Building Bridges: A Community-Based Stewardship Study for an Equitable East River Park

Building Bridges reports on the findings and recommendations of the research conducted by The Trust for Public Land and James Lima Planning + Development to identify a new socially equitable and climate resilient stewardship model for the East River Park area along the Lower Manhattan waterfront in New York City. Under the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project, the East River Park area is the first section of the large-scale BIG U project which will install infrastructure and remodel the landscape surrounding Lower Manhattan to protect it from sea level rise and other coastal climate hazards. While also enhancing community-wide resilience and equity, the designs and strategies for the East River Park can serve as a model for progressive climate and social resilience initiatives in coastal cities anywhere.

This research focuses on social equity and the report offers recommendations for equitably addressing the planning, construction, re-opening, and long-term, ongoing maintenance and management of the park during and after the ESCR project. East River Park was one of the waterfront areas affected by Hurricane Sandy and, under the ESCR project, has become one of the city’s first lines of defense against storm surges and other coastal threats. The park’s adjacent communities are particularly vulnerable, both geographically and economically, to the impacts of increasingly severe coastal storms. The ESCR project aims to transform East River Park into a “first of its kind” resilient park that will protect 130,000 residents of which 62% are low-income, elderly, or disabled and 617 acres that include 30,000 affordable housing units. 

Developing the stewardship model for East River Park included consultation from community leaders and decision makers, an examination of various stewardship models and best practices employed across the U.S., and stakeholder meetings to identify community concerns. The research team recommends the adoption of an alliance model for the long-term stewardship of the park.

The key takeaway messages are:

  • Alliances are flexible:  As a type of stewardship model, the alliance organizational structure offers the most flexible way for stakeholders to organize, leverage assets, and maximize community involvement.
  • Founding principles matter:  A set of founding principles related to equitable development for an alliance structure can help ensure that social equity goals remain at the forefront of the group’s agenda.
  • City partnership is critical: The establishment of a stable, working relationship between an alliance and the city is of critical importance.
  • Engagement and park activation can happen before construction: Stakeholders can organize and exercise their voice with decision makers regarding design and planning for construction impact mitigation before construction begins.

Specific recommendations for operating under an alliance model are discussed, followed by suggested steps for the next 6 months and the next 12 months and beyond:

  • Form an East River Alliance composed of organizations that already work in the community to pull from the generations of expertise in the neighborhood
  • Start now and allow the structure of the Alliance to evolve
  • Structure an alliance with formal City partnership
  • Develop year-round programming and activation as a way to support community priorities before, during, and after ESCR project construction
  • Develop partnerships internally as well as with city agencies, businesses, other parks, and community
  • Set a foundation for an equitable funding model


Publication Date: December 2018

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  • Case study
  • Project

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