A group of Battery Park City parents and their kids gathered at Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday to protest a resiliency project that would involve the demolition and reconstruction of the greenspace to protect the area from flooding.
The park’s overhaul is part of the $221 million South Battery Park Resiliency Project, which aims to protect the coastline from storm surges and rising sea levels in the face of climate change. The proposal was drafted as a response to the catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Protesters called on Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state public benefit corporation known as the Battery Park City Authority to halt construction at the park, citing concerns that the overhaul wasn’t completely necessary and would disrupt the matured trees throughout the park.
“I have lived in Battery Park City my entire life, and places like Wagner and Rockefeller Park have been essential to my upbringing,” 13-year-old Azalea Torres said on Wednesday as a lineup of teenagers and toddlers spoke about what the park meant to them.
The reconstruction of the park, which is set to begin in a matter of weeks and last about two years, would elevate the public space 10 feet and include a buried flood wall.
A spokesperson for Hochul did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
Nick Sbordone, spokesperson for the Battery Park City Authority, pushed back against the assertion that trees would be lost, saying the plan would bring a net increase of more than 100 trees to the area, including 91 more in Wagner Park than presently. He also said his group considered community input and incorporated it into revisions of the plan, increasing the amount of lawn space by 74% compared to earlier renderings, for example.
“After more than three dozen public meetings on the project held over nearly six years, we’re proud to move forward with a plan that prioritizes science, has broad local support, and is shaped directly by this community feedback,” he said in a statement.
The set of revisions arrived in August after the authority took heat from elected officials representing the area, including state Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou and state Sen. Brian Kavanaugh. Both lawmakers heralded the revisions as welcome news for the residents living around the park.
“I am excited and heartened to see that the BPCA has adjusted its plans to add nearly 13,000 square feet of green space and additional trees in its new design,” Niou said in a statement in August. “I look forward to continuing the conversation on other elements of this project, and I thank Community Board 1 and other neighborhood organizations for their tireless work to fight for a community-centered design.”
Battery Park City resident Betty Kay said the state agency has been communicative about the process since it was first proposed six years ago.
“I think they’ve been very responsive,” Kay said. “Did everyone get everything they wanted? Of course not.”
Thad Pawlowski, a professor and managing director at Columbia University’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes told Gothamist that projects that reimagine the coastline are key to protecting the communities that live near them.
“New York city's coastline is gonna change because of climate change and we can either be proactive about it or just suffer more consequences like Hurricane Sandy,” Pawlowski said.
He also said the back-and-forth between residents and developers does not need to be so contentious, adding, “I feel like we've gotta get better, collectively, not just government, not just the Battery Park City Authority, but community groups also have to get better at talking to each other about how they get this done in a way that doesn't sow more discord and misinformation.”