Thursday, October 31, 2013

Four Freedoms Park: A Story of Determination

Matt Jupin

An aerial view of the FDR Memorial, 
looking north. Photo by Steve Amiaga, 
FDR Four Freedoms Park Conservancy. 
 The opening ceremony of Four Freedoms Park last October was a moment of triumph for those who had been involved in its 39-year saga. Speakers included former President Bill Clinton, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, and Tom Brokaw was the Master of Ceremonies. Their comments reflected on President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom the memorial commemorates, the great difficulties in completing the project, and the site’s meaning for today and future generations. The Four Freedoms outlined in President Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union speech are incorporated in the architecture and perspective of the new memorial: freedom of speech and expression, of worship, from want, and from fear. 

The memorial’s history dates back to the late 1960’s, when Mayor Lindsay, with the New York State Urban Development Corporation, proposed redeveloping the narrow island in the East River, then called Welfare Island, into a residential community. In 1970, the Four Freedoms Foundation began talks with the city and state about a memorial for FDR . A New York Times editorial promoted the proposed name and location: “A plaza promenade and statue could be created at the southern end of Franklin D. Roosevelt island. It would face the sea he loved, the Atlantic he bridged, the Europe he helped to save, and the United Nations he inspired.” 

Three years later, Mayor Lindsay presided over the island’s renaming ceremony at the park’s future location. Louis Kahn was introduced as architect for the project and presented a model of the design. Funding was to come in equal parts from the state, city and private funding. Kahn described his design for the park as “a Room and a Garden.” The Room would be a large space at the southern tip of the island, partially enclosed by massive granite blocks that focused a view south. Kahn began the memorial with a 100-foot wide staircase, creating a hill at the northern end of the monument from which visitors would decend as they proceeded through the garden to the room. 

A perfect storm of events led to the shelving of the Four Freedoms Park project for three decades. Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a key supporter, left office to become Vice President under the Ford Administration. Louis Kahn died of a heart attack in Penn Station while carrying the completed designs. Finally, New York City’s near-bankruptcy knocked out political support of the project. 

The Four Freedoms Foundation and other key supporters never gave up on the idea. Kahn’s designs were kept with Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects. A video produced in 1980 and narrated by Orson Welles served to keep the vision alive. A bipartisan commission established by Governor Mario Cuomo unanimously recommended the project be built in 1985, but it took another six years before earth was moved. Between 1991- 1994, the seawall was stabilized and the ground was cleared, compacted and shaped as specified in Kahn’s designs. 

Kahn’s design uses the triangular shape of the park’s site to 
draw focus to the Roosevelt statue at entrance of the ‘Room.’ 
Political support would again diminish with power shifts in Albany, freezing progress to the site for another 16 years, but enthusiastic supporters kept the project alive. A 2003 documentary by Kahn’s son, Nathaniel, helped to reinvigorate interest in the project. Two years later, Cooper Union held an exhibition on the history of Four Freedoms Park; Ambassador William vanden Heuvel committed his Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute to fundraising. The next year, seed money from Alphawood Foundation Chicago funded office operations. The executive director, Gina Pollara, worked on scoping drawings and obtaining the many permits required to build. Ambassador vanden Heuvel continued looking for funding in the private sector, along with Sally Minard, who came to the project in 2005. She recalls those crucial years of numerous applications for permits as very difficult for the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy. “The reason there aren’t many shovel-ready projects is because most developers rarely want to invest money upfront until they know the permits will be given,” Minard said in a phone interview. Mayor Bloomberg advised that the project be split into three phases. The first would build the Room, the second the Promenade, and last phase would build the grand stair and fill in the lawn and trees. 

Actually building the memorial was also daunting. 7,700 tons of granite were quarried in North Carolina, as specified by Kahn. The monumental stones were too heavy to be trucked over the single bridge to the island, so were floated to the site by barge. Five different types of cranes and 100 stone setters were needed to set the stones in place. 

