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The pointless demolition of Manhattan’s East River Park

(ARTFORUM) Eileen Myles, May 15, 2022

DURING A NORMAL YEAR one hundred thousand people recreate and run through East River Park in Lower Manhattan. Nobody has the numbers from the worst of the pandemic but it’s probably double. Painter and former drag star Taboo! enjoyed working out there in that fenced-in gym off the running track I myself have made use of since 1978. I felt comfortable asking the editor here if I could write something about the park since I knew he and much of a portion of the art world were dancing at the amphitheater at Corlears Hook, which is at the southern end of the park, the night Biden got elected. And I still feel terrible that I missed that party. I had already been involved with the activists who have been fighting to save this vernacular gem of a park since 2018, when the city first announced they had a new plan for providing flood control for the neighborhood and that this was to destroy the park—though in the warlike logic of our mayor and the New York Department of Design and Construction they would be saving it. They would be renovating it, protecting it, renewing it, salvaging it, updating it, anything but what they are actually doing right now which is demolishing it. They are in the throes of uprooting all 991 trees, many eighty years old, among the older trees in the city.

One particular tree, a pin oak, was the site of choreographer Katherine De La Cruz leading us, one day, in movement around it, this glorious large old tree. And looking up into the sky, remembering what I’ve learned in my time thinking about, fighting for, and relishing this park, I knew that the expanse of the crown of a tree also indicates how wide its roots go. They’re deep and connected with other trees, so the second the city began destroying the park last week, that tree definitely got the word from other trees that danger was coming.

How can this be? Precisely it’s because New York’s current mayor, on his way out, wants to do it, needs to. De Blasio will leave behind a legacy marked by his distinctive contempt for this city’s commons. And it’s no secret that he has solicited contributions from real estate since the beginning of his career. When he was slapped on the wrist by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, he worked for two years to keep their warning under wraps. The chair of said board, a de Blasio appointee, said it’s fine. No, it’s not. The gang of remarkable activists I’ve had the chance to be among are dancers, retired pols, several photographers, actors, lawyers, disabled people, unemployed people, artists, two poets, scientists, academics, musicians, a former UN senior political affairs officer, city employees, filmmakers, some of whom are NYCHA residents. And fuck you, we are diverse. And as the mayhem steps up in the park we are becoming more so. We’re lead by indigenous land defenders, part of a global movement. We can see who cares.

Source: ArtForum