An Open Letter to Scott Stringer: Save East River Park
The following open letter was penned by Lower East Sider Kim Sillen.
Dear Comptroller Stringer,
Ten years ago, you were a terrific advocate for the Grand Street neighborhood on the Lower East Side, when you helped Friends of Gulick Park secure funding for the renovation of this small park that lies at the intersection of many diverse communities. The refurbished park is now a jewel, and enhances the quality of life for so many. With quality of life in mind, I now appeal to you about a much larger issue with exponentially graver repercussions for many more people: East River Park and the East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan (ESCR).
You demonstrated that you care about environmental justice by embracing the Green New Deal as part of your mayoral platform. I believe you also care about racial equity because you audited NYCHA’s unsafe playgrounds and created the State of Play report, which focused not only on safety but also on opportunity and dignity, to ensure all children have access to play spaces as new and nice as those in wealthier neighborhoods. You provided hundreds of safe, eye-catching playscapes for New York City’s underserved children when it seemed that no one else in City government was terribly concerned about playgrounds for poor kids. As a mother, this spoke volumes to me.
Your term as Comptroller is coming to an end, and you have another chance to make a huge impact by righting an impending wrong of environmental injustice that will harm children and their families on the Lower East Side, including thousands of NYCHA residents, for generations. I urge you not to approve the disastrous IPC Resiliency Partners (IPC) contract for the ESCR project at East River Park. The project is now several hundred million dollars over budget before construction even begins. And since material and construction costs have skyrocketed as much as three times what they were pre-COVID, what was billed as a $1.45 billion project might now cost upwards of $2 billion.
What does that $2 billion buy? By destroying one thousand healthy, mature trees and dumping a million tons of fill on the park (heaving dirt and toxic particulates into the air), it buys a textbook case of environmental racism against our NYCHA neighbors who live adjacent to the park and who already suffer from greater asthma rates than the rest of the city. Comptroller Stringer, do you want your reputation attached to this escalation of New York City’s environmental crisis?
Would you want your own kids to grow up around unfathomable quantities of toxic dust? I know you envision a city where kids are not forced to live and play in a heat-island devoid of shade trees. In other cities, conditions like these are leading to higher mortality rates in poorer neighborhoods among people of color. The ESCR will make this grim disparity a reality right here in New York City.
I know you cannot make policy, but you can refuse to sign this boondoggle contract in your possession. You must know the budget for the plan is a work of fiction at $1.45 billion and should not even be entertained, as the city is in a financial crisis. We cannot morally afford to imperil the health and well-being of an entire community so the de Blasio Administration can push through a poorly conceived plan with no local input, which was thrust onto the neighborhood as a fait accompli. Additionally, we are waking up to the reality that Covid-19 is not going away, and Lower East Siders desperately need East River Park for both their mental and physical health.
Please be an advocate for the Lower East Side once again. We need sensible flood protection without adding to the dual problems of climate change and environmental inequity. As Attorney General Letitia James commented in her response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the ESCR, “the project will disproportionately impact minority and low-income people, and the City’s repeated conclusion to the contrary is incorrect.”
Comptroller Stringer, you have the ability to level the field.
Please, stand on the right side of history by rejecting this contract and save East River Park for the ethnically diverse neighborhood it serves, and for all the other New Yorkers who use it.