by Steven Higashide
A concept rendering of a potential new East River esplanade and greenway.
In recent decades, New York City has done much to open up its waterfront with new parks and piers. A key part of that has been the Hudson River Greenway, a bicycle and pedestrian path along the river that has become a major transportation and recreational asset on Manhattan’s West Side. The East Side equivalent hasn’t been as successful, in part because of long interruptions, including a 22-block gap between 38th and 60th Streets. Recently passed state legislation creates the possibility for a land-swap deal between NYC and the United Nations that would change that.
The deal would involve giving the United Nations part of a playground on First Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets so it can build a new building. NYC would sell two buildings currently occupied by the UN, with the proceeds used to build a riverside esplanade that fills in the Greenway gap, improve other open spaces in the neighborhood, and boost the city’s budget. The deal will happen only if Mayor Bloomberg, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos sign a memorandum of understanding by October 10 which clearly delineates how funding will be spent. (State agreement is required for the city to give up the playground.)
The area’s local, state, and federal legislators — NYC Councilman Dan Garodnick, State Assm. Brian Kavanagh, State Sen. Liz Krueger, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney — have organized a series of public forums for residents to learn more about the proposal and provide input into what should be included in a final agreement. Residents can also learn more at a new website, EastSideOpenSpace.com.
At the first forum, held on August 4 at NYU Medical Center, organizations and residents were mostly supportive, with many people enthusiastic about the chance to gain so much open space in an area with very little of it. Tri-State spoke in favor of a deal to “close the greenway gap” and improve other open spaces in the neighborhood. Previous land swap proposals had been met with skepticism because there weren’t enough guarantees that the East Side would actually get open space improvements, but the recently passed legislation creates the framework needed for an “ironclad” deal, Assm. Kavanagh said at the forum.
The second and third forums will be held at Sutton Place Synagogue (225 E 51st Street) on September 8 and the NYU Medical Center (560 First Avenue) on September 20, respectively.