Pop-Up Park Builds Community on the River

Written by Alissa Fleck on . Posted in News Our Town Downtown.


The mini park is a collaborative effort to bring art and communal green space to an area in transition

Even on a rainy Sunday, cyclists and joggers along the East River slow to peer through the fence at the colorful Paths to Pier 42 park, which recently popped up against a gray backdrop of industrial refuse and warehouse space.

The popup park at Pier 42, which opened in mid-July, is a collaborative effort between community groups, artists and architecture firms which will remain in place until a more permanent park space makes its way along the East River esplanade to Pier 42 in a few years. The groups involved include CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, the Lower East Side Ecology Center, the Hester Street Collaborative and others. The popup park is a community space which has already been home to various performances and festivals.

A community bookshelf acts as a free mini-library.

A community bookshelf acts as a free mini-library.

According to the Paths to Pier 42 group, “Art/design installations and events on site serve to model activities that can and will take place on the waterfront once it is fully redeveloped while providing community access and enjoyment in the interim.”

In an area beset by public housing buildings and fenced off lots, the group sought input from the community as to what should exist in the future park, beginning with biweekly meetings in early spring and up through the park’s official launch.

Benny Ruiz and John Dee, who live nearby on the Lower East Side, come down to the East River esplanade about twice a week to go fishing, and have witnessed the park’s growth throughout the month of July.

“We actually used to fish over there,” said Ruiz, indicating where the park now stands, “but then they put in all those benches and trees and turned it in to a sort of theme park.”

Eventually a more permanent park will emerge near Pier 42.

Eventually a more permanent park will emerge near Pier 42.

Despite losing their prized fishing spot, the two said they’ve seen people come and enjoy the park, which is tucked between the Manhattan and Wiliamsburg Bridges and has both Montgomery and Cherry Street access.

One piece of the collaborative effort, the landscape architect studio Dlandstudio, opened a similar popup park on Pier 1 in 2008, before Brooklyn Bridge Park opened.

According to Jesse Catalano, who works for Dlandstudio, “That park was meant to raise awareness and support for the eventual development of the Brooklyn waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

Catalano added, “It was a short-lived project but attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors over its short lifespan.”

The Paths to Pier 42 popup park has been an effort to mimic that success and bring the same attention to the East River esplanade and promenade area. While the popup park was closed when went to visit, benches, planters, sculptures and even a communal bookshelf were visible through the fence.

Signs tell locals that an urban oasis is near.

Signs tell locals that an urban oasis is near.

“This is really a community park,” explained Catalano of Paths to Pier 42. “Many people from our offices and members of the community went out to physically build the project and ensure that it would be a success.

“We hired no contractors but painted the asphalt, built the benches, erected shade pavilions and planted the plants ourselves with the artists and supporters.”

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