Forum looks at alternatives to heavy industry along Harlem River
Planners and architects told a forum in Mott Haven that green space can share a revived Harlem River waterfront with the existing heavy industries, so long as FreshDirect doesn’t gobble up the space that could be used for recreation.
Speakers at a Jan. 24 forum at BronxArtSpace who shared detailed plans for change along the river with an audience of some 50 people brought together by grass roots group South Bronx Unite, emphasized the need to liven up derelict space with parks, small shops, garden plots, kayak launches, bike paths and walkways. They also looked forward to an attractive crossing from Mott Haven to Randall’s Island that would replace the forbidding concrete hulk that spans the river now.
But the planners said industrial uses of the area are at a breaking point, and the neighborhood cannot handle more truck traffic or pollution.
“I fell in love with the Bronx, especially the South,” said Juan Carlos Taiano, an architect from Argentina who has lived in Mott Haven for decades, explaining why he chose to create an alternative plan for the Port Morris waterfront.
Taiano’s plan includes microbusinesses in tents that can easily be moved or folded up in the event of storm surges. Last October’s Superstorm Sandy proved climate change will cause surges and flooding New Yorkers will have to adapt to, he argued.
A recent study found low-lying Port Morris is especially vulnerable to storm surge. The flooding from the October storm damaged several businesses.
Local resident Monxo Lopez, a mapmaker for the city’s Housing Authority, described Taiano’s vision as practical, non-polluting and inexpensive. “You build with what you have,” Lopez said.
An educator for the Bronx River Alliance, Damian Griffin, agreed the priority should be on green space to help prevent storm waters from rising, in order to protect residential areas of Port Morris and Mott Haven.
“The key word these days is wetlands,” he said.
The city has used Mott Haven and other low-income communities in the city as dumping grounds over the decades, said Tom Angotti, director of Hunter College’s Center for Community Planning and Development.
“The city’s waterfront policy for the last 50 years has been bankrupt,” he said, and it continues to concentrate polluting industries in poor neighborhoods like the South Bronx, while also encouraging condos, a policy that he said “looks like a silly one” after the devastation caused by Sandy.
Angotti dismissed FreshDirect’s model of online grocery shopping and truck delivery to homes as “the wrong way to think about food.” Instead of plastic-wrapped food grown far from the city, “we should be expanding bodegas,” he said.
FreshDirect and proponents of the company’s planned move to Port Morris, such as Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., contend that the company will create jobs in the South Bronx.
“Of course we need jobs,” said local activist and Community Board 1 member Mychal Johnson, but he added the alternative plans presented at the forum, would also create opportunities.
An elected official sided with the presenters.
“We’ve been asking for clarity that really has not been coming along,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, along with three other local elected officials, sent a letter to the state’s Dept. of Transportation, urging a moratorium on any new construction on the 28-acre site.
“We’re in an election year,” Mark-Viverito said, urging the attendees to press candidates seeking election to city office to back away from the $127 million subsidy package the city and state offered FreshDirect early in 2012 to move from its Queens facility to Port Morris.
But one lifelong Mott Haven resident worried that the only way to convince the city to give preference to green space over heavy industry on the waterfront would be to mobilize more opponents.
“We need more than people like us, because we’re surrounded by public housing,” said Aurio Cardona, 63, a former director of Community Board 1’s planning board. “We don’t connect to the mass,” he said. “We have to start knocking on project doors.”
Chauncy Young, a leader of the Bronx Council on Environmental Quality’s Harlem River Working Group, urged the people in the audience to push for expanded green space, pointing out that Bronxites successfully pressured the city to create the South Bronx Greenway.
“This is very winnable,” he said.