Port Morris wasteland dreams of green

Plans for the South Bronx Greenway call for the fence at the end of 132nd Street to come down and the rotting pier to be replaced by a small park.Photo by Sarah Trefethen

South Bronx Greenway to bring access to waterfront

By Sarah Trefethen
[email protected]

It’s a sunny spring afternoon, and a handful of residents are spending time on the stoop of Jasmine Court, on the corner of 138th Street and Bruckner Boulevard. Trucks rumble on and off the expressway. Pedestrians hurry past.

Laura Barksdale, 52, says she sits outside because she likes to watch the people go by. But she acknowledges Port Morris is not the most comfortable place to hang out outdoors.

“There’s nowhere to relax and sit around,” she said. “There’s nowhere to go.”

The industrial area at the borough’s southernmost tip is a place of trucks, factories and fumes, with little to offer humans who travel by foot or by bike, or want to sit a spell. But the proposed South Bronx Greenway could bring tree-lined paths and waterfront parks to Port Morris’ lifeless streets.

Work is already underway on the Randall’s Island Connector, the first step in implementing an ambitious plan that could eventually lace much of the South Bronx with safe and attractive places to exercise and enjoy the outdoors.

Once the Randall’s Island Connector is built, the plan calls for trees to be planted along Willow and Locust Avenues and 138th Street. Cyclists will get their own lane, protected from trucks by a curb.

Right now, the streets leading to the East River shore end in barbed-wire fences. The plan calls for access to the river from 132nd and 134th streets, where small waterfront parks will be built.

Plans for the South Bronx Greenway originated in Hunts Point a dozen years ago, when Majora Carter, then a program associate at The Point Community Development Corporation, wrote a $1.25 million grant proposal to make the waterfront more accessible.

Two new waterfront parks opened in Hunts Point in 2006, but the remainder of the plan remained on paper until this spring, when Mayor Bloomberg announced that $22 million in federal stimulus money would be used to move the greenway from the drawing board to reality.

Completion of the greenway would make it possible for walkers or cyclists to take a trail from Port Morris to Hunts Point Riverside Park, and to connect there with the Bronx River Greenway, leading all the way to Westchester.

“The greenway will offer a community that has had the least amount of park space per resident, compared to the rest of the city of New York, some breathing room,” said Miquela Craytor, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx.

Jasmine Court, an assisted living facility for the formerly homeless, is a rare place in Port Morris where people actually live. But the Port Morris section of the greenway will also benefit the tens of thousands people living nearby in Mott Haven, and waterfront enthusiasts from even further afield.

Forty-year-old Ozzie Morales, a delivery driver from East Elmhurst, likes to stop his van at the fence at the end of 134th Street and enjoy the view.

“I think it would be really, really great,” he said when told about the proposed greenway. “It’s a beautiful view, and this is wasted land. It has so much potential. I could see seating here, and a promenade, like they did on the West Side in the 20’s.”

There are also thousands of people with jobs in Port Morris. Vanessa Lloyd, 18, is a clerical worker at the World Vision distribution center in Port Morris. She thinks trees and bike paths would make the neighborhood a better place to work.

“We need something like that to make it look lively. To have people be able to ride their bikes instead of walking in all this trash,” she said. “It’d be nice to have some healthiness around.”