August 2017
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Midtown’s East River Waterfront

The development of Hudson River Park, and Stuyvesant Cove Park along the East River, has moved Manhattan tantalizingly close to being surrounded by an accessible green waterfront. A major missing link, however, remains along the segment of the East River shoreline that includes the campus of the United Nations and a large new development planned for the parcels once occupied by the Con Edison power plant that spanned from 38th Street to 41st Street, along First Avenue.

For six years, MAS has championed the creation of a park and esplanade that would allow the public to have access to this large section of the waterfront, particularly as there is a dire need for open space in this part of the city. On a per capita basis, the land area represented by Manhattan’s Community Board 6 ranks last among community board districts in the city when it comes to open space. Now, the stars seem to be aligned to remedy this imbalance.

Officials Support Action – MAS is working closely with CB6 on an advocacy campaign to open up Midtown’s East River waterfront, create new open space and connect Manhattan’s waterfront greenway. The elected officials who represent the neighborhood — including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, State Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Member Daniel Garodnick — support the effort strongly.

Concurrently, the fate of three major development projects along the East River will be decided in short order. The state’s project to rebuild the Midtown segment of FDR Drive, the redevelopment of the former Con Edison site, and the potential expansion of the UN campus together offer an unprecedented opportunity to reconnect Midtown to the East River.

Taken together, the way in which these three projects are planned and constructed will either open up this section of the waterfront and transform it into a public greenway, or block it off for generations to come.

Instead of rebuilding the highway as it is currently configured, FDR Drive between 38th Street and 42nd Street could be rebuilt with a deck above the roadway. The deck would provide the foundation for a waterfront park similar to Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side. Current residents of adjacent First Avenue neighborhoods, and future residents of the redeveloped power plant site, would benefit from direct access to the water’s edge.

To the north, if the UN is permitted to expand onto Robert Moses Playground, it would pay for the construction of a 10-block public walkway stretching along the riverside from 41st Street to 51st Street. And a temporary highway created for FDR Drive traffic between 53rd and 63rd Streets could be reconfigured as an extension of the pedestrian esplanade.

Charrette This Summer

(The writers are senior vice president and advocacy associate.)