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Hudson River Park: Work in Progress

Two hundred years ago, when the NYC Commissioners released their plan for the City, a reporter remarked on the lack of squares and open spaces in the plan. “Worry not” replied one of the Commissioners “as the Rivers will be our parks.” This promise went unfilled for nearly 200 years, but as the greatest achievement of New York City’s waterfront during the 20th century, Hudson River Park is indeed helping to fulfill it. Hudson River Park will provide new open space for residents and visitors from The Battery to 59th St. along the Hudson River. As of press time some of the exciting new accommodations were beginning to appear: a lively new skate park, welcoming benches and even new signs. However, Hudson River Park is an imperfect model because it does not fully address our water-dependency as a city and a region. This is the unfortunate physical manifestation of the facts that generations of New Yorkers have grown up disconnected from the Rivers beside them, and that the prevailing public perception is that since industry and maritime commerce have moved from this area, we should make it anything but industrial or maritime. Ever since containerization caused much of the port economy to relocate farther and farther from the urban core, more and more waterfront land has been opened up for public access and redevelopment. As the river’s edge fell into a pattern of abuse and neglect, the collective vision for what the waterfront should become emerged as something that was 180 degrees from what was there. People rejected, and rightfully so, the misuse of waterfront land, and the results have been spectacularly popular. Though the volume and mass of goods that embodied commerce and trade have been reduced by technology to packets of information and wire transfers, the reality continues that Hudson River Parks borders two major Business Districts. These Districts generate solid waste that must be handled or removed, they require concrete and gravel and salt to build or rebuild themselves, and they consume energy that must come from somewhere. In a city that is essentially an archipelago, we must devise and develop ways to make use of the natural benefits that water transport provides, and do so in ways that public access and enjoyment can also be facilitated. The issue of relocating the majority of these uses from Hudson River Park is mandated in State Legislation, and we are not advocating changing this legislation at this time. If the deadlines for relocating these facilities are not met, MWA recommends that the State Attorney General should step in to negotiate a settlement and any damage awards should be placed in the Hudson River Improvement Fund or the New York City Environmental Fund to benefit and support the work of groups throughout the city to reclaim the waterfront. Read the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s recent testimony on Hudson River Park.