Does Anyone Actually Believe the East River Park Resiliency Project will Only Last 5 Years? [OP-ED]

Posted on: June 24th, 2020 at 5:09 am by

Photo: Amy Berkov

The following editorial was written by Lower East Sider, Barbara Katz Rothman.

How long was five years when you were a child?  From when you learned to walk until the end of kindergarten?  From the kid you were at three until the end of third grade? From that ten-year-old adorable kid in the photo sitting with your mother through to the teenager looking off at the back of the family photo at fifteen?

Five years is a long time in the life of a child.  It’s actually a long time for a lot of us – I’m in my 70s.  Chances are, five years is the rest of my life.

The so-called “resiliency plan” for the East River Park — that mile-and-a-half stretch of greenway with ballfields, playgrounds, picnic areas, benches, the river flowing along, the open sky across to Brooklyn — calls for a five-year closure, starting in September. Parts will remain open, but most of it will be closed at any given time while it is all destroyed, every tree cut down.  This will go on for five years.  And seriously, five years?  What was the last rip down/build anew construction plan in the city, let alone conducted by the city, that you saw accomplished “on time”? The last East River fix-up called for two years; in reality, it took three times that (2005 to 2011). So that five-year closure quoted: don’t bet your life, or your childhood or your old age, on seeing the completion of that plan on time either.

But memories of Hurricane Sandy, with the East River overflowing into the streets of the Lower East Side, are still fresh, and with climate change, something obviously needs to be done.  The people who are trying to stop this destroy-the-park-and-rebuild plan, the neighborhood activists and concerned citizens, the folks in the East River Action group, the people who have marched along the river and gathered to protest back in the BC days (Before Covid-19) – those folks aren’t ignoring the problem.  They aren’t objecting to planning with the city’s experts.  They want their homes protected from the next storms.

There was a plan. Known as the “Big U,” this flooding solution for the coastline took years to envision and formulate.

Photo: Susan Loeb

Somehow, superfast in city organizing times, that plan got dumped seemingly overnight. Millions wasted, and a more ambitious and expensive plan implemented – forget millions, $1.5 billion dollars!  Raze the park, kill the trees, a new park coming in sure, right five years.

The Lower East Side is a complicated neighborhood.  We’ve got the gentrification issues going on for quite a while now.  I live in Seward Park, part of the ‘affordable housing’ of the post WWII era, in which tenements were razed, people were thrown out of their homes, and new housing went up.  And stayed ‘affordable’ for a while – and then quickly privatized. Lots of the neighborhood is like that, privatized, expensive, and in the newer buildings going up, more ‘amenities,’ easy outdoor space, places for comfort.  But lots of the LES is not privatized – housing projects where those elevators don’t work quite the way they should, where outdoor space isn’t a lovely available amenity.

One of the sad things about public investment in public space in our country is that it’s localized.  I tried to explain to European friends about local funding for public schools and they didn’t understand – how could you spend less money on the kids that need more help?  Well, yeah, welcome to America.  And welcome to NY – richer neighborhoods are keeping parks open during resiliency upgrades. Battery Park isn’t going anywhere and that neighborhood flooded even worse.  Some thought was given to tearing down the Brooklyn Heights promenade – oops, nevermind, that stays.  But East River Park?

September. It goes in September. We may still be in partial lockdown from this virus; we may be entering a period of heavier lockdown with a second wave; who knows. The park, the space you can go to get some fresh air, to let kids run a bit loose without driving the downstairs neighbors crazy, you might have to walk a long way to find an open section.  Most of it will be closed for destruction.

But hey, what’s five years?

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