Activists chain themselves to the tree to save East River Park

Judith K. Canepa (right) and Jmac (left) are chained to the tree in the City Hall Park. They are demanding an independent oversight hearing for the city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR).Photo by Nikol Mudrová

 Activists from the organization East River Park Action chained themselves to the tree in City Hall Park yesterday morning. The action was a demand  for the city to hold an oversight hearing for the city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR), which they consider non transparent and has threatened the future of the park which is a cherished oasis for residents. 

Judith K. Canepa chained to the tree in the City Hall Park. The protest is a demand for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to hold an oversight hearing on ESCR. September 28, 2021. Photo by Nikol Mudrová.

A  small group of neighborhood activists walked into City Hall Park  stopped by one tree in front of the City Hall building and two  women,  Jmac,  who did not want her full name used and Judith K. Canepa, hugged the tree, locked their arms into tubes around the trunk, and started their protest. 

“We’re going to stay here until the hearing is settled or until someone takes us away,” Canepa said.

She lives two blocks from the East River Park and said she  is going to be personally affected if the city moves forward with the ESCR.

The New York City Council wants to build flood control in the Lower East Side. And according to ESCR, the current East River Park should be destroyed and rebuilt all over again on a landfill, which would elevate the ground by eight feet. 

But originally, the city wanted to put flood protection between the main road and park while containing the park basically as it is now. 


NYC Council’s reasoning behind why they switched plans in 2019. Graphics taken from the January 23, 2019 NYC Council Hearing presentation. Provided by Megan Moriarty Press Officer, NYC Parks.

“We want the independent oversight to open the truth for everybody,” said Aresh Javadi, an artist, educator, and one of the leading members of the East River Park Action.

The only person who can set such a hearing is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who  they are unable to reach, Javadi said.

They held up a sign that read  “Corey, schedule the oversight hearing on ESCR now.” They said they are in City Hall Park so Johnson can see Canepa and Jmac chained on the tree from his office. 

East River Park Action members demanding an oversight hearing from the City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in front of the City Hall. Photo by Nikol Mudrová

According to Javadi, the group filed the Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) to see the new plan, but after their lawyers obtained it, the majority of it was blackened.

“If it’s a good plan, you don’t cover 90 percent of it,” he said. “Now it just seems they chose the plan that costs more money, not the one that has the best interest for the community or the park.”

The independent oversight would clear up some unknowns and bring transparency to the project, activists believe. 

“There should be eight to 10 feet of fill, ok. What kind of fill?” Canepa asked as an example of an unanswered question. “Where is the fill coming from? How do New York City expect to do the project in five years when we’ve never, never done anything on time? How long would we have to live without a park and with more pollution then?” 

Meanwhile, policemen stopped by to check what was going on. 

“They didn’t pressure us or threaten us,” Canepa said. “One of them had a smile on his face and told me, he was just concerned and wanted to make sure we’re ok.”

 Hours later, they got a response from the mayor’s office. Manhattan Borough Director Andrew Kunkes promised they would set up a meeting with the speaker’s department.  

But Johnson still did not reply to the activists’. Kunkes also did not provide any additional information. 

 As the two women  remained chained to the tree the protesters gathered around a nearby chess table  to brainstorm the next steps.

“We’re probably going to do more direct action in the park itself. I mean… October is here, we don’t have more time,” said  protestor Eileen Myles, a poet, and writer from the Lower East Side.

Eileen Myles brainstorming the next East River Park Action’s steps in the City Hall Park. Photo by Nikol Mudrová

They said the city  would start cutting down the trees in East River Park in October. 

Roughly ten hours  after the protest began  the two women unchained themselves and it  was over. Since an  oversight hearing was not guaranteed the protesters will meet at East River Park to discuss next steps in the fight.