New Group Takes Aim at East River Waterfront Problems
By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
UPPER EAST SIDE — Jennifer Ratner grew up running, biking and walking along the East River waterfront from 60th to 125th streets, a location she loved despite a host of shoddy conditions along the esplanade.
There were endless numbers of potholes, crumbling bulkheads and a dilapidated pier at East 107th Street that attracted fishermen, despite its decrepit walkway and urine-scented overhang.
Recently, the 45-year-old pediatrician decided to stop complaining and dive into civic activism, creating a new conservancy for the area designed to raise funds to improve it.
"I think it's great, but it could be a lot nicer," Ratner said, "I've always been complaining about why can't it be better. Look at the West Side esplanade and how much better it is. "
Ratner's fledgling group — which does not yet have nonprofit status — is using the working name, "The Esplanade (E. 60th – 125th Street)."
The group will make its first public appearance alongside other conservancies like the eco-friendly Upper Green Side, East River C.R.E.W. of rowers and the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy Playground Committee at the "It's My Park Day" on May 21 at East 96th Street.
The goals of "The Esplanade" are to push for funding for some of the goals outlined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Vision waterfront plan, including examining the possibility of a vessel tie up at the 107th Street Pier and improved pedestrian access at 106th Street. The mayor's plan hasn't outlined any funding sources over the next three years for projects from East 60th to East 125th streets, much to the dismay of residents who would like to see more attention focused in this area.
"We want to make sure the city is aware we exist and to include us in the short term," Ratner said, adding that her group is also developing a vision for the long term.
The pier at 107th Street, for instance, which Ratner said "is not welcoming right now…could be beautiful. It has a lot of potential."
Fisherman Jose "Animal" Viera, 56, who was fishing for striped Bass at East 99th Street on Tuesday, said the esplanade was in dire need of repairs, especially at the pier where people fish for crabs after June.
"It needs a lot of work," he said. "The ground is ripped up. There are these white icicle-looking things on the roof from the zinc and rust of the structure." He was pleased to hear that a conservancy was forming.
"A lot of the work done in the city is through donations," he said. "Fortunately there are people who want it bad enough and they can help those who can't donate and make it better for us all."
Hunter Armstrong, of the Upper East Side and East Harlem community group Civitas, said his group is also eyeing improvements for the waterfront and has met with Ratner. Armstrong praised the new group, saying it's always positive "any time a focused group of neighbors" comes together.
"There is a tremendous need for park space in the two communities adjacent to the esplanade," he said, noting that Central Park is pretty far west for those living near the river. "They are definitely lacking in recreational space.
Armstrong added that he'd like the city to make the immediately needed infrastructure improvements, but is calling for a long term vision as well.
He said that the FDR drive along the east side makes it difficult to develop the East River parkland, but said the city's come up with inventive solutions before. Carl Schurz Park, for example, was built during the Robert Moses era by building a deck over the FDR.
"New York City has a world class tradition of creating parks out of challenging sites," Armstrong said.