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Far-off fake grass patches no substitute for East River Park, some say

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A bunch of astroturf mats and picnic tables on a pier two miles away could help compensate for the loss of East River Park’s 60 acres. That’s the pitch, at least, from City Hall.

Last week, the Parks Department announced the addition of some new turf rectangles and picnic tables at Waterside Pier, between E. 38th and 41st Streets.

The concrete-decked pier now features eight mats of artificial turf grass, most of them measuring around 20 feet by 60 feet, with one smaller rug of 20 feet by 20 feet. There are also seven picnic tables. In addition, some colorful geometric shapes have been stenciled around the pier deck in spots.

Gregory Thom, with his dog, Joy, were playing on a fake-grass patch at Waterside Pier on a recent night, but he said there’s no way it can compare with East River Park, which is “a real park.” Told East River Park was slated for demolition, he exclaimed, “That’s terrible!” (Photo by The Village Sun)

The Waterfront Pier amenities are part of a wider rollout of synthetic turf to compensate for the loss of East River Park — should the contentious East Side Coastal Resiliency project go forward — by providing alternative park recreational spaces. E.S.C.R. would impact East River Park for at least five years, with around half of the one-mile-long waterfront park closed for construction at any given time. Nearly 1,000 mature trees would be felled for the project.

This past Wednesday evening around 7 p.m. the Waterside Pier was being used pretty much the same way it always has been. People were jogging on it. A few people were relaxing on benches near the water. No one was using the new picnic tables. Admittedly, the sun had already set and it was dark out. The plastic-grass squares were empty, except for a man playing with his dog on one of them.

Gregory Thom, 33, who is studying biodeversity and genetics and lives a few blocks away in New York University Hospital housing, was playing fetch with his Shetland sheepdog, Joy. Told that the astroturf patches were meant to partially substitute for the loss of East River Park located 25 blocks to the south, he was stunned.

Sitting at this new picnic table atop synthetic turf, you can see the iconic Pepsi sign in Long Island City from Waterside Pier. The pier previously did already have some benches by the water’s edge. (Photo by The Village Sun)

He said Joy loves the real grass and earth underfoot at the East Village / Lower East Side riverfront park — and he does, too — and that astroturf simply cannot compare with the real thing. He had not been aware the Downtown park was slated for demolition.

“That’s terrible!” he said, laughing incredulously. “Usually we go there once or twice a week,” he said of East River Park.

East River Park, simply put, is the only large, real park — with real grass and trees — anywhere near them on the East Side, he said.

“If you compare this side to the West Side, there are no parks here,” he added. “Sometimes we walk to the West Side to enjoy the parks there — it’s so much nicer.”

A couple more people and their dogs joined Thom and Joy on the turf mat and the dogs started tussling with each other. Thom noted that, at some point, he’s expecting “No Dogs” signs to pop up on the turf mats. In other words, while the grass is artificial, something natural might be deposited there.

“I wouldn’t sit on those if I were you,” he warned.

A couple of the new picnic tables just sit atop painted squares instead of astroturf. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Tommy Loeb, a member of East River Park ACTION, a group fighting the E.S.C.R. project, scoffed of the Waterside Pier’s new turf mats and tables, “Check out what Carlina calls mitigation for East River Park. They have chutzpah to call this design. By who? Looks like about $100 at Home Depot.”

He was referring to Councilmember Carlina Rivera, a steadfast supporter of the resiliency project.

In addition to Waterside Pier, a lot more synthetic turf has been laid down on this side of town. On Oct. 1, Parks announced that it has installed three new fake-grass fields at East Side parks, converting asphalt play areas into new spots for passive and active recreation at St. Vartan Park, at 36th Street and Second Avenue; Robert Moses Playground, at 41st Street and First Avenue; and Peter’s Field, at 20th Street and Second Avenue.

In addition, artificial-turf fields have been installed on the Lower East Side at Tanahey Playground, at Cherry Street and Catherine Slip; and Little Flower Playground, at Madison and Jefferson Streets.

About eight astroturf mats and seven picnic tables have been added to the concete-top pier in Midtown East, two miles north of East River Park. (Photo by The Village Sun)

A Parks press release stated, “These renovations are part of the agency’s open space mitigations responsive to the community’s need for supplemental recreational resources during the East Side Coastal Resiliency project — a $1.5 billion park improvement project that will save lives and provide much-needed flood protection for more than 100,000 New Yorkers in the area.”

“These turf fields are a win for the community!” Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff said. “We’re happy to see that the new green spaces at St. Vartan Park, Robert Moses Playground and Peter’s Field are already well used by parkgoers looking to play baseball or soccer, exercise or just enjoy some time outside. These projects build on our commitment to making sure surrounding neighborhoods have access to recreation and open space while we work to provide lifesaving flood protection through the E.S.C.R. project.”

