I work on an island in the East River. Close proximity to the Harlem or East River is part of my daily routine. I incorporate the sound, light and movement of the rivers into the design of all the gardens on Randall’s Island. I take my access for granted.
Civitas organized a panel discussion on Wednesday night, Water and the East River Esplanade. A more diverse group of people rarely comes together: Gregg Pasquarelli, SHoP Architects, Cecilia Alemani, Director, High Line Art, Al Appleton, Former Commissioner, NYC DEP, Michael Marrella, Director, Waterfront and Open Space NYC Planning and Charles Birnbaum, President Cultural Landscape Foundation.
I went to this event, because I respect Cecilia Alemani. We met last year on Randall’s Island. Cecilia is one of the curators for the Freize Art Fair. Together, we facilitated the realization of Maria Loboda’s color-coded garden. Cecilia’s presentation recounted the history of art on The High Line. It was the other guys that had something to say.
An Admirer of Jane Jacobs
Al Appleton came with attitude. He was the elephant in the room: the uncool guy. He said what he meant and meant what he said. It didn’t go over well. He wasn’t in love with The High Line. He didn’t adore Brooklyn Bridge Park. He was down right critical of the East River Esplanade designed by SHoP architects and Ken Smith, landscape architect.
His hissy fit got my attention. Al was fed up with “programmable space.” He desired nature…unconstructed, undesigned and slightly wild. “Why don’t we just let people do what they want to do in these spaces. Instead of telling them how to use the space.” His answer to giving people greater access to the East River from 61 st. to 120 st., BURY THE FDR!
Reimaging the FDR
Did I hear that correctly. BURY THE FDR! Maybe when a guy spends his life designing water treatment plants and sewage facilities, the idea of burying stuff comes naturally. Everyone in the audience was dumbfounded. It is a stunning notion. I teetered out of the room on my 3 inch heels. My balance was thrown off, but not by my footwear. The uncool guy was the actually the coolest guy in the room.
Civitas: Water and the East River Esplanade
Wednesday, October 2, 2013, National Academy of Design
Moderated by Gregg Pasquarelli, Prinicpal and Founding Partner, SHoP Architects
Cecilia Alemani – Donald R. Mullen Jr. Curator & Director, High Line
Al Appleton – Former Commissioner, NYC Dept. of Environemntal Protection, NYC Water and Sewer System
Michael Marrella – Director, Waterfront and Open Space Planning, NYC Dept. of City Planning
Charles Birnbaum – Founder and President of the Cultural Landscape Foundation