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The East Side Waterfront's Radical Green Makeover, Revealed

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East River tributaries heading down Upper Manhattan side streets were just a conversation starter. Now, a campaign to improve a neglected stretch of the East River Waterfront Esplanade along the Upper East Side and East Harlem has moved from lofty visions to really pretty ones that might actually happen. Citizens group Civitas presented new designs for its Reimagining the Waterfront campaign last night at an event hosted by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer's office. Backed by various statements of support by elected officials, Civitas released a report with designs by landscape architect firm Mathews Nielsen to transform the waterfront from 60th Street to 125th Street.

The designs come after a period of community outreach, which followed a design competition. The top winner of the competition, announced in April 2012, featured outlets for the river to flow down various side-streets aligned with lush greenery. Now things are getting real. "Many of the competition entries were very fantastical," said Emma Marconi Bologna, Civitas executive director. "What we're suggesting are improvements that are realistic and based on the community's input."

But some of the concepts from the competition submissions aren't a far leap from what is now proposed, including ways to clean the river, said Signe Nielsen, principal at Mathews Nielsen. "We cannot build this river shoreline without demonstrating that we're going to improve water quality and the larger habitat," she said, "because crudely put, we are filling the river." The new designs go further to also protect the city from the river. "The whole competition was pre-Sandy," Nielsen said. She added that the infill will be as far out as the land was centuries ago. Some of that expansion will be wetland, emulating an older Mannahatta. The renderings are marked in the bottom right-hand corners S, M or L for short, medium and long-term feasibility. So a beach by the Queensborough Bridge is short term while a really nice lawn and walkway in the same location will take a little more time.

The section of the of the esplanade that Civitas seeks to reform between 60th and 125th Street is literally crumbling into the river and hasn't gotten the same TLC as sections to the south and on the west side. But things are starting to happen for the uptown esplanade. Last year, the Mayor and City Council tucked away a $35 million fix for the decrepit pathway in the 2015 fiscal budget, and Rockefeller University pledged $8 million toward improvements. And this week a report from Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez proposed investing $500,000 towards better benches and launching commercial activity on the 107th Street pier. Still, those actions are cosmetic compared to the park that Civitas and other supporters want to extend over the FDR.

Though much has been done to reimagine the upper esplanade nothing bureaucratic is in site yet. The phase that starts now involves exploring three key parts of the plan, including: temporary reopening of the 107th Street Pier; the 96th Street boat storage and "esplanade gateway"; and the possibility of an "ecological edge" running from roughly 96th Street to 116th Street. Opening Pier 107 is the most popular and feasible, Maura Smotrich, Esplanade Project Manager of Civitas said. Smotrich said there is no timeline and didn't give benchmark goals. There is also no cost estimate as of yet.


· Reimagine the Waterfront [official]
· Upper Venetian Side Captures Waterfront Design Prize [Curbed]
· All coverage of the East River Waterfront Esplanade [Curbed]