The park was built for $44 million, but fundraising is not over. The Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, a 501c3 NY State Corporation is responsible for funding and maintenance with a full operations staff. The estimated budget is $2 million annually. Free public tours are given each week. The park recently hosted events such as yoga in the park, a kite-making workshop and has others planned. Revenue streams include souvenirs, and a food vendor operation is currently being tested. 

Matt Jupin is a East Harlem Resident and CIVITAS volunteer. 

To read the complete fall 2013 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Designing Healthy Neighborhoods from the Sidewalk Up

Tali Cantor

Pedestrian plaza at Madison Square, part of the Broadway Boulevard Project. 
Photo by NYC Department of Transportation.

Although New York City is considered an active city compared to places with greater car use, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) estimates that 80% of adults living in the city are still not maintaining the recommended 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week. In fact, in NYC alone over half of adults are either obese or overweight. However you feel about the new blue additions to the city’s streets and sidewalks, CitiBike bicycle share is only one example of city efforts to improve New Yorkers’ health through physical activity.

Solutions to get New Yorkers moving, like the bicycle infrastructure, can be found through active design for the built environment. The DOHMH, and the Departments of Design and Construction, Transportation, and City Planning have promoted and implemented active design by encouraging physical activity indoors and in public spaces. 

In 2010, these agencies released a report called Active Design Guidelines. This report provides an extensive resource for designers, property developers and owners, public officials, and community members to understand design strategies focused on increasing physical activity, as well as access to transportation, open space, and fresh food.

At the building level, active design recommends architecture that integrates physical activity into daily routines, particularly through stairwell design and pedestrian circulation. Improving the stairway experience may be as basic as adding color, light, or signage. Since 2008 the NYC “Burn Calories not Electricity” campaign has provided signs with this slogan on stairwell doorways to encourage stair rather than elevator use, and Mayor Bloomberg further promoted this message by announcing a series of legislative policies to require buildings to increase stairway visibility and 

In the public realm, New York City has seen design interventions and programs to increase opportunities for active recreation outdoors. Street improvements providing protected bicycle lanes, such as those on First, Second and Columbus Avenues, and the CitiBike bicycle share program encourage a healthy and efficient alternative transit. In addition, parks and open spaces with recreational facilities such as basketball courts, walking tracks, or even fitness stations offer outdoor amenities to get in shape without a gym pass. In 2011, the Make NYC Your Gym campaign included free public fitness classes and activities in city parks and public spaces to further increase opportunities for physical activity, and this summer’s “ G o P a r k ” c a m p a i g n advertised passive and active r e c r e a t i o n opportunities in these spaces as well. 

Providing access to the recommended “apple-a-day” has also been a priority for active designers. In the long term, active design sets out to fill “food deserts” with full-service grocery stores, or to use open spaces for greenmarkets and farm stands.  

The active design tools that will have the greatest impact on New Yorkers, however, are those that foster a safe and pleasant environment at the streetscape level. In summer 2013, the agencies behind the Active Design Guidelines released a follow-up report called Active Design: Shaping the Sidewalk Experience, a resource for understanding policies and programs that enhance an active, lively, and pedestrian-friendly sidewalk. 

The report is written for designers, policy makers, students, and community members who want to impact urban design for the public realm. It looks at the sidewalk as a physical space that not only protects pedestrians from vehicular traffic, but also stimulates economic development and social interactions between neighbors and friends. It identifies the “sidewalk room” as the space containing the ground plane, building wall, roadside plane, and the canopy, each of which is governed by zoning regulations that determine building scale, street furniture, lighting, trees, and curbside parking, to name just a few design elements, and create an environment that is visually interesting, connected within the street network, and safe. 

The sidewalk environments on the Upper East Side and East Harlem can be evaluated on the interactive website, which quantifies neighborhood “walkability” based on factors such as population, public transportation, and proximity to local retail and amenities. Of the 256 neighborhoods identified in NYC, the Upper East Side is ranked 20th with a high walk score of 98 out of 100 and East Harlem is ranked 43rd with a score of 93. Within these neighborhoods, however, there exist significant physical obstacles that impede pedestrian accessibility, such as the FDR Drive that acts as a barrier between the residential neighborhoods to its west and the waterfront parks along the East River Esplanade. North of 97th Street, the MetroNorth train tracks along Park Avenue physically divide East Harlem and either prevent or limit access from one side of the avenue to the other. Where the tracks rise to allow pedestrian connections below, the amount of underutilized and vacant space detracts from a lively sidewalk. 

