ESCR construction is underway at East River Park, two protesters arrested

The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project construction has finally begun at East River Park, but it is off to a rough start thanks to local climate activists.

On Nov. 1, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) began its plan to implement flood protection in the area while also adding new amenities. Beginning at the Brian Watkins Tennis Center, between the Delancey and Houston entrances, the development promises to keep almost half of East River Park open to the public at all times thanks to the work taking place in phases. According to the DDC, this tackles an important concern from local residents who wish to maintain access to the greenspace, especially during times of COVID-19. 

Workers carry out the planed construction work. Photo by Dean Moses

Over the course of the next five years, the project is expected to create a 2.4-mile floodwall beneath raised parkland in order to safeguard against rising sea levels while also incorporating fresh amenities for locals that will see the construction run from Montgomery Street to East 25th Street.

“We’ve worked hard to ensure as much park access as possible throughout the pandemic and to prepare for a partial closure of East River Park during construction,” said DDC Commissioner Jamie Torres-Springer in a statement. “We recognize very much the importance of the Park to the community, and we look forward to delivering a revamped park with improved access.”

The start of the work week did not go smoothly for the project, however. On Nov.1, just as fences were being erected around the tennis court members of local activist groups East River Park Action and 1000 People for 1000 Trees staged at sit-in, blocking workers from getting the project underway.

Demonstrators shouted, “Protest is not destruction, save this park,” as officers announced that they are interfering with construction approved by the Parks Department, and they must leave the vicinity before arrests are made. 

Laura Berger (left) and Eileen Myles continue to protest the work. Photo by Dean Moses

Citing the expected removal of some 1000 trees and seeing civil disobedience as a last resort to bring attention to their cause, approximately 25 protesters sang songs and brandished signs while 15 demonstrators sat at the entrance blocking workers until NYPD officers arrived, making two arrests. Allie Ryan and Alice O’Malley were cuffed for refusing to move from the tennis court entrances and were taken to the 7th Precinct.

Although the work is continuing to move forward, it is not doing so unabated. Several protesters are remaining by the construction site to showcase their displeasure.

Due to several delays, construction is expected to be completed in 2026.

Workers file into the park. Photo by Dean Moses