“I Love This Park. I Grew Up in This Park”

Harriet Hirshorn interviewed some 50 people in East River Park in recent weeks. Most of them do not know that the park is going to be closed, bulldozed and covered with eight feet of dirt for flood protection starting next March.

Daffodils bloom in East River Park
Photo by Harriet Hirshorn

The video Harriet made shows how people use the park in all weather. Their quotes toward the end shows how alarmed and heartbroken park-goers are when she tells them about the city’s current plan. While the community understands the need for flood protection, many question whether the total destruction of the East River Park is the best plan.

The city is claiming that the neighborhood supports the East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan. That is not true. Most of the neighborhood doesn’t know about it. And when they find out, they oppose the drastic, unsupportable measures the city is determined to take.

We need a better plan!

“We Have a Lot of Questions”

Hear an interview with East River Alliance’s Naomi Schiller about the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan for flood control. She covers the range of our issues including these points:

Naomi Schiller

“Brooklyn Heights, a very wealthy neighborhood, was able–with pressure on public officials–to convene experts to rethink the BQE design.”

“So we are also asking for an independent panel…Does this plan meet the demands of the most recent climate science?.”

“We’re really concerned that equity has been pushed to the side, and this fast-tracked plan has been forced down our throats.

“We’re in a difficult spot. We want flood protection.”

“One of the most popular ideas several years ago was to place decking over the FDR…and to use part of that decking and berms to create coastal flood protection, which would have the possibility of reducing emissions in the community.”

And there are many more cogent points in this six-minute interview on WBAI. You can play the piece below:

Naomi Schiller on WBAI, April 17, 2019.

The Rivers Beneath the Streets

I am haunted by the underground rivers I see in historical maps of Manhattan.

I’m especially drawn to the mythic maze of subterranean streams under the East Village. These are left off the City’s public visualizations of the East Side Coastal Resiliency project (ESCR) project that is meant to protect our community from flooding. This is a potentially disastrous oversight that will affect my neighborhood as the sea level rises and climate change delivers increasingly intense storms.

Responding to my questions at public meetings, the Department of Environmental Protection says these subterranean streams are not under their jurisdiction, and they don’t know where they are. Why doesn’t the City have a Deputy Mayor for Infrastructure so agencies, adjacent projects and geography can be coordinated?

Look at some of the maps I’ve collected as background and inspiration for my work over the last 25 years. I map sustainable living resources including community gardens, greenmarkets, bicycling and solar sites. Since 2001, I’ve often included Manhattan’s historic shoreline to highlight how humans have impacted this “small island nation” and to foreshadow changes to come.

Townsend MacCoun’s map of Manhattan “at the time of its discovery” includes Native American villages (in red) and topography from 1609 with water-courses, marshes and shore line, overlaid with the 1867 street grid and harbor. Full of surprises, it was made for underpinning engineers, and still provides crucial knowledge for erecting new buildings and infrastructure.

In this map, the East Village looked especially vulnerable, with subterranean rivers and tidal salt marshes extending nearly to 1st Avenue. The book “The Archaeology of Home” tells how the land was extended and filled in, and how docks and shipyards soon ringed the shore. Even today, people in the community know that willow trees are indicators that these ancient waterways still flow. This year, test bores for rain gardens are being made in the same area for the Gardens Rising project, and there are reports on progress mapping the underground. Can’t these shed light for developing the ESCR, too?

Check out the Viele Map, dated 1865. Use the link to see a zoomable version of the map with amazing details of the land under and around the 58 acres of today’s East River Park. The orange is landfill and piers, with the green being the extent of the original shoreline. Land and water continually transform one another. Climate change is accelerating that evolution. No one really knows what’s coming, or when. It’s clear though, that these maps provide information critical to the planning of the ESCR.  

The Viele Map is properly known as the Sanitary & Topographical Map of the City and Island of New York. Use the slider at bottom center to zoom in and lay bare geographical vulnerabilities.

As a 30 year resident and as an individual active with the East River Alliance, I’m also sharing an example from my professional work with Green Map System. This post-Sandy view is the Adapting to Change, Lower East Ride edition. Produced in Spanish, Chinese and English in 2013, this small map promotes bicycling as an everyday climate change countermeasure. It includes both the super storm’s high water mark and the original shoreline, as well as the combined sewer outfalls in East River Park, the then new bike share stations, bike lane network, etc.

The next map I make will include the subterranean streams that still run under the community. As major changes to the geography are being prepared, I ask the City, will your ESCR plans include them, as well?

– Wendy Brawer


Thanks Mr. Mayor

On the Brian Lehrer radio call-in show on WNYC recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported phased closing of East River Park during the construction of the East Side Coastal Resiliency flood protection project. This is a change from the plan that would have closed the entire park for 3 1/2 years. This phased closing is one of the things we’ve been asking for!

