East River Ruckus

East River Ruckus

A coalition of community groups released a proposal on October 17 that calls on the city to rework part of its plan for Manhattan’s southeastern waterfront, a portion of which is being designed by SHoP Architects for the city’s Economic Development Corporation.


The group, calling itself OUR (Organizing and Uniting Residents) Waterfront, unites nine other member groups whose concerns range from the Two Bridges housing complex to the entire city. The organization claims to have collected 800 surveys continued on page between July and November 2008 and hosted three visioning sessions with 150 participants. The Hester Street Collaborative guided the group through design workshops, and the Pratt Center for Community and Economic Development analyzed the economics of the proposal that these workshops produced.

At a sparsely attended rally, OUR Waterfront leaders explained that a majority of neighbors in public sessions had called for free open space and venues for sports, and that many were worried about the East River waterfront offering instead more bars and restaurants.

The proposal argues that the city’s plan to develop piers 35, 36, and 42 on the stretch of East River waterfront north of the Manhattan Bridge shortchanges a neighborhood where nearly 85 percent of residents live in rent-regulated buildings. In fact, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has targeted the corner of South Street and the FDR Drive for a 55,000-square-foot home to Basketball City, the private concern for up-market leagues and special events.

The coalition proposes three alternatives, including a $55 million scheme with public courts, a floating pool, open space, and a community center. Anne Frederick of the Hester Street Collaborative said the most realistic course entails some private use by Basketball City or another vendor.

At the presentation, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez huddled with organizers before the event to promise “some money” toward the project cost and spoke forcefully about its rationale. “On the West Side, nobody would tell the community: You can have a nice park but it has to be self-sustaining,” the congresswoman said. She proposed a meeting among “public officials, the community, and the EDC” to tweak the plans.

The coalition’s preferred plan would demolish all buildings and establish a range of recreation options, including a filtered “river pool” and ramps for putting in kayaks. A recreation center would host leagues, children’s supervised play, and games popular with older Chinatown residents.

As the presentation showed, the city’s promise of $138 million in funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has wavered since it released a plan in 2005: Pier 42 has no budget, the Pier 36 home for a gym needs structural repair, and Pier 35 has funds to create a “green wall” obscuring the maintenance shed that Basketball City would replace.

Basketball City’s representatives did not speak at the meeting, but the organization knows local politics, having discovered the East River spot after losing a perch on the Hudson River in the development of Chelsea Piers. It won the new site as part of the settlement of an unrelated lawsuit after answering a city request for proposals in 1996. Negotiations with the city will continue this month.

A version of this article appeared in AN 18_11.04.2009.