to select “Research Grade” (more reliable identifications), categories (birds, insects, plants, etc.), or add date or month restrictions. I use this all the time!
There is also a bird list on e-Bird: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L872559
Some of these are linked to photos.
A slide show of the wonders of East River Park in recent years and what we are losing by Pat Arnow. https://patarnow.zenfolio.com/p313418955
2001-2011 a slide show of the painful 10-year closure of the waterfront promenade. Rebuilding was promised as a two year project starting in 2005 (before that, starting July, 2001, the waterfront was just flat closed with no plans to fix the builkheads) by Pat Arnow: https://patarnow.zenfolio.com/p249576553
More Air Quality
Thanks to your support, LES Breathe has purchased air quality sensors. The first five PurpleAir real time monitors are being placed around the neighborhood, along with mobile sensors that work indoors or out. In coming weeks, these sensors will provide open data that will be shared on easy to use maps.
Also in the works:
- A guide in Spanish and English for having cleaner air at home
- An inclusive Air Quality engagement campaign
- A concise review of the 2,000 page report on the Park’s soil and water. That was another document that came to East River Park Action via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
LES Breathe has a growing number of volunteers – contact email@example.com to get involved.
For more about this public health-focused committee of East River Park Action, visit our LES Breathe web page.
Please donate to our Legal Fund–we are a 501(c)3 so donations are tax deductible.
Donate via PayPal (you can use a credit card with this link also). Or write checks payable to “East River Park Action” then, in the memo write “legal.” Send to East River Park Action, c/o Jonathan Lefkowitz, 426 E. 10th St., New York, N.Y. 10009