Here’s from a transcript of the mayor’s encouraging remarks:

“… the idea is to have the park redone in segments so that [there] will be pieces of the park available to the community at all times and once one segment is done then another segment is addressed. So it’s – we’re very sensitive to the fact that people need their park space. “

The remark was in answer to a caller, Billie, who asked about what she called an “enormously risky, expensive plan…with a huge risk of failure, of incompletion…”

The mayor acknowledged there might be reason for cynicism, but said, “This has been a very carefully assessed project.” While he said, reassuringly, “It is being discussed with the community,” it’s clear we don’t have much time: “We have to get going. The resiliency issue is one of urgency, but I do want you to know none of this has been done lightly and I think when you see more the facts, you’ll be more comfortable that the East Side approach is going to work.”

If it is going to work for our community, we must continue to persuade the city that our alternatives will be better. We know from the mayor’s statement about phased closing, that he is listening. Now let’s keep pushing on protecting our community from toxic dust and other hazards, and insist on meaningful mitigation of the enormous adverse impacts of clear-cutting and bulldozing over 70 acres of public green space.

To hear to the show with Billie’s question and the mayor’s complete answer, follow the WNYC link.


Congestion Pricing and East River Park: Is This Why We Have to Close the Park Instead of Closing a Lane of the FDR?

From the earliest days of flood protection planning for the Lower East Side, decking over the FDR was a popular idea. It was a win-win-win: effective flood protection, less pollution, more and better recreation space. 

The city said it was too expensive.

Now that the ESCR budget has doubled to $1.45 billion, we have been asking, Why not reconsider decking over? 

One concern, we are told, is that it will take too long, and effective flood protection is an urgent issue. We contend that deployable walls, like the ones planned for Battery Park and the financial district, could ensure short-term safety and buy us time to slow down this frantic “preferred alternative plan.” But more on that in another post.


This week we learned that congestion pricing below 60th Street in Manhattan is coming soon. There’s just one catch: the FDR Drive will be exempt. 

“New technology can identify vehicles on any roadway and automatically charge them, so the task force was able to draw a narrower — and perhaps more politically palatable — cordon limited to the most crowded streets. In turn, that means drivers can enter Midtown and Lower Manhattan by two bridges without paying as long as they go directly to the F.D.R. Drive along the East River and then continue on it until they are out of the congestion zone,” wrote the New York Times on January 18, 2019.  


In other words, slowing traffic on the FDR for deck-over work — or closing a lane to allow flood protection to be focused at the back of East River Park — could threaten this “politically palatable” exemption from congestion pricing. If the FDR is not wide-open to traffic, it will be harder to placate drivers looking for a way around the additional charges.

It’s clear that the exemption will only increase traffic on the FDR — and increase air pollution just when the city proposes to strip over 65 acres of neighboring parkland of all trees and ground cover!  Here’s what we’d like to see instead: A comparative study of a decked-over FDR (supported by a concrete structure to provide the required flood protection). Safer homes. More parkland. Less pollution. What’s not to love?

Direct Action in East River Park

“RIP East River Park 1939-2019,” say black banners that have been placed around trees along the East River Park promenade. No group has claimed responsibility for this action yet, but it seems rooted in the deep distrust citizens feel as the city cast away the community led plan in favor of a “Preferred Alternative Plan” that will close the park for years, destroy it, and rebuild it for flood protection.

But we say WAIT. It is not time for a funeral. There is a better way forward for flood protection, for our park, and for our community.

The East River Alliance is working with the community and the city to develop a plan that provides immediate flood protection this season, and maintains access to our greenspaces through the construction period.

“We will miss your breeze, your trees, your plants and flowers and your birds and bees.”
Alex Weidler captured these images. Thank you Alex for the photos and Charles Krezell for sending them in.

We can change the plan so that we

  • Gain long-term Flood Protection that is environmentally sound and will preserve parts of our park. In the meantime, in the coming year and through construction, we need emergency deployable barriers.
  • The city will work with us in a collaborative, transparent process to find alternatives to the current plan–which the city put together in a hurry without consulting our community or meeting the needs of our community. For instance, go back to an earlier proposal developed with our community: Build parkland over the FDR Drive, which would provide flood protection and new park space. It would also keep much of the current park intact. At the time, the idea was too expensive. Now, the budget has doubled to $1.4 billion. The plan is feasible.
  • Keep parts of the park open during the years of reconstruction (as the mayor promised just last week!)
  • Improve other parks in the East Side Coastal Resiliency area, and activate underutilized and unused spaces for the good of the communities they belong to.

(If you have been trying to email us and have been getting an error message, many apologies–we have fixed that.)

Tell it to Uncle Sam and Cousin deBlasio

East River Alliance NYC logo

The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project that will close and demolish our parks is undergoing environmental review. Due to federal requirements, city agencies must ask the community what we think. (I love Big Government!)

The deadline has been extended until March 22. 

We can—and must!—send in our objections to the current plan (if you haven’t already done so). Please send a copy to community@eastriveralliance.org.

Let us know if we can share it. And/or share it on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, and with your mom, who should also write in.

