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New Stretch of Waterfront Project Revamps East Side

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This rendering, courtesy of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, shows a summertime view of the planned walkway on the edge of the East River. Scroll below to see some photos of the completed section.

By Jessica Beebe

It’s time to take a walk on the East side.

The East Midtown Waterfront project completed construction on its first phase of new greenway in December 2023, four years after it broke ground. The phase adds a nine-block swath of walkway and park area from 53rd Street to 61st Street, part of the 22-block East Midtown Greenway esplanade that extends from 38th to 61st streets. Phase 1 included an upland “flyover” connection accessible from 54th Street.

“In Manhattan, green space is at a premium; if we have to get creative and add to the island to deliver it, that's what we'll do!”  said Deputy Mayor of Operations Meera Joshi in a press release when the project opened in December, adding that “the Midtown East Greenway and Andrew Haswell Park will welcome more New Yorkers than ever to bike, run and walk with the sun in their faces—and further develop our city's work-play waterfront.”

Union-Built Success

The $217 million project fills in a 1.1-mile gap–from Andrew Haswell Green Park on East 60th Street to Sutton Place’s Clara Coffey Park on East 54th Street. The project was designed by consulting service Stantec as well as global construction and development firm Skanska and the New York City Economic Development Corporation headed operations.

The successful completion of the latest stretch of the greenway is largely thanks to New York city construction unions. A representative at Skanska provided a list of the biggest union subcontractors who worked on the project.

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The newly opened walkway gives jogger, bikers, and walkers an expansive view of the East River, Roosevelt Island, and surrounding boroughs.

Union Contractors

– Trevcon Construction Company
– Weeks Marine
– Welsbach Electric
– Community Electric
– Aspro Plumbing
– J D’Annunzio and Sons
– GCCOM (Sub to J D’Annunzio)
– Eagle Fence (Sub to J D’Annunzio)
– Malcolm Patric(Sub to J D’Annunzio)
– Steven Dubner Landscaping
– Prestige Stone and Pavers (Sub to J D’ Annunzio and Steven Dubner)
– Beach Erectors

Built to Last

Worth noting is that the greenway was built with resilience in mind, especially since sea level rise is a serious concern. The design of the latest addition of greenway followed guidelines to anticipate future climate conditions and, according to the Engineered Devices Corporation (EDC), assumed to see 36 inches of sea level rise within roughly 75 years.

Certainly, this project would have had a different timeline and outcome had it been a non-union project, which are notorious for taking shortcuts while building in an attempt to save on time and costs (as Union-Built Matters has oft-reported, this can lead to oversights that cause mistakes or injuries).

Instead, the East Midtown Greenway addition was built efficiently by unionized workers, with the project focused on innovation and safety. As construction was underway, builders used LTE and GPS tracking for barges—this enhanced safety on the waterfront job site—as well as advanced time lapse cameras and underwater drones to again ensure safety, and also document progress. These cutting-edge resources have become part of the everyday union toolkit.

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The project diagram details the layout and sections of the East Midtown Greenway.

The Bigger Picture

The new nine-block addition to the greenway has lately been busy with pedestrians and cyclists thanks to warming temperatures. Past the 54th street entrance, people sit on benches and look out at the river, watching the planes flying in and out of La Guardia and tugboats pulling barges by as seagulls and cormorants put on a show for the onlookers. Once Roosevelt Island’s cherry blossoms start blooming this season, the greenway addition will offer views of the pink trees lining the river.

Along the walkway, benches face the water, some of them carved out of boulders and surrounded by native greenery. People sit and pet their dogs, rock baby strollers, read books, and talk on the phone. The new energy is palpable.

A Sutton Place resident enjoys the fact that the new greenway is far from the street. “This greenway is a nice area to bike and walk without car traffic,” he says. “It beautifies the area as well, thanks to the good work they did with the plants and designs. It’s a great place to relax and get some sun...and this definitely helps with foot traffic in surrounding areas and makes it less dense.” He adds that the greenway is also a solid spot to “observe waterfowl” if you are into birdwatching.

Educational Call-outs

The new addition also offers signage describing the science behind the East River’s currents (this reporter just learned that the East River is not actually a “river” but a salt water tidal estuary or strait). There’s also a new, translucent public artwork created by artist Stacy Levy called “Diatom Lace.” Plus, a lot of unseen work is behind the addition; the park uses engineered soil to collect stormwater that feed the newly planted trees that dot the greenway (and, certified compost was used for soil enhancement, as well as recycled local organic materials).

Ultimately, the East Midtown Greenway is giving New Yorkers who reside in or frequent the east side of Manhattan what those on the West side have always had—an accessible, aesthetically pleasing riverfront that serves as both a waterfront escape and an alternative route to get places. Before this, the Midtown East area in particular was largely blocked off from waterfront views thanks to the FDR Drive and the steep landscape of the area.

Benches face the water, some of them carved out of boulders and surrounded by native greenery. People sit and pet their dogs, rock baby strollers, read books, and talk on the phone. The new energy is palpable.

Looking Ahead

What’s next for the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway? Check out the city’s mapped out plans for the project. The overall goal is to connect the waterfront green spaces around the borough in one giant 32.5-mile loop.

Union work will continue along the East River, with the next addition to the East Midtown Waterfront to go up behind the United Nations headquarters to connect the esplanade at East 41st Street.

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Jessica Beebe is a multimedia journalist living and working in New York City. Email her at jessica.beebe.ny@gmail.com.

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