Volume 19 | Issue 25 | November 3 - 9, 2006

progress report/ city planning

A better East River waterfront begins in 2007

By Keith O'Connor

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's December 2002 Vision for Lower Manhattan speech set the stage for one of the most exciting projects, the revitalization of the East River Waterfront. The award-winning concept plan published last year built on previous studies and extensive public input gathered at over 70 community meetings, and is moving ahead so that public access to the waterfront will begin to improve as soon as mid-2007.

Overseen by the city's Department of City Planning Chairperson Amanda Burden, the design team led by SHoP Architects, Richard Rogers Partners, and landscape architect Ken Smith developed a plan that is evocative and most importantly, can be achieved quickly.

With $150 million of federal funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a two-mile segment of waterfront stretching north from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal to Montgomery St. is poised to be transformed. Construction of the esplanade will provide much-needed open space for Lower Manhattan's growing residential community and provide safe, convenient, and attractive pedestrian connections to the East River from Chinatown, the Financial District, and the Lower East Side. The city's plan will reconnect New Yorkers to their waterfront by bringing new energy and vitality to a long-neglected stretch of the East River. Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park will be just a short ferry ride away. The East River waterfront and Lower Manhattan will be connected to the rest of New York's new Harbor District.

Beginning in 2007, residents will be able to picnic, go fishing, and enjoy spectacular views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges from areas currently inaccessible to the public. In early 2008, construction will begin on major portions of the waterfront esplanade and piers - new seating, lighting, and landscaping will provide attractive spaces for residents and visitors. Streetscape, landscape, and lighting improvements will also be made in 2008 at several historic slips, including Catherine Slip, Rutgers Slip, and Montgomery Slip. Unique spaces such as Peck Slip in the South Street Seaport Historic District will be transformed from parking lots into high quality urban spaces serving the surrounding residences, restaurants, and shops. The industrial qualities and rough-hewn character of the Seaport area and the thoughtful input of community groups and residents will help shape the detailed designs now being developed to serve residents and reconnect the city with its waterfront.

Along with the city Economic Development Corporation, many city agencies including the Departments of Transportation, Parks, and City Planning are working together to ensure that the vision for the East River waterfront becomes a reality. As detailed design and engineering gets underway later this month, public input is vital to the effort. Following several public scoping sessions earlier this year, a draft environmental impact statement has been prepared and will soon be available for public comment. An economic study focused on options for long-term management and maintenance of the waterfront is being finalized and preparations are underway to secure all the necessary federal, state, and city approvals to build the project. Funding from L.M.D.C. is already in place.

In the coming years, the East River waterfront will recapture its place in the imagination of New Yorkers. It will once again be a place where culture, commerce, and creativity thrive. The vision for the East River waterfront will become a reality and it will be spectacular.

Keith O'Connor is director of Lower Manhattan projects for the Department of City Planning.

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