Harlem River Park is a rare waterfront oasis for hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors to East and Central Harlem, with 20 acres of landscaped gardens and pathways providing space for recreation, arts and education and offering stunning views of the river and its historic bridges. A popular site for family picnics, walking and biking and community festivals, the park also creates an absorbent green fringe that can help protect housing units, highways and other critical infrastructure from the destructive impact of floods and storms.
However, like the rest of our urban coastline, Harlem River Park is threatened by increasingly frequent and severe storms. Superstorm Sandy – which destroyed waterfront neighborhoods and infrastructure, causing at least $50 billion in damage and killing more than 100 people -- made painfully clear that flooding and storm surge pose a serious threat to our communities, economy and way of life. At Harlem River Park, the water swept into the park, flooded buildings including Esplanade Gardens and caused millions of dollars in property damage, triggered erosion under the Harlem River Drive, and destroyed landscaping, benches and safety features within the park itself – all of which further weakened this narrow, yet critical strip of natural protection for this waterfront community.
The time has come to make Harlem River Park all it should be – a safe, clean, resilient waterfront space that is easily accessible to the neighborhood and provides real flood protection for this diverse, densely populated and historic urban community. Restoring Harlem River Park is a critical step in creating a greener, more sustainable and economically vibrant 21st Century waterfront, with equitable public access, restored natural shoreline, flood-absorbing open space, and well-protected coastal communities all around our urban harbor.
For the NY-NJ Harbor region and waterfront communities like East Harlem to be greener, more resilient and truly thriving, we must encourage President Obama, New York Gov. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bloomberg to continue working together to restore our urban shoreline by investing in projects -- like Harlem River Park -- that provide multiple community and flood protection benefits. We urge our leaders to join forces across bureaucratic and political lines to invest funding Congress provided after Hurricane Sandy to transform this critical section of waterfront and help build a stronger, safer and more sustainable urban coastline.