BY HARRIET HIRSHORN | Not only is the East Side Coastal Resiliency project NOT on hold, but timelines have been pushed up.
Last month, we heard from Susan Stetzer, district manager Community Board 3 that the start date for the “early package for E.S.C.R.” was changed from Aug. 31 to July 6.
(However, Arthur Schwartz, the attorney on our community lawsuit to block the project, says a city attorney assured him that no construction work would start until September.)
I write from a personal point of view to let you know how shocked I am that New York City still plans to close parts of East River Park for demolition/flood control/reconstruction this fall. This park is already resilient, and we, having been through Sept. 11, Superstorm Sandy and now COVID 19, are resilient.
This park plays a huge role in both our community’s social/emotional resilience and physical resilience to environmental challenges. But the East Side Coastal “Resiliency” plan, which requires bulldozing and digging up 60 acres of parkland, including 1,000 trees and every shrub and blade of grass within it, does not fall into this citizen’s definition of resilience.
I have lost neighbors and friends to the COVID 19 virus and, as an elderly vulnerable person who regularly uses this park for my physical and mental health, I feel that the park has saved me during the time of COVID. It is one of the few places I actually feel safe, walking beneath old shade trees, wearing my mask and seeing so many other individuals and families feeling/acting the same way I do after weeks of confinement.
Our neighborhoods — the Lower East Side and Chinatown — have been designated as “Environmental Justice” neighborhoods, which specifically mandates that low-income, minority and other vulnerable groups are engaged and included.
Yet, for the most part, we have not been engaged and included. The decision to demolish the park — changing the plan from the original Big U design (in which some of us WERE engaged and included) — was made behind closed doors. A charade of community engagement then commenced through a ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process in which our voices were ignored. We testified tirelessly to no avail.
Today, those who I encounter in East River Park have assumed that the plan to destroy the park has been “paused.” There has been no communication with the community to dispel this belief. However, despite COVID-19 and the community’s desperate need for this park right now, the city is still bent on moving ahead with the project.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued guidance that in Environmental Justice neighborhoods, ongoing actions should include printed informational guidance delivered to the home of every impacted resident — yet this has not happened.
Indeed, we remain truly in the dark about this project to destroy the park, and we have never been given any information on how this destructive plan will impact our health, in particular, those of us who already have COPD or asthma.
Digging up fill underneath a large municipal park that may contain contaminants that could affect our lungs, cardiopulmonary and nervous systems, while we are all still in a public health emergency and trying to manage our COVID-19 issues does not seem rational at all.
In fact, this is why we didn’t realize that this plan was going ahead as scheduled until very recently. In May, Lorraine Grillo, commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, said there would be a “shovel in the ground” by fall 2020, according to Izzie Ramirez in a piece on the E.S.C.R. in Pavement Pieces.
Further adding to our vulnerability is the news that we are approaching a very active hurricane season, with minimal flood protection EXCEPT FOR THIS PARK, which during Superstorm Sandy absorbed around 250,000 gallons of water. Potentially thousands of residents could be asked to evacuate and go to shelters — only, this time, COVID-19 will still be here, or will have come back as a second wave. I personally will be terrified to evacuate and go somewhere where I certainly will not be able to maintain a social distance.
Before COVID-19, this plan did not seem ethically or environmentally like the best option.
Post-COVID, it seems akin to murder.
Hirshorn is a member, East River Park ACTION.