The report includes a companion guide, which provides tools and resources to measure sidewalk success through qualitative and quantitative survey analysis, and an appendix of policies that are applicable to sidewalk design and function. For those non-designers, the city provides resources for community members to take ownership of the “sidewalk room.” This could be as easy as calling 311 to report hazardous sidewalk conditions or poorly maintained street furniture, to request street trees or benches, or else becoming more involved with the local Community Board or community-based organizations to raise concerns with like-minded neighbors. 

Creating an optimal pedestrian environment is just one way to realize active design, and it facilitates the most basic and inexpensive type of exercise - using your own two feet. So this fall, get off the train a subway stop early or aim for that extra flight of stairs, and take advantage of all the opportunities to stay healthy that are built right into the city surrounding you. 

More information on the Active Design Guidelines can be found at the website of the Department of City Planning 

NYC Recreational and Fitness Parks 

One of the various forms of exercise 
on the East River Esplanade 
Asphalt Green 
From East 90 Street between York Avenue and FDR Drive 
FE, P 

John Jay Park 
From East 76 to East 78th Streets at Cherokee Place 
BC, FE, HB, OP, P 

St. Catherine’s Park 
From East 67th Street to East 68th Streets at 1st Avenue 
BC, FE, HB, P, RT 

Thomas Jefferson Park 
Between 1st Avenue and FDR Drive From East 111th to East 114th Streets 
BB, BF, FE, HB, OP, P, RC, RT, SF 

BC - Basketball Courts 
BF - Baseball Fields 
FE - Fitness Equipment 
HB - Handball Courts 
OP - Outdoor Pools 
P - Playgrounds 
RC - Recreation Center 
RT - Running Tracks 
SF - Soccer Fields v

To read the complete fall 2013 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CIVITAS Launches Discussion Series with East River Waterfront Panel

Michael Storm 

The East River Esplanade looking south from East 71st Street. Courtesy of Anton Brookes. 

This fall marks the inaugural series of CIVITAS’s panel and lecture programs entitled Art, Design, and the Urban Environment. It will address issues important to the quality of life on the Upper East Side and in East Harlem. The series, co-sponsored by CIVITAS and the National Academy, is an inter-disciplinary exploration of neighborhood issues that intertwines CIVITAS’s mission to improve the quality of urban life with the mission of the National Academy to sustain the visual arts. 

Pier 15 along the East River, Courtesy of SHoP.
The first panel, held on October 2nd, brought together panelists from a variety of backgrounds to explore how art and design could transform the East River Waterfront. The panelists were Cecilia Alemani, Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Curator and Director of High Line Art; Al Appleton, former Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection; Michael Marrella, Director of Waterfront and Open Space for the New York City Department of City Planning; and Charles Birnbaum, Founder and President of The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Subsequent panels this winter will address Urban Revitalization and East Harlem Rezoning as well as Transportation and the Second Avenue Subway. 

In advance of the first event, CIVITAS spoke with the panel’s moderator, architect Gregg Pasquarelli, to learn about his work designing the southern section of the East River Waterfront. His firm, SHoP, redesigned the waterfront underneath the FDR overpass, connecting the Battery Maritime Center to East River Park, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge, bringing the prospect of a continuous waterfront along the East Side one step closer to reality. Pasquarelli’s important role in this process has given him a unique vision for how and why the waterfront should serve our community. 

In August, CIVITAS spoke to Gregg Pasquarelli about his work on the East River waterfront. 

