Hundreds march in opposition of the East Side Coastal Resiliency project

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Marchers dance and sing their way to East Riverside Park.
Photo by Dean Moses

Hundreds march to “Save the East River Park.”

On April 18th, the East River Park Action group and local residents took to the streets in opposition of the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project which finally got underway this week.

The East River Park is a beloved community hub for many Lower East Side residents to jog through, play sports on, and enjoy fresh air at—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a cherished communal focal point, members of East River Park Action—a group of residents who stand in disagreement with the proposed ESCR—have been engaging in a battle for years, opposing the five-year construction that looks to pack the area with 8-10 feet of fill in hopes protecting against flooding due to climate change.

Hauling large banners, protesters made sure they could be seen and heard. Photo by Dean Moses

While federal and city officials alike say this is a plan to shield the region from damages akin to what was seen as a result of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, activists feel the park’s subsequent closure, lack of public transparency, and demolition of trees and land will not be worth the end product, which includes a slew of new amenities such as a pedestrian crossing bridge on Delancey Street and East 10th street.

After opposing the ESCR from keyboards and lawsuits, critics of the protection initiative are now taking their fury to the street. On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at Tomkins Square Park, many of whom wore “Save East Riverside Park” t-shirts and brandished signs calling for the immediate shutdown of work on the park. Here they set out on a trek from park to park, concluding at the East River Amphitheater. However, before the protest got underway, those attending gathered to hear speakers.

Those on the march yelled out in to save their park. Photo by Dean Moses

Emily Johnson is of the Yup’ik Nation, and is an avid water and land activist. She is a strong believer that climate justice is racial justice and is one of hundreds of Lower East Side residents against the ESCR project. She says that this plan is only a temporary fix that will destroy the trees in the East River Park and prevent individuals from freely accessing the open space.

“We demand the city stop the demolition of East River Park. We demand a comprehensive outside environmental review of their plan. We demand immediate interim flood control; we demand a truly resilient plan. This city, Mayor de Blasio, our Council Member Carlina Rivera, they want us to accept their environmentally racist plan,” Johnson said, adding, “The city wants us to accept a $1.5 billion plan that is only temporary, it is not resilient, destroys our park, and for years makes our community vulnerable.”

Children got in on the march. Photo by Dean Moses

A battalion of marchers who gave up their Sunday in order to have their voices heard, strode out of the Tompkins Square Park lugging hefty banners and signs stating, “Save East River Park.” Adults, children, and even pets walked through the streets to the Amphitheater where they ended with remarks from Manhattan Borough President candidate Lindsey Boylan, Mayoral candidate Art Chang, and more.  

The East River Park Action group is pushing for a moratorium on the ESCR, transparency and accountability in regards to this project and all construction efforts and is pushing to keep the park open during the pandemic.  In addition to creating a new flood control plan to preserve 57 acres of coastal parkland from East 25th Street to Montgomery Street, the organization also wants City Council Member Justin Brannan, chair of the Resiliency and Waterfronts Committee and member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, to hold a hearing investigating the ESCR Vale Engineering study.

Even dogs made the trek. Photo by Dean Moses

According to East River Park Action’s website, they state: “The study shows alternatives to the massive plan. It also appears that one reason the city chose to bury the park and build a giant levee was to avoid oversight by the state (called alienation) and having to provide adequate alternative park space during construction.”

UPDATE: In response to this rally, Council Member Carlina Rivera told amNewYork Metro Monday that she is in support of the ESCR project and believes that it will provide protection for the waterfront area. 

“Council Member Powers, Chin, and I are proud to support and see the City embark on this first-of-its-kind project that not only protects tens of thousands of NYCHA residents and our larger community from storms and sea level rise, but ensures permanent access to our cherished East River Park where I, as a Lower East Side resident, have so many memories. We will not let the protection that our public housing residents deserve and that has been denied to them for nearly a decade be allowed to be delayed any longer. Climate change is here, it’s sadly not going away, and resiliency projects are going to need to come to coastal communities across our nation. That’s why we need to have the courage to make these investments now, which will also come with a new reconstructed park atop the flood barrier and access to half the park throughout construction. But I come from a background in community organizing, and I will always keep an open door for honest conversation and work with advocates, the local advisory group we set up, and other officials to ensure this City does right by our neighborhoods during construction of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.

amNewYork Metro reached out to Council Member Justin Brannan for comment and is awaiting a response.

Protesters say they don’t want to see their trees torn down. Photo by Dean Moses