Elected Officials Ignore Mom’s Plea to Stop the City from Destroying East River Park [OP-ED]

Posted on: April 22nd, 2021 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Tommy Loeb

The following editorial was written by Kirsten Theodos, an East Village resident.

There is a crisis right now in New York City. The limited green space we have is under attack, and even a global climate crisis and pandemic won’t stop the City from destroying it. I live near East River Park, the only meaningful green space on the Lower East Side, a vital park thronging with people seeking fresh air, both day and night.

Yet, the City is set to demolish it very soon.

After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the Lower East Side community engaged in meetings with the City to develop a plan to protect more than mile of coastal parkland at East River Park. Four years of work led to a mutually agreeable plan that would receive $338M in federal funding. Then, in 2018, the de Blasio administration bizarrely scrapped the plan for the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) that almost doubled the cost and requires the entire 57-acre park to be razed – with no interim flood protection – and buried under eight feet of infill. The Mayor justified this new endeavor based on the findings of a “Value Engineering Study,” but wouldn’t let the public see it. After years of denying the Study’s existence, the City finally responded to FOILs and released it, yet barely readable because it was heavily redacted.

After the tenacious work of East River Park Action (ERPA), the City reluctantly released more information. However, the sections related to who conducted the study and the project “Alternatives” still remained redacted. Were these “Alternatives” better? And why hide the names of the consultants; what are they afraid of? The consultants were paid with tax dollars and we are entitled to know who they are.

May 2019, Photo: Elena Robledo

Meanwhile, the City already stopped issuing use permits for the ball fields and the track – that the City spent $3M renovating – which will be demolished very soon…during a pandemic. It is absolutely UNCONSCIONABLE for the City to destroy public parkland and recreational green space just when we need it most. Everyone has been cooped up in our apartments for the past year, and now just as Spring is arriving, the City is going to destroy our park based on a Study they will not let us see in its entirety. As a Mom who is worried about where her kids are going to play, I wrote to my Council Member (Carlina Rivera), my Borough President (Gale Brewer) and Chairman of Committee on Resiliency & Waterfronts (Justin Brannan), asking them to call for an immediate stop to the destruction of East River Park until the City provides transparency and holds an emergency oversight hearing. There is ample time to do so, we just need our elected officials to exert the political will necessary to make it happen.

Unfortunately, not only do our elected officials lack the drive to save the only green space for the working class neighborhood East River Park serves, they ignored all of my inquiries and questions. It’s a sad day for democracy when our elected officials ignore a mom’s plea for help to stop the City from demolishing public parkland during a pandemic. The City’s limited green space is essential to our psychological, emotional, and physical health and must be protected.

On this Earth Day, as politicians grandstand about saving the planet, remember they are complicit in the destruction of East River Park.

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