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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.