Gregg Pasquarelli. 
Courtesy of SHoP 
CIVITAS: In your work along the southern portion of the East River waterfront, what options did you explore in redeveloping the area? 
Gregg: When we first did the original masterplan we looked at literally dozens of different strategies from burying the FDR Drive, leaving it as a bridge, floating it as an island, building an actual barrier to raise the FDR for storm protection, putting in muscle reefs, putting in barrier islands. We looked at dozens and dozens of things that could be done:

C: The FDR Drive replaced what used to be heavy industry, so you are dealing with New York City’s post-industrial waterfront with the city contained by a freeway. 
G: Exactly. It was a kind of park or esplanade that was nestled among the infrastructure of the city. By bringing cultural, community, and recreation uses into a series of pavilions, you brought the city out onto the waterfront. And by opening up these view corridors, you brought the waterfront into the city, and you allow these cross-grain connections to bring you there. 
C: What potential do you see waterfronts bringing to the East Side? How did you see your work fulfilling this potential? 
G: In a city that’s desperate for open space, here’s a place where you can get out, you can look a mile or two up and down the river and get sunlight. Just opening it up where people feel safe and can walk there and ride their bikes there—it’s huge—the value that that brings to the quality of life of everyone that lives down in that very dense part of town. 
C: What has been the process with the city in developing the waterfront? Who is your client? 
G: Our client is the Economic Development Corporation and the NYC Department of Design and Construction. We worked quite a bit on the logistics of getting it built with the EDC but really on a lot of the design issues with the DDC. They were great clients. I think I did 114 meetings with the city over only the first two years. 
C: How did your meetings with the community affect the design and construction process when you were developing the East River waterfront? 
G: We really talked about how things were working, what was working in the area and what wasn’t working in the area. What were things that could be improved? What were things that community desired? Then we put up this whole overall idea we had and made it work so that it solved some of the community issues. 
C: The panel that you are moderating at the National Academy brings together a very diverse group of professionals to speak about the uptown stretch of the East River waterfront. How do you believe this kind of conversation can improve the area? 
G: If designers aren’t engaged in explaining that to people who do not know enough about design, I think we get horrible spaces and a waste of money. I think architects tend to be a little insular in general so the more broadly you can learn about things, the richer your designs become. It’s always inspiring to look at other kinds of professions. I’m always interested in looking at other professions, their models, how they solve problems. 
C: This panel is a part of CIVITAS’s initiative called Reimagining the Waterfront that has been leading discussions with community members about their experiences with the waterfront. How do you see community-based initiatives affecting the quality of life for these areas? 
G: Getting buy-in [from the community,] getting people to understand what design is and what it does, and how it’s performative, and what it can accomplish, is important for making any space successful. If we’re going to live in dense cities, we have got to have great public space and making great public space requires people to come together and invest in that space and invest in the understandings of how it works and what its effects are. These are extremely important things. 

To read the complete fall 2013 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Monday, October 28, 2013

