Photographs by Nathan Kensinger

New York City: Inside the controversial plan to remake the East River waterfront

NYC will remake the East River waterfront to fight climate change. It may not be enough

“Other people can go to the Hamptons; we go to East River Park.”

All along the coast of New York City, hard decisions are being made about how to address the inevitability of sea level rise. An enormous sea wall is rising in Staten Island, massive storm surge gates are being planned for New York Harbor, and the lower tip of Manhattan may soon be extended 500 feet out into the East River to blunt the impacts of tidal flooding.

But before that happens, the New York City Council will vote on a major plan to protect a portion of the coastline: the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR), a $1.45 billion proposal that has been many years in the making. The ESCR project would build a system of barriers along a narrow 2.4-mile strip of waterfront between the FDR Drive and the East River, stretching from Montgomery Street up to East 25th Street. It will, in theory, protect the residents of the Lower East Side, East Village, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village from a 100-year flood event and from 30 inches of sea level rise.

The city’s preferred resiliency plan, which is expected to be voted on by the end of the month, has been met with outrage by community members, who were working toward a much different vision for their waterfront. If the latest version of the project is approved, it would dramatically alter East River Park and Stuyvesant Cove Park by demolishing millions of dollars of new park amenities, shuttering sections of both over several years to accommodate construction, bulldozing almost 1,000 trees, and burying the coast underneath eight feet of landfill.

“As soon as I heard about the new plan, which was about a year ago, it was horrifying,” says Pat Arnow, a neighborhood resident who started the group East River Park ACTION to protest the plan. “Every tree and every thing would be destroyed. It was devastating.”

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