Activists tell a scary Halloween story in their fight against East Side Coastal Resiliency Project

Hundreds gathered at Tompkins Square Park for a Halloween march many say could be their last chance to save their park.

For several years now, a group of Lower East Side residents and activists have been at war with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) over what is best for the East River Park and those who call the area home. On one side, the DDC and several elected officials say the East Side Resiliency Project would completely renovate East River Park while simultaneously fortifying the area from future coastal storms. Opponents of the project, however, say the project will destroy the park as they know it, resulting in the loss of hundreds of trees.

Community members help unfurl a large banner reading Save East River Park. Photo by Dean Moses

Known as the Save East River Park Action, this opposing group of activists vehemently disapprove of the plan to upend the tree and plant life, despite the DDC stating that much of the greenery has reached the end of its life cycle.

“Right now, people are hunger striking for the climate and our city electeds are going to cut down 1,000 trees and bulldoze 50 acres. That is a crime not only for our neighborhood, but it has global impacts for emissions for the heat index. If you’re going to have a resiliency plan that is based on violence and destruction and actually increasing carbon emissions, and increasing the heat index and causing death, that’s not the right way to go. And that sets a horribly dangerous precedent,” Emily Johnson of Save East River Park Action told amNewYork Metro.

Dressed in costumes, protesters demanded a stop to the ESCR plan. Photo by Dean Moses

At noon on Oct. 31, droves of protesters amassed in Tompkins Square Park, many of whom took the concept of a Halloween protest quite literally. Zombies, witches, monsters, and even trees themselves demonstrated with signs and banners that implored for the park to remain undisturbed. Accompanied by a musical ensemble that played them out of Tompkins Square, well over 100 people marched to East River Park. 

Even zombies joined the protest. Photo by Dean Moses

According to Johnson, Save East River Park Action will also be holding an early morning meeting on Nov. 1 as the construction is set to begin.

A representative from DDC states this project is needed to help extend storm surge protection and improve open spaces for more than 110,000 New Yorkers, including 28,000 who live in public housing from Montgomery Street up to East 25th Street.

“The project, which was approved by the City Council in 2019, began construction one year ago near Stuyvesant Cove Park. This week we plan to begin work in East River Park, which will be raised above flood level and then rebuilt with easier access and all new amenities. Work will be done in phases so that close to half the park remains open at all times during construction,” a representative from DDC said.

In addition, DDC shares that the rebuilt park will include 2,000 new trees that are able to weather the storms of climate change and planting an additional 1,000 trees in the surrounding community.

Dressed in Halloween garb, activists marched.Photo by Dean Moses
A drum ensemble accompanied the protest. Photo by Dean Moses