Support CIVITAS and Become a Member Today

Since 1981, CIVITAS has worked to improve the livability and character of the Upper East Side and East Harlem neighborhoods. We count on your membership support to continue to serve you and the future residents of our community in improving streets, public space, and environmental quality. Please renew your membership or become a member today by visiting our website.
You can help make the East River Esplanade a truly enjoyable park where the community can appreciate the waterfront. We don’t need to have West Side envy over the Hudson River waterfront.
It continues to be up to all of us with other community partners to push for improving the Esplanade park and to encourage the City to create a more ambitious long-term vision for our stretch of waterfront. We are especially eager for your help to build on CIVITAS’s Reimagining the Waterfront initiative to improve the East River Esplanade from 63rd to 125th Streets.Our design ideas competition and companion exhibition were well received, generating ideas and drawing international attention to the state of the park. CIVITAS is focused on the next phase to zero in on specific areas for exciting upgrades and programming. Over 200,000 people live within a short walk of our waterfront in areas that have among the lowest open space per person in the city. With improved access and better design, the waterfront could be a great park—please help to make this possible with your contribution.
Did you know that the Upper East Side has poor air quality resulting from high levels of sulfur dioxide? East Harlem has among the lowest recycling rates in NYC. Education is the answer to both of these issues, and CIVITAS is stepping in to fill gaps in awareness.
This air pollution results from the burning of No. 6 heating oil. Through community meetings and door-to-door outreach, CIVITAS has reached hundreds of residents, co-op board officers and apartment building managers to educate them about switching heating oil to improve our air quality. Similarly, we’re organizing outreach to increase recycling awareness and educate residents about available training and support for building staff. We are also working on programming in schools to educate children and teens about recycling and the city’s initiatives.
Do you want community-driven land use policies for your neighborhood? Care about the state of trees and sidewalks in your neighborhood?
Thanks to your support, we’ve been able to provide the technical analysis necessary for therezoning plan for 60 blocks in East Harlem, including the blighted upper Park Avenue corridor.Passage of this rezoning, which is being considered by the NYC Department of City Planning, will help ensure that changes benefit the neighborhood and reflect community priorities. This builds on our earlier successful efforts that resulted in a major rezoning in 2003.
We’re also working with residents and community groups to advocate for best planning outcomes for our neighborhood. Our efforts are focused on developing visionary strategies for growth, development, streetscapes and parks access.
You may wish to learn more and engage further with the issues CIVITAS works on by joining us at one of the high-level panel discussions we are jointly presenting with the National Academy on December 4, and January 8, 2014. We are excited to bring our core themes to an even larger audience and into dialogue with artists, thought leaders, and policy makers. We very much hope to see you there! Admission will be free for our members.
In other news, we are so pleased to wish our outgoing executive director, Hunter Armstrong, all the very best as he has accepted an exciting new role with a national non-profit. We thank Hunter for his outstanding service to our community. Deputy director Lauren O’Toole, who has worked closely with Hunter for some time, will be interim executive director.

Genie Rice, Chairman

Felipe Ventegeat, President

Jeanne McAnaney, Membership Chair
P.S. Your support makes a very real difference - CIVITAS is the only community-based non-profit working on these issues in both the Upper East Side and East Harlem, and we can’t do it without your help. Please join or renew your current membership at our website.
P.P.S. We hope you enjoy reading our newsletter; please contribute today so that we can continue sending this to you! And don’t forget to join us at the National Academy – free admission to the panel discussions for CIVITAS members.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

City Atlas Writes about the 10/2 Esplanade Panel Discussion

The original article by Jason Diaz covering the CIVITAS and National Academy panel discussion "Water and the East River Esplanade" is available online at

