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OPINION: The park and the pandemic; Open space needed now more than ever

BY PAT ARNOW | East River Park is critical to our physical and mental health during this COVID-19 crisis, which is likely to last at least a year. As the city started shutting down indoor gathering places this weekend to slow the spread of infection, our riverfront park filled up.

“The park was the most used I have ever seen it other than for fireworks,” Lower East Sider Tommy Loeb reported. “It was full of walkers, runners, bikers and soccer players. Benches were full of people just enjoying being outdoors at a safe distance for social separation.”

With schools and playgrounds closed, the park will be even more well used.

Yet pile drivers, bulldozers and chain saws are scheduled to move in this fall to chew up 60 percent of our leafy green oasis and make the rest of this narrow park unbearably noisy and dirty. As the lung-choking COVID-19 spreads, we cannot afford a massive construction zone throwing dust into our air, further compromising our respiratory systems. We need our fresh air. We need our safe place to be outside.

Keeping 100 percent of the park open throughout the pandemic is essential.

Please tell  public officials to stop construction on this critical piece of our neighborhood’s health infrastructure through the pandemic.

Maintaining the park is also important because of loss of park space elsewhere in the neighborhood. In short, we don’t have enough park space.

Former City Council candidate Jasmin Sanchez noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) work has eliminated eight of the nine park/play spaces in the 18 buildings of the Baruch Houses, where she lives. One potential play area has just been turned into a parking lot.

Other New York City Housing Authority campuses are facing the same — play spaces closing, hundreds of trees cut down, fenced-off construction zones, noise, dust. Construction will continue through late 2021.

NYCHA housing “looks like a war zone,” Jasmin said. “We don’t have green space.”

These situations add urgency to our demands:

We insist that the city NOT proceed with the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan;

We insist on interim flood protection while the city’s team makes a better plan to protect the community from storm surges.

Obviously, we won’t be having public meetings or protests for awhile, but our alienation lawsuit continues with Advocates for Justice representing us pro bono. Our group, East River Park ACTION, has applied for nonprofit status.

Keep pressuring our elected officials to think of East River Park as an essential public health asset in this crisis.

Keep well everyone.

See you in the park — with at least six feet between us.

Arnow is a member, East River Park ACTION (, #SaveEastRiverPark)


  1. Linda Probus Linda Probus March 18, 2020

    Hopefully, the urgency and truth of your very realistic plea will be heeded – certainly demolition plans can be postponed. 6 months? a year? As a retired person living in a distant state familiar with your lovely park system, I would share my nearby open spaces, farm land – even my backyard if I could with your anxious neighborhood. No astroturf here. My heart is with all of you as the fight for protecting your cherished communal mental health landscape continues.

  2. Kathleen McGee Treat Kathleen McGee Treat March 18, 2020

    Barbara has said it all. No more need be written. It’s action that’s needed now….get out and plant!

  3. Barbara Caporale Barbara Caporale March 18, 2020

    Time to go back to the less invasive “Community Plan”.
    ERP Plants and trees are resilient and more lovely & hardy native species have been planted since SS Sandy. We need MORE of that. NOT a plan to rip it up.
    ERPark ABSORBS flood water..New techno BS and ASTROTURF plans do NOT.
    Trees are a natural breakwater.
    In these restrictive times YES Pat, we need our park/s more than ever. THIS park is our lungs.
    Go back to the BERM plan.
    As our leaders you need to listen to the community GPS….”ReCalculate, ReCalculate”

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