NEW YORK—Manhattan’s East River waterfront is a work in progress. The pier for the new ferry stop off of 34th Street, for example, is nothing but a narrow floating walkway surrounded by construction on either side.
While the views from the riverwalks of Manhattan and Brooklyn from along the river south of 38th Street are worth seeing, the walkways are drab and lifeless, and stretches of waterfront are cut off from any access, until reaching Stuyvesant Cove Park off of FDR Drive near 20th Street. South of the park around 16th Street, the walkway and bike path narrows and is cut off from the river—sandwiched on the west by FDR and the Con Edison facility.
To invigorate the area, a coalition has come together with the East River Blueway Plan, which hopes to transform the waterfront from Brooklyn Bridge to 38th Street. To get an idea of what those in the area want to see if the riverfront is transformed, the coalition gathered Community Board 6 residents together on Monday evening at Baruch College.
Ideas ranged from realistic to dreamy.
Raising the heliport off of 23rd Street, building a pedestrian overpass supported by cables near the Con Edison site, and constructing a new exit for the L train at Avenue C, were three of the dreamier ones.
Building public restrooms, bringing food vendors into the area, and enabling floating pools in the river, leaned toward those ideas easier to achieve.
After residents broke into groups to brainstorm about sections of the waterfront from 14th Street to 38th Street—two groups for each of the four sections— they took two to three minutes to quickly make their presentation.
Adam Lubinsky, managing principal of WXY Architecture + Urban Design, stood by smiling, and at times looking surprised.
The firm was recently chosen to design the project, funded by a state grant obtained by the Manhattan Borough president’s office. Lubinsky and his team will take the ideas heard at the meeting and get to work on a draft.
“That’s really why we do these kinds of events—so we have guidance, so it’s not coming out of a designer’s brain,” said Lubinsky afterward. “It’s really coming from people who have been living in and thinking about this area for a while.”
Echoing many of the residents, Lubinsky envisioned using the area for environmental education, such as having a pier with equipment that measures water quality and monitors climate change issues, such as sea level.Solar 1, a green energy, arts, and education center, overlooks the river. The center plans to expand into a bigger building that would be the first LEED-Platinum net-zero energy and water use building in any large American city.
Next to Lubinsky, a resident who didn’t want his name to be used said he could remember the waterfront situation spanning from 30 to 15 years ago.
“Nobody would give a damn,” he said, “because the water was so dirty you didn’t want to get within a 150 feet of it anyway.”
Although sections of the targeted area certainly qualify as derelict, Stuyvesant Cove Park is an example of what could be done along the river. More than 250 volunteers take care of the all-native plant park under the guidance of Solar 1.
The former concrete manufacturing plant, parking lot, and brown field was transformed into a 1.9-acre park. About a decade ago, neighborhood groups fought against plans for a riverfront hotel complex, said Wendy Byrne, a resident of nearby Stuy Town who was tending to some plants.
“This is fabulous,” said Byrne, then motioning north. “But up there … I’m pleased they’re going to do something with it.”
Ellen R. Imbimbo, chair of the waterfront subcommittee for CB-6, has been working on the area since before 1997.
“The most important thing is to get a plan in place to get people on the river,” she said, “because many people don’t think of the East River as a place to swim in the water, go boating, or fish.”