Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Battery Park Monument for Essential Workers Is Paused After Protests

After weeks of protests that included an overnight camp, Battery Park City residents were told on Monday that plans to build a monument there for essential workers had been paused amid demands for more community input.

A monument is still in the works, but the state will establish an advisory committee with community residents and leaders to help pick the monument’s location and design, said George J. Tsunis, the chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, which oversees public spaces on the Lower West Side of Manhattan.

“Over the past two weeks we have heard two things clearly and consistently: the love that our community harbors for its parks and public spaces, and its desire to honor the enduring efforts of essential workers over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr. Tsunis wrote in a statement on Monday.

In June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced plans to build a tribute at Rockefeller Park to essential workers in the coronavirus pandemic, with the goal of ending construction by Labor Day. The initial version of the monument was approved by an advisory committee appointed by the governor, consisting primarily of union leaders for essential workers such as nurses and firefighters.

That announcement was immediately met with outcry from Battery Park City residents, who said the decision had been made without consulting them.

Many also criticized the design of the monument, which initially consisted of 19 new trees, pavement that would replace some lawn space, and an “eternal flame.” Residents said they feared losing valuable green space for their families, and some expressed concern over the environmental cost of a nonstop open fire.

A new proposal last week from the Battery Park City Authority to move the tribute near the neighborhood’s Irish Hunger Memorial was also met with outrage.

Representative Jerrold L. Nadler, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, announced at a rally on Monday that the Battery Park City Authority had officially put plans for the monument on hold.

More than 50 Battery Park residents gathered under cloudy skies outside the Irish Hunger Memorial alongside local leaders including Tammy Meltzer, head of Manhattan Community Board 1, and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou. Mr. Nadler made the announcement to raucous cheers and applause from the crowd.

The project is no longer expected to be completed by Labor Day, Mr. Tsunis said in his statement.

“We want grieving families of lost essential workers to know that Battery Park City respects their sacrifice and contribution, but B.P.C.A. residents feel strongly, and potential litigation by residents would further extend the process,” he said.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo referred to Mr. Tsunis’s statement.

Residents attending the rally were overjoyed by the announcement, with some saying they were pleasantly surprised by the strength of local political leaders’ response. Others were happy that the community’s residents were able to unify so quickly.

“We’ve never actually been very organized; this was the catalyst to do that,” said Kelly McGowan, 58, a member of the Battery Park City Neighborhood Association and one of the residents who camped in Rockefeller Park overnight to protest construction. “We got everything we wanted and nobody raised their voice. No arguments, no yelling.”

In response to questions over whether the community’s response amounted to a “not in my backyard” attitude, several residents at the rally said their concern was less about the location of the tribute and more about the lack of transparency from the state about the construction process.

“That’s always a right and proper question for folks to ask,” said Eric Gyasi, 38, a lawyer who spoke for the neighborhood association during the rally. “What we feel as a community is we would just like to have an opportunity to be part of the decision-making process. We respect and value our essential workers of all stripes.”

“We wanted to have a monument that was befitting of the sacrifices that they made,” Mr. Gyasi added.

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