journal

On the Loss of Southpoint Park

Dear Assembly Member Seawright, and Borough President Brewer,

I attended the Southpoint Park tour on Friday and wanted to follow up on the concerns I expressed to you there.

I understand the importance of repairing the sea wall. But I want to share why this patch of invasive plants, resting on contaminated soil, is so important to me.

I've been a resident of Roosevelt Island since 1994, since I emigrated from Naples, Italy. Growing up here was special. My childhood memories include ladybugs and hummingbirds, watching cormorants and seagulls fish, and the southern tip of the Island, when it was still green. As a child, all of these were sources of joy, delight, and curiosity. Later, they often prompted feelings of gratitude, and appreciation for the gift of life.

Over my lifetime, I have seen most of these sources vanish. I have seen one hummingbird in the last decade, maybe a handful of ladybugs. I understand that there were compelling reasons, sometimes, to develop the Island. But I still mourn the losses I have witnessed.

I visit Southpoint Park several times a week. I've been there in all seasons, in all kinds of weather, at dawn, afternoon, and dusk. It is perhaps the one place left where I can still experience the delights I remember as a child. This summer, it was watching red sparrows eat mulberries, or the rainbow after a storm caught me reading in the park. In 2014, I studied for the bar exam there. When my grandmother suffered a heart attack last year, I went to Southpoint Park to collect my thoughts.

I know that, in days to come, I will walk to that park and find its shores bare. In place of the maze of green branches will be overturned dirt, machinery, and views of man-made structures on the horizon. Even now, I dread to see that view.

While I have watched this reverse alchemy of the Island -- of turning emerald to stone -- I have also learned more of our planet's situation. It is a fact, today, that the ecological foundations of human society are buckling. I am wondering when we will start to turn things around, and if governments' approach to nature can shift in time.

RIOC's current vision for the park entails a loss of twenty trees. This number hides the fact that some are mature trees, whose equivalent cannot be planted. There will also be a net loss in terms of square feet left to nature. This outcome, better than the original proposal, is only because residents stepped up. Otherwise, we would have been facing a greater loss.

I would love to see RIOC commit to, at the least, maintaining an equivalent number of trees in the park. I would love for more space to be left wild. More than that, I would love to see RIOC match residents' passion and appreciation for the nature we have here.

If you can help to bridge this gap, I will be indebted to you.

Thank you very much for your time,

David Wen Riccardi-Zhu
555 Main Street