Thanks to community residents from Port Morris and Mott Haven in The South Bronx—along with local institutions, community based organizations and businesses—the vision for a sustainable waterfront and access to it by local residents has taken one leap closer to becoming reality and as soon as a 2017 groundbreaking.
Yesterday, The New York Restoration Project, the nonprofit organization founded by actress, singer and Grammy winning Bette Midler back in 1995, unveiled ‘The Haven Project’(Click the link to view the entire document: Warning PDF) which has been the culmination of 6 months of work in a community led initiative to improve the quality of life for the over 50,000 residents living in the Mott Haven and Port Morris neighborhoods of The Bronx.
For months, residents from the area and organizations and businesses such as Bronx River Alliance, Bronx Documentary Center, South Bronx Unite, The Point CDC, Montefiore Medical Center and even Welcome2TheBronx came together over several visioning sessions to map out our area’s green future.
The process showed how a community led venture with organizations such as New York Restoration Project can come up with the solutions to problems that impact our neighborhoods such as poor air quality thanks to the industrialization of our waterfront and being surrounded by highways, and most of all, the lack of access to green spaces.
This is the ultimate irony which shows the tale of two cities alive and well within our own borough of The Bronx: We are the greenest borough with 25% of our land dedicated to parkland making us one of the greenest urban counties in the nation, yet the South Bronx and Port Morris and Mott Haven in particular have some of the lowest rates of access to such spaces.
According to The Haven Report:
“Parks and open space provide spaces to recreate, relax, and restore the mind. According to New Yorkers for Parks, Mott Haven has open space rates well below the organization’s standard — 0.32 acres of active open space per 1,000 residents versus the standard of 1.0 acre, and 0.80 acres of passive open space compared to the 1.5 acre standard.2 Only 50% of residents are within a 10-minute walk of a large park, and 68% are within a five-minute walk of a small park or playground, compared to the 100% standard for both metrics.3 It’s worth noting that if Port Morris were included in this survey, the results would be significantly worse on all counts. Many of the parks in Mott Haven, including 35-acre St. Mary’s Park, are in dire need of capital upgrades, while other pocket parks are almost entirely asphalt.”
That last bit about St Mary’s Park, thanks to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, is on its way to begin capital upgrades starting with one of the most important parts of the park: St Mary’s West Children’s Playground which the Council Speaker has provided $1.5 million to bring much needed upgrades to that corner of the park.
While at the meetings for The Haven Project, one thing that each break out group was clamoring for was access to the waterfront. We were told by NYRP that that would be the most expensive and hardest to work with plan but in the end they listened to the residents of the community and the stakeholders here, for after all, we are the true experts of what we need here and our fellow residents want.
Long time resident and activist, Harry Bubbins told us, “We are glad to see organizations like NYRP responding to and listening to existing community needs. It has been decades of inequitable treatment of our South Bronx waterfront. We have four power plants and handle all of The Bronx garbage and some of Manhattan’s waste and are fighting to stop the absurd giveaway of more than $140 million in public cash and resources to diesel truck polluting FreshDirect.”
Bubbins added, “We need these amenities before the glass tower condos come. Con Ed was involved in a tragic accident that destroyed the East 132nd Street pier in 1989, we are confident that they will be involved in funding the repair.”
It is nice to see that their Master Plan incorporates many elements of the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan which received priority status from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as well as major backing from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
The Master Plan of The Haven Project along with the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan further exemplifies why FreshDirect is not needed or wanted in a residential area that is clamoring for waterfront access. We do not need FreshDirect to block our waterfront with a massive 500,000 square foot facility nor do we need thousands of their diesel truck trips through our already unsafe streets adding to the health disparities of the community which Montefiore Medical Center and The Haven Report indicated.
The Haven Project discusses just this when they report:
“Possibly the greatest barrier to leading an active lifestyle in Mott Haven and Port Morris is the monumental scale of highway infrastructure and industry in the neighborhood. Like many low-income neighborhoods in New York City, Mott Haven and Port Morris were victim to massive highway projects undertaken by the mid-20th century by city planner Robert Moses. To this day, these roads — the Major Deegan Expressway, Bruckner Expressway, and the entrance to the Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge — bring thousands of vehicles and their pollution through the community on a daily basis. The highways isolate Mott Haven and Port Morris from one another, are visually unappealing, create underpasses people perceive as unsafe, and foster dangerous pedestrian and bike conditions on surface streets. At East 138th Street, getting from Mott Haven to Port Morris requires crossing 13 lanes of traffic under the Bruckner Expressway. Pedestrian injuries in the South Bronx cause 114 emergency room visits and 32 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents annually, compared to 111 and 26 citywide.”
They further indicate the lack of access to the waterfront and indirectly mention industries, including the planned FreshDirect move by saying:
“Within Mott Haven and Port Morris, there is not one public waterfront access point. Derelict waterfront sites, like the streetend on East 132nd Street, hamper stunning views. In an age when New York City is reclaiming its waterfront — evidenced by the recent creation and transformation of waterfront parks in all five boroughs, efforts to increase coastal resilience such as the Rebuild by Design competition, and Mayor de Blasio’s call for a dramatic expansion of ferry service — it is truly an equity issue that the Mott Haven and Port Morris waterfront remains privatized and fallow.”
With such strong support from our elected officials, including State Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, who are dedicated to finding funding for the project, it is critical that we indeed continue to apply pressure to make sure that these projects come to fruition as soon as possible.
Of course, with any such projects in low-income areas that have been often neglected and are now getting tons of attention from speculative purchases to Silvercup Studios planting roots in the neighborhood, gentrification fears are bound to come up and are a very legitimate concern.
The thing with this project is that it was something that wasn’t initiated by developers for future residents but the very residents residing here, right now,trying to get the same amenities that other parts of the city enjoy.
Artist Martine Fuogeron, who lives in Port Morris just a few blocks away from the connector and the area that will be directly impacted by this plan said to New York Restoration Project:
“I moved my studio to Port Morris in 2009 where I reside. As a visual artist I fell in love with this stark and centuryold industrial area and was amazed by the breeze from the waterfront. I believe that this neighborhood should find a new paradigm which celebrates the neighborhood’s diverse industrial heritage as well as the residential and artistic communities, in order to avoid the Dumbo or Williamsburg models. This is precisely what NYRP is earnestly attempting to do: giving Bronx residents and workers a stunning waterfront experience and green parks at the base of old gantries and inviting artists to invent new forms of public conversations which will make Port Morris a unique experience — and example.”
And truly, we have seen the disastrous impact of developer lead projects in the above mentioned neighborhoods which destroyed the character of these areas. They went from multicultural ethnic enclaves to bland, generic version of every other area that has gone through gentrification in the city—something we don’t want and by taking control of our resources early on, we become stronger community stakeholders than before.
The first phases of the project have an estimated ground breaking at some point around 2017. All of this, of course, is dependent on getting the necessary funding.
Initial focus areas will be the pier at 132nd Street and the Gantries at 134th Street as well as providing safe access to the Randall’s Island Connector which is expected to open at any point this summer. The 132nd Street Pier would be up first and is expected to cost anywhere from $5 million to $10 million.
As always, we welcome your thoughts on this and any topics we discuss!