Along with the turf and picnic tables, small signs have been added along the Waterside Pier’s fence, saying, “Wish You Were Here,” in half-a-dozen languages. The art project was inspired by the nearby United Nations. This sign was already broken. (The Village Sun)

Councilmember Rivera backs the resiliency plan as essential despite staunch resistance to the park-destroying scheme from a vocal opposition, including the groups East River Park ACTION and 1,000 Trees 1,000 People. A lawsuit to stop E.S.C.R. is also on appeal.

“Since we embarked on East Side Coastal Resiliency, we have welcomed suggestions from the community on enhancing access at other open spaces during this essential project,” Rivera said. “Ensuring impacted residents have alternative sites available for recreation throughout the project’s duration was of the utmost importance. I am grateful to the Parks Department for their swift work in bringing improvements and new amenities to our beloved open spaces. The new turf fields at Peter’s Field in Council District 2, as well as St. Vartan’s Park and Robert Moses Playground, are emblematic of the city’s ongoing efforts to deliver long-lasting, positive impact to our community as we continue to work toward climate resiliency.”

A map of the fields and other recreational resources in the neighborhoods surrounding the E.S.C.R. project area can be found on the Parks Department’s Web site.

7 Comments

  1. Mike Schweinsburg Mike Schweinsburg October 31, 2021

    Gregory Thom, let me save you a lot of time. If as you say, you came regularly to East River Park, you only need to go a couple of blocks further to come upon one of the great gems of parkland — Tompkins Square Park — far, far “nicer” in my view then parks on the West Side. Or if you’re simply seeking to commune with nature in a beautiful setting, visit any of our many, many Community Gardens. We’re happy to enjoy a lot of greenery here on the East Side, particularly the Lower East Side. Stay on the East Side. Thank you, kindly

    • lynn pacifico lynn pacifico November 4, 2021

      Downtown has the least amount of natural areas compared to any other districts in the city, so I do not know what you are talking about when you say, “We’re happy to enjoy a lot of greenery here on the East Side, particularly the Lower East Side.” In a dense area, not having enough parks squeezes everyone together, which was evident during the lockdown. This is even more critical if you have children and/or a dog. Gardens/grass/trees are priceless on a hot summer day, which is one reason people are still fighting for the Elizebeth St Garden, but there are not nearly enough parks for the ever-increasing residential contruction. The profit-over-people ethic is on full display from the public servants who continue to betray us.

  2. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street October 31, 2021

    Carlina, surely you jest. You are grateful “to the Parks Department for their swift work in bringing improvements and new amenities to our beloved public spaces”?????? Astroturf? Improvements? Yes I guess they are indeed emblematic of the city’s ongoing efforts. Welcome to your new plastic world, folks.

  3. ------m ------m October 31, 2021

    why does this astroturf rollout remind me of the “let them eat cake” situation of the past?!
    best it have the same result!!!

  4. lynn pacifico lynn pacifico November 1, 2021

    We have forgotten that we are a part of nature and so we suffer as do our children and pets with Nature Deficit Disorder, an actual disorder which presents with the same symptoms as depression and attention deficit. We are not meant to live on plastic grass, which cuts us off from the earth’s life-giving energy. If you have a child on the spectrum or anyone suffering from autoimmune problems, lie/play on the grass, in the dirt — GET DIRTY! This cannot happen on plastic.

    Plastic grass as a substitute for natural grass would be a joke if it wasn’t so sad. Does the NY Parks Department really think that they are making parks with plastic!?! This is crucial Downtown where we have so few natural areas — to the detriment of those who actually live here. A few minutes in nature can aid the immune system to reduce anxiety and even pain but this does not happen on plastic, quite the opposite.

    Instead of being deadened by playing on energy-insulating turf fields, we could be fed by the earth’s vital life force simply by using more natural surfaces. Connecting to the earth’s vital life force allows us to live more healthy, vital lives.

    “But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” — Rachel Carson

  5. Johanna Schwarzbeck Johanna Schwarzbeck November 2, 2021

    Such utter nonsense, to put down synthetic grass to mitigate the situation. It is in no way any help to have plastic benches and grass to enjoy the fake outdoors. Bill de Blasio and Carlina Rivera, you go ahead and enjoy that picnic.

  6. Ole lady voter Ole lady voter November 6, 2021

    Does this astroturf absorb water, or will it create more flooded pools of standing water, creating mosquito breeding motels in warm weather?
    Carlina and Co. seem to be ignorant of the fact that deaths and floods from Ida were caused by heavy rain, not coastal waters.

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