EAST VILLAGE — During a visit to an Alphabet City elementary school Wednesday to promote a program that encourages students to walk to school, former Mayor Ed Koch spoke about how “awful” the old neighborhood was, adding that gentrification has helped it become a “marvelous place.”
Koch — who read portions of his forthcoming children's book “Eddie Shapes Up” to students from P.S. 64 on East Sixth Street — talked specifically about Tompkins Square Park, where an infamous 1988 clash between police and squatters erupted into a full-scale riot during his third term in office.
“That is a great park, a historic park,” Koch told the students, after asking about their favorite local green space. “There was a time when it was filled with drug addicts. It was awful.”
Koch’s appearance at P.S. 64 was tied to a new Department of Transportation initiative, Walk Ways, which provides lesson plans to school administrators to help them develop routes for students walking to school.
The former mayor, 86, who was joined by Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the event, told students about his family ties to the neighborhood, noting that his grandmother grew up in a tenement building on Hester Street after emigrating from Poland more than a century ago.
He also spoke about the neighborhood today and how much it’s evolved through the years.
“It was very sad,” he said of conditions in the East Village two to three decades ago. “The whole neighborhood today is different. This is one of the neighborhoods people want to live in and pay a lot of money to live in. This is a marvelous place, the Lower East Side, in which to live.”