East Village Marches in Protest of Plan to Bury East River Park

Residents of the East Village came to defend their park from being destroyed (and then somewhat rebuilt) in a flood-prevention plan set to begin in six months.

The East River State Park is planned to be torn down and rebuilt starting in 2020. (via Brooklyn Magazine)

East Village residents protested Saturday against the city’s proposed burying of East River Park as part of a flood-control plan that would close the park for three years before partially rebuilding it.

The 57-acre park, just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, is a hub of community activity in the East Village. Recently, the city spent $2.8 million on a new soccer field and resurfaced running track for the park. In six months, however, trees may be bulldozed and fields could be replaced by eight feet of dirt and cement as part of the East Village Resiliency Project. The project — which will be approved or disapproved by city councilmembers on Monday — will cost the city $1.45 billion to prepare the neighborhood for future flooding.

Critics of the plan say that residents’ input was not taken into account and that it would deprive the area of much-needed green space.

“It’s unthinkable to me that the kids today are not going to have anywhere to go,” East Village resident Rachel Bernstein told WSN. “We need to have access to a place where we can relax, where we can enjoy nature and have some peace.”

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In comparison to the new billion-dollar plan, a community-approved project that cost $760 million and involved keeping portions of the park open during construction was initially accepted by officials. However, the city came back with a new blueprint, budget and agenda in January — none of which were approved by East Village residents. A community group formed to voice locals’ issues with the new plan. East River Park ACTION group met with locals in Tompkins Square Park on Saturday to make one final stand against the city’s plan before it goes to a vote.

“I feel like we’re flushing $600 million down the toilet, and why?” Medical Assistant at the NYU Student Health Center and East River Park advocate Jorge Horan said. “I don’t understand why we’re spending $1.4 billion when we had a plan much cheaper.”

The original, community-developed plan involved the use of increased greenery as a natural way of mitigating flood risks. This would play a role in improving the air quality of a neighborhood already troubled with high rates of asthma, according to a study by the New York City Childhood Asthma Initiative, which has made the upcoming construction a greater concern for many residents.

“Living on the Lower East Side, where there’s more and more traffic, we’re getting more and more kids with asthma,” Bernstein said. “We need trees more than ever to help us breathe.”

Protestors marched past the office of Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, in an attempt to gain her support, chanting “Whose park? Our park!” and singing her name to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” Although turnout and energy were high, some attendees were less confident in their ability to sway the councilmember’s vote.

McBain was one of many East Village residents who came out to support their waterfront park despite its uncertain future.

“Honestly, the city’s going to do what the city’s going to do,” CAS senior Liam McBain said. “They’re not really in the business of listening to people.”

Despite knowing the challenges ahead of them, the people of the East Village certainly showed their support for this waterfront park. Singers, artists, musicians, soccer players, concerned parents and others crossed an FDR Drive footbridge to oppose the city’s plan, with some cars honking and rolling down their windows to yell “Bury the plan, not the park,” with them.

An entire community rallied behind the 57-acre respite from city life, hoping that their songs and drums would keep the bulldozers away and the trees standing tall.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 23, 2019 print edition. Email Miliana Bocher at [email protected]

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