Reimagining the Waterfront is a first step toward developing a vision for improving the Esplanade. The CIVITAS team of volunteer architects and planners organizing the competition selected the boundaries East 60th to 125th Streets. This emphasizes the broad span of park between the Ed Koch Queensboro and Robert F. Kennedy Bridges and the role the Esplanade does, and could, play in many diverse communities.
Open to architects, urbanists, students and community stakeholders, the competition is intended to produce exceptional designs and ideas that profoundly enhance the public’s relationship with the park and river, and bridge the urban and the aquatic.
The waterfront is the transitional boundary between New York City’s hard and soft edges, between life on land and life on water. As such, urban waterfronts offer infinite opportunities to craft and maintain that relationship. In his book, Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan, writer Phillip Lopate stated “Any redesign on the waterfront must start from the premise of public access.” Competition design goals include public access, attention to active and passive uses, effective use of existing amenities, and neighborhood context.
The competition will be open to submissions through January 15, and winners will be determined in winter 2012 by a jury of renowned, highly-skilled designers, park advocates and representatives of the Upper East Side and East Harlem. Winning and creative submissions will be available on the competition website for the public to review and to envision an improved park in the future. Competition winners will receive monetary prizes and publicity for their top-notch designs.
It is important to distinguish between an ideas competition, such as Reimagining the Waterfront, and a design competition, which results in a commission for the winner and includes construction documents for the project. There is not yet money available for an ambitious redesign of the Esplanade, but CIVITAS’ goal for the ideas competition is to begin developing the necessary community and political support.
Fortunately, funding is already being allocated to make much-needed repairs to the Esplanade. Council Member Jessica Lappin has secured over $1 million to fix some of the worst sinkholes and to conduct an engineering study. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Council Member Lappin co-chair a task force of elected officials and government agencies to address Esplanade concerns.
CIVITAS is grateful for competition support, which includes grants from Council Member Lappin and the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation. We will publicize the competition and the winning designs during 2011 and 2012 through public events, including an October 26 lecture by Lopate.
The grassroots citizen efforts of the Friends of the East River Esplanade, Community Boards 8 and 11, and Transportation Alternatives have helped raise the waterfront discourse through which the CIVITAS competition can explore designs and ideas of not only what is possible for the Esplanade but what can be dreamed for it as well.
On a recent cloudy day, an intrepid jogger was asked what he would like to see for the East River Esplanade. He gazed forlornly up and down the waterfront. He decided instead to discuss what he generally liked about the Hudson River and Riverside Park greenways. He is envious of West Siders, but that may change over the coming years as the East River waterfront is improved. Through the combined efforts of the competition and other stakeholders, the spotlight of scrutiny will help to formulate a long-term plan for the park incorporating definitive, targeted waterfront designs and substantial improvements. These actions will produce a waterfront that engages everyone. Only then will the Esplanade along the Upper East Side and East Harlem become, observes Lopate, “the place that will finally tell us we have arrived.”
Learn more about the competition at www.reimaginethewaterfront-civitas.com