Designing a new water’s edge for the Upper East Side and Harlem

CIVITAS "Reimagining the Waterfront" competition, First Prize: Joseph Wood, designer (via CIVITAS)
Reimag­in­ing the Water­front” com­pe­ti­tion, First Prize: Joseph Wood, designer. Click to expand (via CIVITAS)
The East River Esplanade, a 2-mile-long city-owned pub­lic park that runs from 63rd to 125th Street, was already being crit­i­cized by res­i­dents as being a bleak and poorly main­tained pub­lic space when Hur­ri­cane Sandy hit, expos­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the entire water­front. Swollen har­bor waters swamped the upper sec­tion of the park and washed into East Harlem; now, atten­tion turns to a com­plete reimag­in­ing of the shore­line along this neglected stretch of Manhattan.
Pre­lim­i­nary plans for ren­o­vat­ing the Esplanade were actu­ally in the works before the storm; the Depart­ment of City Plan­ning drew up a pro­posal for rede­vel­op­ment of the East River Esplanade as a part of Vision 2020, which aims to improve access, enhance pedes­trian con­nec­tiv­ity, and cre­ate water­front ameni­ties for pub­lic enjoy­ment and recre­ation, while bol­ster­ing the city’s resilience in the face of extreme weather events.
panel discussion
CIVITAS pan­elists, from left to right: Gregg Pas­querelli, Charles Birn­baum, Michael Mar­rella, Cecilia Ale­mani, and Al Apple­ton; (Photo: Jason Diaz)
To add momen­tum to the pub­lic drive for a new park, CIVITAS, a community-led orga­ni­za­tion focused on neigh­bor­hood qual­ity of life in the Upper East Side and East Harlem, recently held an exten­sive panel dis­cus­sion on the future of the East River Esplanade; the talk was pre­sented at the National Acad­emy on Fifth Avenue.
CIVITAS has long been an advo­cate for a bet­ter water­front park, host­ing sev­eral com­mu­nity vision­ing events and, dur­ing 2012, a notable design com­pe­ti­tion, for which the win­ning entries were exhib­ited at the Museum of the City of New York. (Detail from the first place con­cept, by Joseph Wood, is shown at top of this page.)
The group on stage at the Octo­ber panel included archi­tects, plan­ners, design­ers, artists, and envi­ron­men­tal­ists, who shared some­times com­pet­ing ideas for ways a new pub­lic space can serve the city and the nat­ural environment.
pier 15 (2)
Con­tem­po­rary bar-stool seat­ing look­ing out over the East River at Pier 15 (SHoP Architects)
The CIVITAS panel dis­cus­sion began with a pre­sen­ta­tion by SHoP Archi­tects found­ing part­ner, Gregg Pas­querelli. SHoP has water­front projects in two loca­tions—Mitchell Park and its Cam­era Obscura sculp­tural instal­la­tion (in Green­port, NY), and the East River Esplanade South and East River Waterfront/Pier 15 (South Street Sea­port in Man­hat­tan)— which were shown as exam­ples of how a water­front site can pro­vide social and recre­ational space and be adven­tur­ous at the same time.
pier 15 (1)
Pier 15 double-decker green space. (SHoP Architects)
SHoP’s work shows clever space uti­liza­tion in the double-decker green-roof piers at Pier 15, as well as attrac­tive light­ing strate­gies and seat­ing arrangements—red ceil­ing light­ing which help to cre­ate a more roman­tic space at night, and water­front bar-stools that appeal to patrons who may wish to read, eat and drink, or sim­ply con­verse with friends over a stun­ning view of Brook­lyn and down­town Manhattan.
In Green­port, NY, a new town park encour­aged com­mu­nity inter­ac­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion, added res­i­den­tial appeal, and fos­tered a real-estate boom. SHoP’s work relies on mixed-use design strate­gies to help attract a wider audi­ence, fit­ting the recre­ational needs of a more diverse pop­u­la­tion. The exam­ples also showed smart fund­ing strate­gies, specif­i­cally in the East River Esplanade South project, where air rights located under the FDR Drive are being sold in order to help pay for project development.

Pan­elists praised exper­i­men­ta­tion, and cul­tural awareness

Charles Birn­baum, Founder and Pres­i­dent of The Cul­tural Land­scape Foun­da­tion, fol­lowed SHoP’s pre­sen­ta­tion by ask­ing: how do we mea­sure suc­cess in a post-Sandy sit­u­a­tion? There is always an empha­sis on envi­ron­men­tal­ism and aes­thet­ics, but Birn­baum argued that cul­ture should have an equally impor­tant place in the con­ver­sa­tion; that peo­ple should be look­ing at devel­op­ment with the goal of turn­ing a project into a “new ‘World Her­itage site”; and that atten­tion to cul­ture in devel­op­ment is the dif­fer­ence between a suc­cess­ful project and just an aver­age project.
planter boxes
Homoge­nous design becomes dull; shown on the East River
Birn­baum warns us of the homo­gene­ity of land­scapes and devel­op­ment, but also praises the level of exper­i­men­ta­tion that seems to be occur­ring in the last decade where devel­op­ers, design­ers, and archi­tects are increas­ingly mov­ing away from homo­ge­neous designs and con­cepts. He asks design­ers, archi­tects and plan­ners to incor­po­rate cul­ture and his­tory into their projects, as to teach peo­ple “how to see and value land­scape and land­scape archi­tec­ture in a way that they are hard­wired to look at archi­tec­ture in the built environment.”
Birn­baum ended his com­ments with the “Four – C’s”—Collections, or the liv­ing and non-living in a given area; Com­mu­nity, or the con­text in which these col­lec­tions work and play with each other; Con­tain­ers, the build­ings in these spaces; and Con­text, the phys­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal setting—the ele­ments he believes are impor­tant for suc­cess­ful land­scape developments.
vision 2020Com­mu­nity involve­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion became the next area of focus as the Direc­tor of Water­front and Open Space of New York City’s Depart­ment of City Plan­ning, Michael Mar­rella, took the floor.
Do we have the water­front that we want going for­ward?”  In order to get the right answer to this ques­tion, accord­ing to Mar­rella, com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion is com­pletely nec­es­sary. And as a result, the Depart­ment of City Planning’s Vision 2020: New York City Com­pre­hen­sive Water­front Plan was cre­ated from a year-long pub­lic plan­ning process that entailed going out to each com­mu­nity in prox­im­ity to a NYC water­front and invit­ing them to par­tic­i­pate in orga­nized work­shops, where the com­mu­ni­ties were not only asked what they want out of the water­front, but also what it would take to get there.

