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Opinion: East River Park demolition is a failure of city officials

BY PAT ARNOW | Meet at the amphitheater at 6:30 a.m. Monday to celebrate the life of East River Park and protest the imminent demise of our friend and protector.

The city plans to start chopping down the healthy magnificent 82-year-old oaks along with everything else in the park. The trees will be chipped into oblivion. Their roots will be grubbed out. These trees survived Hurricane Sandy. They will not survive New York City’s malevolent East Side Coastal Resiliency project.

Ever since the park’s complete destruction was announced in the fall of 2018, thousands of people, mostly from our Lower East Side and East Village, have earnestly and fervently been civically engaged to gain a flood plan that would retain and improve our park. We had good evidence that better, more truly resilient plans were possible that would gain us the same flood control. We uncovered more good evidence after many Freedom of Information requests and appeals.

It did not matter. No amount of reason and hearty civic engagement could move city officials. None of our testimonies, petitions, protests, e-mails and phone calls mattered. The politicians and city agencies were determined to push this fatally flawed plan down our throats and were just annoyed when we loudly choked.

The entire existing East River Park will be bulldozed and deforested under the city’s plan, which has the staunch support of the area’s local city councilmembers. (Photo by Pat Arnow / East River Park ACTION)

When this project runs over budget and takes years longer than scheduled, when we flood from a big rainfall or a storm during the years of construction because the city refused to provide any interim flood-protection measures, when the loss of trees and addition of a million tons of fill fouls our already compromised air and causes even more upper respiratory diseases than the high rates we already suffer, when promised alternative park spaces are so inadequate that living in our neighborhood becomes hazardous and ugly with no refuge, when the giant levee proves inadequate against storm surges within a generation from now, when climate change unleashes greater and greater fury on us, in part because of this massive resource-intensive, biodiversity-destroying environmental disaster foisted upon us, it will give us no satisfaction to say, I told you so.

City officials, you can suck through paper straws and recycle your paper and plastic to do your minuscule part to fend off climate change, but that won’t mean a thing against the loss of 1,000 trees that cool and cleanse our air. You have unleashed environmental destruction on our neighborhood and our planet. You are responsible, Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers, Margaret Chin, Gale Brewer, the entire City Council who voted for this miserable plan (except Inez Barron), the honchos at the Department of Design and Construction, the Department of Transportation, Con Ed and, of course, Bill de Blasio. East River Park will haunt you.

Under the coastal-resiliency plan, all of the East River Park’s nearly 1,000 mature trees will be cut down, an act the writer condemns as an unprecedented environmental disaster. (Photo by Pat Arnow / East River Park ACTION)

We who tried to protect our wonderful park from a stupid plan will gather to honor this great park Monday at dawn. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this fight and for all you have done for three years. You are not alone. Keep fighting.

See you in the park.

Arnow is co-founder, East River Park ACTION, a nonprofit devoted to “truly resilient flood control” for East River Park. 


  1. AF AF December 7, 2021

    Pat –
    Thank you for what you did. Even if we lost this one, I think it may be an important contribution to a larger fight we will win eventually. We all know that a car-free, green Manhattan is the inevitable future. It’s important to record those names, like you are doing, for the time when they’ll be trying to falsify their records.
    The new plan to build a park over the Cross Bronx Expressway gaining support now could let this current ESCR plan look out of date very soon.
    What a privilege it is to have people like you in our neighborhood!

  2. KT KT December 6, 2021

    Well said, Pat Arnow. What is happening at East River Park is criminal, both politically and environmentally. Government has failed us once again.

    • Miriam Miriam December 6, 2021

      Such an eloquent opinion piece. You are speaking the truth. It’s just that no one who can do anything is listening or just doesn’t care. People always regret that the city was allowed to destroy the wonderful original Penn Station and they said they would never allow something like that to happen again. But cutting down 1,000 mature trees and destroying gardens and a 50-acre park is somehow OK. That’s insane.

  3. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street December 5, 2021

    So much for vox populi. Deaf politicians have turned their backs on their constituents. Forget that the underserved will have no place to go in the hot summer days for years and years, forget that planting new saplings will take 80-plus years to replace the destroyed trees, forget that all the water from Hurricane Sandy was absorbed by the trees and there was no destruction to the park’s flora and fauna, forget there was an original plan that costs one quarter of the new plan and would not destroy the current park. Hang your heads in shame, Mayor de Blasio, Margaret Chin, Gale Brewer, Carlina Rivera and the entire City Council. I hope it rains on every single day of your vacations for the next ten years.

  4. Wendy Wendy December 5, 2021

    Today, FEMA-funded repairs and resiliency improvements at riverside NYCHA complexes are nearing completion, easing fears of displacement. Made even more vulnerable to auto and construction emissions and without access to the greenway and healthy riverside recreation, is the well-being of any local resident really protected by E.S.C.R.? Prioritizing drivers and ferry users over protecting public health and climate health is disrespectful, deceitful and dangerous.

  5. Virginia Virginia December 5, 2021

    Trees and parks are so precious in a big, loud, exhaust-filled city. And we learn more every year about how crucial they are in offsetting climate change. How heartbreakingly shortsighted to tear down a park in this day and age. Especially for an expensive boondoggle of a plan that won’t even protect the neighborhood in a few decades.

  6. Patricia Melvin Patricia Melvin December 5, 2021

    This is so so sad. It’s horribly reminiscent of Vornado’s destruction, already underway, of the many magnificent historic buildings in the neighborhood all around the ugliest of uglies Madison Sq Garden/Penn Station project.

  7. Lucy Lucy December 5, 2021

    Masterfully said, Pat Arnow! It is beyond pathetic what city agencies and representatives have allowed to happen to one of the great resources for the people of the Lower East Side and for all of New York City. No one has stepped forward to give explanations as to how this plan reduces the consequences of climate change, sea level rise and increased rainfall or how it impacts the city’s failed sewer infrastructure. As those who remain unaware of this Machiavellian design watch as 1,000 trees are felled and every living plant, insect and animal disappear from the park, they will wonder how they missed knowing about this disaster and wonder where are the people who are supposed to represent and protect them.

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