East River Park Gets a Touch-Up, and Ideas for a Facelift

Paul Yanchyshyn and Diana Carulli give new color to a painted labyrinth in East River Park.Melvin Felix Paul Yanchyshyn and Diana Carulli give new color to a painted labyrinth in East River Park.

After five weekends of weeding, mulching and painting, the women of the New York Junior League will unveil upgrades at East River Park tomorrow. The Playground Improvement Project, a committee of the league, volunteered its time throughout the spring to beautify 57 acres of riverfront between East 12th Street and Montgomery Street.

Visitors will now find new benches, fresh coats of paint on playground equipment and fences, as well as a brand new flower garden near the tennis courts at Houston Street.

The improvements are likely to be folded into the Blueway project, a proposal to make the shore along the East River, from the Brooklyn Bridge north to East 38th Street, as accessible and pleasant as Hudson River Park to the west.

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, one of the promoters of the Blueway, said the improvements to the park were welcome during the project’s early planning stages. “I saw first hand how they’ve been working hard getting the park ready for the summer for residents to enjoy,” said Mr. Kavanagh.

Flowers line the entrance to the tennis courts by FDR Drive on East River Park.Melvin Felix Flowers near the tennis courts.

Among other things, the Junior League donated buckets of paint to Diana Carulli, an artist who painted a colorful labyrinth on a cement area near the tennis courts back in 2004. The labyrinth had faded and was covered by construction materials for a long time, Ms. Carulli said, so she set out to repaint it this week.

“It’s different this time, which is fun,” she said, pointing to the red and silver center of the maze. “We have this fire element in the center. It’s like the energy from the core of the earth is coming through here at East River Park.”

Lisa Hathaway Stella, president of the New York Junior League, considers the group’s efforts to be a step toward the larger Blueway vision. “The East Side has long lagged behind the development of Hudson River Park and the plan for the waterfront focuses on closing this gap,” she said. “The completion of these renovations will provide new waterfront access, parkland, and more recreational options for the East side residents of Manhattan.”

The repainted amphitheater by the East River.Melvin Felix Repainted ampitheater.

At a meeting regarding the Blueway last night, members of Community Board 3 and local residents shared ideas about ways to improve the park, including a better bike path, more food vendors, less trash, and more restrooms.

But most of the 50 people who gathered at Tompkins Square Library agreed that the bigger problem was getting local residents to even know that the park is there.

“I take my kids to the Brooklyn Bridge Park,” said Trevor Holland, who lives just a few blocks from East River Park. “It’s more convenient. There’s ice cream for the kids, a merry-go-round. It’s designed well.”

A construction project next to the amphitheater in East River Park.Melvin Felix Construction next to the ampitheater.

Mr. Holland, who said he had attended all three of the Blueway meetings, wanted to see the park space in his own backyard become a destination too. Many locals said that better signs pointing people to the park’s entrances are desperately needed to make that happen.

At the meeting, it was clear that improving the park’s atmosphere and visibility will mean contending with Robert Moses’ considerable legacy in the form of FDR Drive. Entrances to the park must cross the FDR, and residents complained that the bike path alongside the highway was often flooded, and its entrances were not marked well.

The fenced-off walkway by the East River.Melvin Felix An area of the park awaits a grand opening.

Those challenges mean that unlike in many parts of the city, there is almost no relationship between the people who use the park and the people who live nearby, according to Beth Bingham, an East River Park-goer who works for the organization Partnership for Parks.

“When you’re in the neighborhood, there’s no sense of there being a park, or once you’re there a sense of how to get out,” Ms. Bingham said. “People don’t know who the park is for, but they think it’s not for them.”