Why does it take so long to build a park inNYC? Mul­ti­ple agen­cies, but also pub­lic review.

Mar­rella empha­sized that pub­lic out­reach works to chal­lenge the plan­ning process to serve the com­mu­nity best, rather than assem­bling the pub­lic for the pur­pose of cre­at­ing lengthy, impos­si­ble wish lists. Mar­rella also brought up the thicket of envi­ron­men­tal and water­front reg­u­la­tions and the “hor­ror sto­ries” that come with them, where 6-month projects on paper turn into 8-year projects in real­ity due to per­mit wait times and other delays, and how there needs to be a more pre­dictable, reli­able, and effi­cient process that avoids these unwanted set­backs while mak­ing sure not to lower our envi­ron­men­tal standards.
Vision 2020 plan
An exam­ple of the Vision 2020′s plan for the NYC water­front; (NYC Depart­ment of City Planning)
As in all well-rounded panel dis­cus­sions, Al Apple­ton, for­mer Com­mis­sioner of the New York City Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and Direc­tor of New York City Water and Sewer sys­tem, pre­sented con­trast­ing view­points on how to man­age the East River Esplanade. Instead of focus­ing on build­ing and devel­op­ment, land­scape archi­tec­ture and hous­ing (part of the City’s mas­ter plan for the water­fronts also includes water­front hous­ing), Apple­ton urges that we reclaim the water­front; but that we reclaim it not to serve real-estate pur­poses or improved apart­ment views, but rather to rein­tro­duce nature to the waterfront.

A call for rein­tro­duc­ing nature to the water­front along the Upper East Side.

