This key CIVITAS initiative grew from recognition of the deteriorated condition of the East River Esplanade from 60th – 125th Streets and the documented lack of high-quality park space in the eastern areas of our community. Superstorm Sandy was a reminder that if we do not shape our waterfront edge, nature will continue to shape it for us. While attention is on our waterfronts, we aim to make sure that the Esplanade is made into a truly great park that is an inviting destination, as well as more ecologically resilient. In its current condition and with its limited access, the waterfront represents a real missed opportunity as a recreational resource.

In 2012, CIVITAS organized an international ideas competition to inspire innovative thinking about our waterfront. We sponsored an exhibition of the winning entries at the Museum of the City of New York, exposing the projects to thousands of visitors. In the past year, CIVITAS has continued to display the beautiful designs and thought-provoking concepts at local community facilities to draw attention to the initiative and elicit feedback as to what changes neighbors would like to see on the Esplanade. In 2013, the exhibition was displayed at the Lenox Hill Community House, and is currently on show at City Swiggers store on East 86th Street. We have held community events and attended meetings relevant to the Esplanade on a regular basis.

In 2014, CIVITAS successfully applied for a grant from the New York Community Trust towards waterfront planning and advocacy. For Phase 2 of the initiative, we selected Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects to develop a study analyzing the Esplanade’s existing conditions and further share information from the site and feasibility analysis with the community through a public outreach program. Listening sessions that focused on opportunities, constraints and risk assessment established community priorities for what is feasible, and determined the potential for significant reimagining of the Esplanade. From this information, we created a Vision Plan, which summarizes conditions and opportunities and serves as the means for sharing information with neighborhood participants.

In 2015, CIVITAS is continuing to work with Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects and the community on Phase 3 of our Esplanade initiative. During this phase, we are focusing on three nodes presented in our Vision Plan:
* 96th Street boat access node – CIVITAS seeks to enclose the vacant area under the FDR overpass for boat storage and a beautified gateway entrance, in addition to incorporating storm resiliency measures and seeking other groups for the formation of a boating coalition workgroup.
* Pier 107 – Pier 107, at 107th Street, is the only location where the East Harlem community can venture out onto the water. Most of the pier is inaccessible due to a collapsing roof structure. CIVITAS proposed removing the roof and resurfacing broken pavement to temporarily reopen the pier to the public. The pier has a remaining lifespan of approximately 10 years and re-opening the existing pier temporarily is imperative. CIVITAS and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects have developed eight conceptual designs for the pier which were presented at our May/June 2015 stakeholder and community meetings.
* Ecological edge – CIVITAS is working with the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School and New York Harbor Foundation to conduct a marine life experiment with the hope that it will provide the data necessary to permit construction of an ecological edge in East Harlem.

Isn’t it time that we, as a community, develop a more comprehensive plan to prepare for the 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. Imagine a truly enjoyable and pleasant Esplanade park!