NYC Residents Protest City's Plan to Level East River Park

protestors rallied and held a mock funeral in a bid to prevent New York City from burying the East River Park as part of a flood-control plan that would see the park close down for three years.

More than 300 demonstrators marched from Tompkins Square Park to protest the city’s plan to temporarily destroy the beloved Manhattan park. The city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project proposes covering the 57-acre park, located just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, with up to 10 feet of dirt to create a barrier against rising water.

“Turning the entire park into a construction zone for at least three and a half years will be a disaster for the neighborhood,” Pat Arnow, a local organizer, said in a statement to The North Star before the protest.

The protest was organized by East River Park ACTION, which demanded a “resilient plan that will preserve most of the park with its 1,000 mature trees and habitat for flora and fauna — including people and dogs.”

A noontime march on September 21 included a mock “interment” of the city’s proposal during which protesters covered the plan in compost. The fake burial included a cardboard gravestone, mournful music by a bagpiper, and last rites by a “Reverend Billy,” The New York Post reported.

Marchers also visited the office of City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, whose district includes the park. Protesters reportedly sang, “Carlina, you’re breaking our hearts, don’t bury the park (baby),” to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.”

“We tried to convey to city officials our opposition, our disappointment,” protestor Howard Brandstein, executive director of the Sixth Street Community Center, told The New York Post. “We thought maybe with the death of the plan, we can connect with them emotionally.”

Local organizers accused New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of touting his support for the New Green Deal legislation, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city, while “also pushing the environmentally destructive plan for the largest park in Lower Manhattan that serves a densely populated low-and-middle income neighborhood.”

The original, community-approved project had a $760 million price tag and called for keeping portions of the park open during construction. The original project proposed using an approach that added greenery to the park as a means to mitigate flood risks naturally, New York University (NYU) student newspaper, the Washington Square News, reported That project was initially approved by city officials, who later did an about-face and released a new budget and agenda in January.

The city’s project, which was approved by the City Planning Commission on September 23, will reportedly cost the city $1.45 billion, according to Washington Square News. If approved, the proposal by the Department of Design and Construction would take three-and-a-half years and start in the spring of 2020.

The proposal will close down the park to remove approximately 1,000 trees and gut recently upgraded park features, including a new track and soccer field. New York City claimed the ESCR “will strengthen 2.4 miles of urban coastline against floods and rising sea levels, while providing social and environmental benefits to the community the other 99 percent of the time.”

East River Park ACTION has called on residents to continue pressuring city officials for a better plan. The local organization urged residents to attend City Council hearings before the proposal is approved by council members. The City Council is expected to vote for the project this fall, The New York Post reported.

“We have to keep our energy up to go to the hearings and protest loudly and let our city officials know that it is not acceptable to kill our park,” a new call to action said. “As we said so loudly at our demonstration, Bury the Plan, Not the Park!”

Arnow told The North Star that the organization is refining the petition used at the march and rally and launching a petition by September 24.

The city claims the project will be completed sooner than the other flood mitigation proposal. It also promised to rebuild the park’s recreation fields and buildings, as well as plant 2,800 new trees in the park and neighborhood.

“The 110,000 people living directly in the flood path cannot afford to wait,” Jainey Bavishi, director of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, told The New York Post.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.