The notion of Manhattan residents frolicking in the East River would have been dismissed as either a cruel joke or a quixotic fantasy as recently as two decades ago. But now that notion is becoming a reality.
The City Council and the Manhattan borough president’s office recently appropriated about $7 million to fund the redevelopment of a beachfront project near the Manhattan tower of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s part of a larger plan to reopen the East River waterfront from downtown to Midtown so that residents can reconnect with one of the city’s great natural resources.
Once upon a time, the East River and Hudson River waterfronts were reserved for industrial and commercial use. Construction of highways along the East and West Sides further separated Manhattan residents from the rivers that gave the city its commanding place in the global economy.
But the days of crowded piers, fish markets and smoke-spewing factories are long gone, creating an opportunity for planners to re-imagine the waterfront for 21st-century use. That’s what the Blueway is all about, and if planners have their way, the East Side waterfront will soon be home to beaches, pedestrian walkways, and even a kayak and canoe launch adjacent to Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
The Blueway will be a fine complement to the miraculous transformation of the Hudson River waterfront over the last 20 years. We may never return to the days when youngsters stripped off their clothes for a swim in the East River, but a kayak trip on an August evening sounds just as relaxing, and much more modest.