After Years of Neglect, Fixing the East River Esplanade

The East River Esplanade at 73rd Street.

On the Upper East Side, a narrow strip of parkland flanked by the East River and the FDR Drive offers prime views of Queens bridges, water and sunset.

Sinkholes along the path, however, (like this one this past July) have called attention to the need for an East River Esplanade makeover.

Plans to both repair and improve the esplanade are finally taking shape, with the Parks Department, local elected officials and community members working together to lead the way. I talked with Michael Auerbach, president of Upper Green Side, a nonprofit environmental group on the UES, about what needs to be done to fix the esplanade:

What is the biggest problem along the East River Esplanade?
I really think that the greenway for such a long time, it’s been neglected and thought of as an afterthought. It is such a rundown space that it’s starting to crumble, and it’s getting worse and worse.

What needs to be done to repair the sinkholes along the pathway?
It’s really a question of funding at this point. We’ve had communications with the Parks Department and the city about it. The reasons why these cave-ins happen is because the seawall gets eroded underneath the esplanade, and the water comes in and scrapes the surface from the bottom; it sucks it back down. The Parks Department, whenever they can, they kind of patch it over and do a quick patch job. Usually what happens is they aren’t able to do that in the bigger cases because it will just get sucked back down again. What needs to happen, and it’s a big conversation, is rebuilding the entire seawall along the side to make it stronger and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Has anyone gotten hurt?
It is a dangerous situation. I haven’t heard of anyone actually falling off a bike, running and tripping or a dog getting hurt. I mean God forbid, I hope that never happens. But one bad hop, one bad bounce and something bad can happen. It’s at your own risk.

Are there other obstacles, besides funding?
I don’t think anybody can really be opposed to it. I really feel it’s a funding issue. Most people would like to see new parks and new open space. I hope that people in the community will see this as an amenity to them. Something that was done on the West Side—once the Hudson River greenway opened up, you have that whole area of Trump Village in the 60s or 70s where real estate values went up, and there’s a lot of building now over there, at the Rail Yards, the highline—It really connects the West Side, and it’s such a driver of economy and culture. The East River Esplanade could be similar.

What do you believe is the next step?
I think the time has come to set up a conservancy. The city gives us these great parks but they don’t have much money to take care of them and really though you have to force those public/private relationships, so I really feel like there’s a good opportunity for an East River Conservancy where we can raise additional funding.

About Laura Shin