Apple­ton believes that, if resiliency is a pri­or­ity, plan­ners will rec­og­nize that reestab­lish­ing nature at the water’s edge is the most effec­tive method avail­able. Apple­ton sub­mits three man­dates on how to deal with the East River Esplanade (and the rest of the city’s water­front, for that mat­ter): 1) there should be absolutely no new high-rise devel­op­ment on the water­front, 2) nat­ural areas on the water­front should be repro­duced and restored, such as Jamaica Bay and the Rock­aways, and 3) the FDR Drive should be trans­formed and retro­fit­ted in order to make way for a more nat­ural coastline—he even sug­gests get­ting rid of it all together, which is a remark­able sug­ges­tion as most plans take the Robert Moses-era road­way as a given.
Apple­ton also cri­tiques Marrella’s ref­er­ence to the “hor­ror sto­ries” of the reg­u­la­tory process, where 6-month projects turn into 8-year projects. Apple­ton argues that the polit­i­cal process is nec­es­sary; added wait times usu­ally include more com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion and involve­ment, and that com­mu­ni­ties should be wary and skep­ti­cal of fast, steam-rolled devel­op­ment projects, as they tend to ignore civic consensus.
As the last pre­sen­ter, Cecilia Ale­mani, Cura­tor at High Line Art, spoke of the impor­tance of art in pub­lic spaces. She updated the audi­ence on the mul­ti­ple types of media that are cur­rently cir­cu­lat­ing in the High Line Park, as well as how the High Line is cre­at­ing new con­cepts for parks and rein­vent­ing the art space. Along with com­mis­sioned work, the High Line has intro­duced a num­ber of per­for­mance works, as well as inter­ac­tive and engag­ing video pro­jec­tions — all of which, Ale­mani sug­gests, should be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion in the new East River Esplanade. And with the incor­po­ra­tion of art into the park, the esplanade can bet­ter address the cul­tural needs that Birn­baum men­tioned ear­lier in what truly makes a suc­cess­ful water­front space.
To wrap up the entire panel dis­cus­sion into one coher­ent mes­sage, it might sound some­thing like this: In order for the East River Esplanade that runs from 63rd to 125th Street to become a truly suc­cess­ful pub­lic space that serves the needs of the com­mu­nity, it must have a dar­ing yet smart design that inte­grates art and cul­ture, and meets the con­cerns of the com­mu­nity and the envi­ron­ment. Given the new real­i­ties of cli­mate change, this space must play a role in coastal pro­tec­tion, but also should simul­ta­ne­ously attract and appeal to all peo­ple in a social and recre­ational context.
The vital­ity of the dis­cus­sion and the depth of the ideas on the table show how New York con­tin­ues to enjoy a renais­sance in the con­fi­dent and inven­tive design of pub­lic space.
If these weights and mea­sures are taken dur­ing the rede­vel­op­ment of the East River Esplanade, it seems that the Upper East Side and East Harlem will have a new, vision­ary way to get to the water’s edge in their neigh­bor­hoods, with a pub­lic amenity that will stretch for miles up the East Side, per­haps even restor­ing a glimpse of the nat­ural land­scape, and habi­tat, that graced the island once upon a time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

CIVITAS Community Announcements: October 14th

It's My Park Day at the East River Esplanade

Sunday, October 20th
10:00 am – 3:00 pm
East River Esplanade
96th Street and FDR Drive (east of First Avenue)

Volunteer to scrape and paint the railings along the East River Esplanade and plant bulbs that will bloom in the spring.  For more information, please visit: or call Upper Green Side at (212) 759-6895.

Save the Date:  Urban Revitalization and East Harlem Rezoning

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Admission is FREE for CIVITAS members. Find out how to join.

CIVITAS's discussion series continues this December with an investigation of Urban revitalization through the lens of East Harlem rezoning and updated land use policies. This panel will look specifically at projects currently under way in East Harlem, including the renovation of the former P.S. 109 into affordable live-work space for artists, and the transformation of La Marqueta, a marketplace under the Metro North railway tracks between East 111th and East 116th Streets that was once the economic and social center of the neighborhood.

Moderator: Karrie Jacobs - Contributing Editor, Metropolis; founding editor-in-chief, Dwell

-LaShawn Henry - Chairperson, Land Use, Landmarks & Planning Committee,
Community Board 11
-Peggy Shepard - Co-founder and Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice
-Gus Rosado - Executive Director, El Barrio's Operation Fightback

All discussions in the series will take place at the National Academy
1083 Fifth Avenue at East 89th Street. map
General Admission: $15
Seniors and Students: $10
For tickets, visit the National Academy online or call (212) 369-4880 x 201.
CIVITAS members can RSVP by calling the museum at the above number.

NYC Clean Heat Webinar on No. 2 Heating Oil Conversion

NYC Clean Heat, a city government initiative to encourage the use of cleaner fuels, is holding another webinar to raise awareness of incentives and programs for buildings switching to ultra-low sulfur No. 2 fuel oil and/or biodiesel. The NYC Clean Heat ULS 2 Conversion Specialists, their incentive providers, will be on hand to explain their services and connect with your building.
When: Thursday, October 17th, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
How: All you’ll need is a phone and/or internet access to participate.
Please RSVP by clicking “Attend Event” on the link above by 5pm on October 16th and NYC Clean Heat will send you the phone number and online log-in details.