“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