South Bronx pushes for cleaner parks

Bronx residents discuss local park issues at the NY4P How's Your Park meeting.

Bronx residents discuss local park issues at the NY4P How’s Your Park meeting.

Residents agree with report that city must step up maintenance

Yameli Rivera, a mother of one who is studying to become an emergency medical technician, grew up enjoying St. Mary’s Park. But lately she avoids the park.

“The litter is crazy around here,” she said. “I wouldn’t let my son play here.”

In its latest Open Space Index report, nonprofit group New Yorkers for Parks found that Mott Haven failed to meet acceptable standards in 11 of 15 categories, including the number acres of open space residents have access to, and cleanliness of area parks. The report maintains that all New York residents should live within a 5-minute walk from a park, but in Mott Haven only 68 percent of residents do.

At an Oct. 21 How’s Your Park meeting at Bronx Lebanon Hospital in Morrisania, some 40 people gathered to discuss the state of the city’s parks. Participants said maintenance is woeful at St. Mary’s and other local parks, complaining about overfilled garbage cans, overworked volunteers and unsanitary conditions, among other shortcomings.

Improved maintenance, strategic investment and greening initiatives topped the list of recommendations in the parks group’s report. Increased access to the waterfront for residents and the revitalization of St. Mary’s Park were also key.

St. Mary’s is the largest park in the South Bronx, covering 32 acres. It has long been a magnet for children and adults to play and relax, but ubiquitous cracks in the pavement, peeling paint and strewn litter are constant reminders of its steady decline.

Emily Walker, director of outreach and programs for New Yorkers for Parks, said Mott Haven residents badly need more recreation space.

“An acre is great, but if it’s an acre of concrete with a fence around it, it’s not,” said Walker.

While some residents used words like connectivity, empowerment, and dedication to describe the best things happening in their parks, others said that basic resources are lacking. They expressed frustration at how slowly the city responds to the issues they regularly raise.

James Melendez, vice president of 52 People for Progress, said he has given up on the parks department entirely.

“We don’t wait for the parks department,” said Melendez, adding he cleans graffitied walls, organizes events and performs needed maintenance at Longwood’s 52 Park. The popular park is informally dubbed the blue park, in honor of the Yankees, whose color scheme it emulates.

“We don’t even want them there,” Melendez said of the parks department.

Participants at the meeting were split up into groups consisting of a cross section of residents and professionals, most of whom were critical of the city’s efforts to maintain local parks. In an email, Bronx parks commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa responded that the department does what it can given its budget, and offered examples of a swing set workers recently installed at a Wakefield playground and new garbage cans in Joyce Kilmer Park.

Rodriguez-Rosa said she hoped residents would get more involved in issues concerning their parks and would communicate their concerns to the department.

“The best parks are those where communities are engaged,” she said.