The East Harlem studio team made multiple visits to the East River Esplanade over the course of two weeks observing how the esplanade is used and by whom. Observation points were at the 120th and 111th Street pedestrian bridges over the FDR, the chess tables around 112th Street, the 107th Street pier, and 103rd Street Pedestrian Bridge/Ward’s Island Bridge. The team observed behavior at different times during the day (morning, afternoon, and evening), and both during the weekday and the weekend. The goal was to gain a general sense of how the esplanade is used.
Team members generally observed that the esplanade was used primarily for active recreation rather than passive recreation, meaning that this section of the esplanade is not one in which users tend to sit or stay in one place for long periods of time. The team observed that many of the esplanade’s users were joggers, walkers, and bikers. The exception to this would be those users who fished in the river throughout the observation study area.
The team generally agreed that the noise from the FDR impacted any sense of calm or serenity that might otherwise come from a waterfront park, and that this possibly affects how the esplanade is used, perhaps discouraging users from staying longer. This may be one reason that the team observed very little use of the chess tables around 112th Street, as well as an infrequency of bench usage throughout the observation area. Men and women fishing along the esplanade were among the majority of the observed users spending long periods of time in one place.
Another possibility for the scarcity of users staying in one spot was the question of safety. Some observers on the studio team felt that the relative infrequency of passersby, coupled with the shortage of access/exit points on the esplanade, could dissuade people from feeling comfortable enough to spend longer periods of time there. One team member biked north to the observation area from 59th Street and observed that the area between 102nd Street and 120th Street seemed markedly more deserted. However, on the question of safety, the team did observe a high number of women using the esplanade alone, usually running or jogging, perhaps indicating at least a moderate level of feeling safe.
The studio team found the esplanade in our observation area to be relatively clear of litter, and there are signs of maintenance taking place on the esplanade. At least one NYC Parks truck was observed traveling along the esplanade (although reportedly with some difficulty, having to skirt around a large sinkhole), and a maintenance crew was observed changing the fixture on a light pole. In addition, the grass along the FDR fence was observed to have been recently cut.
Other common observations by the team include occasional use of the old pier infrastructure at 111th Street near the entrance/exit to the esplanade – people were observed jumping the fence and hanging out on the crumbling concrete; generally poor infrastructure condition, particularly the bulkhead wall and numerous sinkholes on the esplanade itself; many dog walkers; a local school or youth track team using the esplanade for practice; and some users carrying shopping bags or using shopping carts/rollers, indicating the esplanade as a transportation (rather than simply recreation) route for some people in the neighborhood.
Lastly, evidence of public urination, particularly in the areas of the pedestrian bridges, was observed, and on two occasions men were observed urinating in the slightly obscured area against the side of the 120th Street pedestrian bridge. The lack of restrooms, and more importantly any plumbing to serve restrooms, certainly contributes to the problem of public urination in the observation area.
Based on these observations, the studio team’s informal observational study concludes that while the esplanade in this area is being used, it is not being used to its full potential. More access points, some method of mitigating the noise level generated by the FDR, and restrooms could perhaps make the esplanade more frequented and better enjoyed.