Since 2011 CIVITAS has organized an international ideas competition and museum exhibition as well as design workshops, lectures, and community service projects focused on visions for an improved East River Esplanade from 60th-125th Street. CIVITAS feels strongly that the East River waterfront could serve a major recreational and environmental need for East Harlem, the Upper East Side and New York City. “Superstorm Sandy”, the hurricane that devastated the East Coast on October 29, 2012 is a reminder that if we do not shape our waterfront edge, nature will continue to shape it for us.
As time goes on, the images of the FDR Drive underwater, flooding on First Avenue and destroyed communities across New York and New Jersey remain fresh. Also resonating are landscape architect Signe Nielsen’s prescient remarks at a June panel discussion for the exhibition: “ I think we’ve come to understand, and unfortunately we’ve learned this from other places in the country, that the more we hard edge our rivers, our channels and our shorelines, the more we are susceptible to catastrophic damage. And indeed, the softer the edge, the more resilient we are.” Indeed, this type of “soft edge” waterfront redesign is taking place across New York. Climate resilience and rising sea levels were explored conceptually in the CIVITAS competition and exhibition.
With recent maintenance problems with the Esplanade, a soon-to-be-completed engineering study evaluating its infrastructure and piers, and the community activism opposing the Marine Transfer Station, there is considerable attention being devoted to the Upper East Side and East Harlem community’s East River edge. Isn’t it time that we, as a community, develop a more comprehensive plan to prepare for future of our waterfront? Many of New York’s great—and recently opened—waterfront parks have their origins in the 1980s and 1990s. Such ambitious expensive projects take time. To prepare for the future needs of our Upper East Side and East Harlem community, the time is now.
CIVITAS reached out to architects, landscape architects, urban planners, students and artists to generate dramatic and original concepts for the east side’s waterfront park, jump-starting a process that aspires to the transformation of the entire East River pedestrian experience.
A well-integrated mosaic of new landscape, additional structure and alluring sculpture and lighting will help this prominent waterfront site achieve its potential as a vital and stimulating outdoor location, a favorite refuge for residents of all ages and a destination for tourists and visitors from all over the world.