Here is the notice of the public review and request for comments, if you want to wade through the bureaucratic language. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cdbgdr/documents/public-notices/escr_Early_Floodplain_3_13_19.pd

But here are the relevant and comprehensible bits:  

“First, people who may be affected by activities in floodplains and / or wetlands, and those who have an interest in the protection of the natural environment, should be given an opportunity to express their concerns and provide information about these areas. 

“Second, an adequate public notice program can be an important public educational tool. Commenters are encouraged to offer alternate methods to serve the same project purpose and methods to minimize and mitigate impacts. The dissemination of information and request for public comment about floodplains and wetlands can facilitate and enhance federal efforts to reduce the risks associated with the occupancy and modification of these special areas. 

“Third, as a matter of fairness, when the federal government determines it will participate in actions taking place in floodplains and wetlands, it must inform those who may be put at greater or continued risk.

“All interested persons, groups, and agencies are invited to submit written comments regarding the proposed use of federal funds to support the construction of the proposed project in a floodplain and / or wetland. The City is interested in alternatives and public perceptions of possible adverse impacts that could result from the project as well as potential mitigation measures.”

Write to Calvin Johnson, Assistant Director CDBG-DR New York City Office of Management and Budget 

255 Greenwich Street-8th Floor

New York, New York 10007

Telephone: 212-788-6024

Fax: 212-788-6222

Email: CDBGDR-enviro@omb.nyc.gov

Get it in before March 22.

The city came to listen. We filled their ears

East River Alliance logo

East River Alliance had a meeting March 13 at the Roberto Clemente School on E. 4th St. with city officials to hear about the revised plans for the East River in our community and to ask questions. We have a way to go before the city and the community are going to be besties on this project.

City officials at a meeting with East River Alliance. Photo by Pat Arnow © 2019
Jamie Springer, who is in charge of the city’s Department of Design and Construction project for East River and Stuyvesant Cove Park, presented the plan for coastal resiliency. In the Power Point presentation, he showed photos of community meetings where citizens had provided ideas. However, the plan remains essentially unchanged from when it was first presented in December.
City Council member Carlina Rivera speaks to East River Aliance. Photo by Pat Arnow © 2019
Our City Council member Carlina Rivera says we can make the resiliency plan work for our community.
Ayo Harrington. Photo by Pat Arnow © 2019
Ayo Harrington led the East River Alliance meeting. After one area resident complained passionately about the unrealistic timeline and left shouting, Ayo calmly said, “He’s right.” Let us be clear, she said, “We don’t like the plan. We don’t accept the plan.”
East River Alliance member Amy Berkow (right) asked if there was any precedent for destroying every living thing in a park. The parks official said, “I don’t know.”

Other questions:

What about adopting a previous idea–decking over the FDR —that would provide green space and playgrounds and also provide flood protection while preserving the park? Decking is a possibility in a future phase. It is not in this plan.

What about phased closing (so parts of the park would remain open during construction)? “We know it’s important to you. We’re working on it,” said Springer. Later he clarified that the whole park would still be closed but that some sections may be opened as they are completed.

Is there any way to save the beautiful art deco buildings in the park? No. “We have the opportunity to have brand new buildings. These (current structures) were built in the 1930s,” and are outdated. The new buildings will be better.

How will the system deal with flooding in the East Village, which has major drainage issues? This question has been asked at four public meetings and has not been answered. It was not answered again, but answers are promised.

How much money is allocated to mitigation (other park facilities)? An answer is promised.

“Can you put yourself in the shoes of the 110,000 people who live here and won’t have green space or open air for our children for years?” asked a woman at her first meeting of the group. Amy Berkow added to the question with information about a study that shows that children who have green space grow up with fewer mental health problems that children who do not have open space. The more exposure to green space, the better the mental health of the kids. The officials responded with promises of long-term good.

—Pat Arnow

Photos © Pat Arnow 2019

 

Today’s Inspirational Project : BQ Green, Southside Williamsburg, New York

Design by DLANDstudio. https://dlandstudio.com/BQ-Green-Brooklyn-NY

BQGreen will create a “park out of thin air” by extending a concrete platform over a portion of the BQE expressway that runs below the street level in Williamsburg, Brooklyn between S. Third and S. Fifth Streets. BQGreen will integrate Marcy Green and Rodney Park, two existing parks which currently are adjacent to the expressway. The design for the new park calls for 3.5-acres of open space with a flower garden, a playground, a baseball diamond, barbecues, grassy and wooded areas, an indoor pool and a water play zon

With support and vision of City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, DLANDstudio is collaborating with NYCDOT and NYSDOT, NYCDPR and NYCDEP to pursue Federal HUD/DOT community development funding to make the vision a reality.

The project is currently ongoing. Learn more and support the Friends of BQ Green by visiting BQGreen.org.

Who We are

We are a Lower East Side/East Village volunteer group that formed organically when the city suddenly presented a plan in November 2018—without consulting anyone in our community—to close and demolish East River Park for at least three and a half years, and rebuild it eight feet higher for flood protection. 

We are working for a transparent, environmentally sound plan that meets the needs of our community. 

Join Us!