Elaborate designs for East Side Esplanade now on display in museum exhibit
By Rebecca Harris
The shabby state of Manhattan’s East River esplanade, crumbling in age and plagued by awkwardly configured spaces, minimal amenities and deterioration due to a general lack of upkeep, has been a source of displeasure among East Siders for years.
City Council Member Jessica Lappin said her office receives frequent calls from residents of East Harlem and the Upper East Side complaining about the conditions of the waterfront, a continuous stretch of parkland that spans the area from about 60th Street up to 125th.
“Many of us on the East Side have been very jealous, for a long time, of what West Siders have to take advantage of when it comes to their waterfront parks,” Lappin said.
Now, city officials and community advocates have begun soliciting feedback in their mission to craft a vision for more ambitious improvement of the aesthetically sorry esplanade.
Architects from around the world are weighing in with novel, elaborate ideas for revitalizing the area. Canals weaving inland, intertwining with Manhattan’s city grid; a network of modern boardwalks spiking out into the water off the shoreline; ecologically advanced irrigation systems and dramatic landscaping are just a few examples of design proposals put forth by the winners of a recent ideas competition.
CIVITAS, a nonprofit organization that works to improve urban planning and land use policies on the Upper East Side and East Harlem, launched the contest in fall 2010, encouraging architects from around the world to submit proposals for development of the esplanade. The competition drew 90 submissions, with architects entering from 24 countries.
“We looked at other great spaces in New York City—Hudson River Park, the High Line—how did they get their start? With a comprehensive vision coming from their community with an ideas competition,” said Hunter Armstrong, Executive Director of CIVITAS.
Last night, the Museum of the City of New York unveiled an exhibition showcasing the winning designs of the ideas competition. The Reimagining the Waterfront exhibit, which opened to the public today, showcases the entries of the contest’s three winners and five honorable mentions. The designs will be on display at the museum until October 28.
First-place winner Joseph Wood, an architecture graduate student at Syracuse University, proposed extending the boundaries of the waterfront inland via canals to integrate Upper East Side and East Harlem neighborhoods adjacent to the river.
“I think different from the other projects, my idea was the thought of pulling the water into the city, bringing the waterfront to the people,” said Wood, who added that he, like many of the winners, had not actually visited the esplanade while crafting his ambitious design.
Takumo Ono and Darina Zlateva of New York City, and Matteo Rossetti of Italy, won second and third place, respectively. Runners up hailed from Virginia, Canada, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy.
The eight proposals featured in the exhibit were chosen by a panel of judges including six architects, an attorney and William Castro, Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Though an important step in community efforts to clean up the East Side waterfront, submissions to the ideas competition were not restricted by financial feasibility or zoning requirements. Armstrong noted that the winning designs would not necessarily be implemented in future development of the esplanade, but were rather meant to inspire community members to give feedback and to invest in the improvement of the area.
“We wish there were major dollars at the end of this to implement some of these designs, but obviously work is needed to build that political and community support. This was a creative process to…pool in the community, constituents, and stakeholders and get them to start thinking about the future of the park,” he said.
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