Although New York is a city of islands, in Manhattan, it's hard to enjoy the waterfront. But an opportunity on the East River could bring New Yorkers closer to the water from which they've long been separated by the FDR Drive. The Municipal Art Society has unveiled an ambitious plan for Waterside Pier, once owned by Con Edison. If that plan comes to fruition, the pier, which runs from 38th to 41st Street, could be the centerpiece of an East Side Waterfront Park.
To generate ideas, the MAS held a design workshop open to the public this summer, and has been working with W Architecture and Landscape Architecture. It produced a detailed report on all the practical aspects of the project: funding, construction, and how to draw people in.
Unlike some of the wilder ideas for getting New Yorkers to the water, this one has what looks like the ideal combination of practicality and imagination. Plans for the pier include changes in elevation, which would minimize the noise of the adjacent highway and provide natural seating for anyone coming to see a concert or movie.
With the idea of making the park into a destination, the report has suggestions for attractions:
• A small but unique food service establishment
• A beach – both a temporary and permanent use – sunbathing, volleyball
• Temporary barges for activities – pools, theater, concerts
• Creative programming – fishing docks, farmer’s market
But remaking Waterside Pier is just step one. The MAS would like to see the creation of an East Side greenway that would entail reconstructing part of the FDR Drive, redeveloping an adjacent lot with towers as well as public space and building a waterfront esplanade as an expansion of the United Nations campus, just north of the pier.
That's all a ways in the future, but if the three blocks of empty pier can really be made into a destination for the public, and if the new park can have even a modicum of the success enjoyed by the High Line, Manhattan's East Side will be doing pretty well.