After years of inaction, the city has refocused its energies on the greening of Pier 42, just below East River Park. Thanks to $18 million in new funding, the Parks Department and Community Board 3 have begun to engage the public to create a new vision for the eight acre gap in the East River greenway. This past weekend, residents toured the abandoned shed that consumes much of the pier. And last night, a small group gathered at the Hamilton Fish Recreation Center to begin planning the future park.
During a workshop led by architectural firm Mathews Nielsen, about 35 people (some of whom were Parks Department staffers) broke into four groups to talk about what they’d like to see (and not see) in the large space, located just above Montgomery Street. A principal in the company, Signe Nielsen, offered a brief history of Pier 42 and outlined the process that will lead to a master plan being developed by March of next year and a “Phase 1 Plan” by May.
Nielson made reference to the city’s 2005 grand scheme for Lower Manhattan’s waterfront, which was seen by many local residents as out-of-character for the Lower East Side, too commercial and designed to quicken the pace of gentrification. The proposal called for transforming Pier 42 into a recreational space with a beach and ample grass. That part of the plan was generally well received in the community, but there was disillusionment after the city conceded there was no money to actually create the park. Nielsen acknowledged the influence of a waterfront coalition that came out with a report in 2009 critical of the city’s choices in spending $137 million in federal money earmarked for the waterfront. She emphasized that this new visioning process represented a fresh start and vowed to “listen” to the community.
In a brief slide show, Nielsen highlighted the site’s natural attributes, including its spectacular views. She and Parks Department officials said a major challenge would be designing a space that serves as an inviting entrance to East River Park, and effectively links newly renovated sections of the waterfront to the north and south. She said her firm and the city’s engineering contractor are working on getting a handle on the condition of the structure that extends over the water. They know it’s in bad shape, but they’re not sure how bad. Will the sea wall need to be rebuilt? Could the project save money by incorporating a more natural shoreline? Does it make sense to retain part of the current pier structure? These are all questions that will need to be answered in the months ahead. Nielsen acknowledged project costs could rise dramatically based on what the engineers learn.
Another major concern is the need to relocate a Department of Transportation maintenance facility on the south side of the pier. Officials said they’re working on finding alternative locations, but that there are no obvious solutions at the moment.
Once the break-out sessions began, residents and other participants floated all sorts of ideas. They included: Multiple use playing fields, family-friendly recreational spaces, affordable food concessions (but no restaurant), a swimming pool, an underwater natural habitat and cultural/entertainment programming.
The next opportunity for residents to weigh in on Pier 42 will be November 28, when Mathews Nielsen will have roughed out a few very general design concepts to facilitate further discussion. There will also be a Waterfront Community Day on Pier 42 November 3rd, from noon-4 p.m. It’ll take place in an open area on the north side of the pier that will be turned into an “interim” open space for use during the years in which the park is being designed and built. The event is being coordinated by Hester Street Collaborative and other neighborhood non-profits. We’ll have more details about their plans as the date approaches.
Hester Street Collaborative specializes in helping to engage communities to transform neglected public spaces. Along with Partnerships for Parks, it created an informational tool, People Make Parks, to “help communities participate in the design of their parks.”