Fenced in no more, East Siders take to the river


By Olga Mantilla

Fences along South St. that once limited access to the East River in the Lower East Side and Chinatown were taken down last week in the first step of a waterfront renovation plan that intends to link the communities of the area to the river and ultimately each other.

While locals are welcoming the removal of the fences under the F.D.R. Drive, Downtown residents were more enthused when told about the $150-million plan to revitalize the two-mile stretch from the Battery to the southern edge of East River Park.

“Before they removed the fence, [my husband and I] would simply walk around to get [to the river’s edge],” said Lower East Side resident Sabina Lorenzo, while enjoying the expansive view of the river alongside her husband, a World War II veteran. “They should make this place a place for people to bring their children.” “This is one of the short-term changes that [the city] promised to do, and they did it sooner than we’d thought,” Victor Papa, president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, said of the fence removal. “Now that the barriers are away, at least people can get to the river before long-term renovations start.”

Papa said his group and others began asking the city to take the fences down about five years ago and was pleased it was done so soon after the new plan was approved.

“Aesthetically, it looks nicer,” Papa said in a telephone interview. “It makes the community feel that the waterfront is part of their community.”

He said fences in front of Alfred E. Smith Houses were still standing but he hoped they would be removed soon.

The East River waterfront project is funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and was developed by the City Planning Dept. and the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The plan includes converting piers to parks and open spaces, building retail and community spaces under the F.D.R., installing sound mufflers and better lighting under the elevated roadway, and improving the bikeway-walkway.

Most Lower East Side and Chinatown residents interviewed did not know about the plans but were happy to hear about them.

“It wasn’t like this 20 years ago. It wasn’t an attraction,” said Lower East Side resident Kevin Lee, watching the fishermen and tourists from his bench on the riverfront last Thursday afternoon. “The changes will be good for the community. It’ll bring people together, hopefully,” said Lee of the riverfront plans.

“[Walking along the river] is very relaxing,” Simone Knox, a Brooklyn resident said of her daily walk to work across the promenade. “You see a lot of people exercising, guys fishing. It’s just a comfortable place for people in area.”

Amanda Burden, City Planning director, promised the continued improvement of the East River waterfront in an e-mail to Downtown Express. “We are thrilled that the fences along South Street are being removed,” she wrote. “We look forward to many more improvements like those proposed in our East River Waterfront Plan which will improve to an even greater degree the accessibility, usability and beauty of this spectacular Lower Manhattan waterfront.”

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