For decades, residents of Port Morris have been cut off from the East River and the Harlem River, both of which run through their neighborhood. But now, the waterfront area with a total population of just over 3,000, tucked away between major highways, waste treatment facilities, power plants, trucking depots and rusted gantries, is undergoing big changes that will help grant them recreational access to those rivers.
On July 8, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. held a press conference on the waterfront to announce that the city will allocate $2 million to rehab the East 132nd street pier.
“Due to years of socioeconomic inequality and years of disinvestment, this pier has been underutilized, inaccessible, and gone to waste,” said Mark-Viverito.
The New York Restoration Group partnered with South Bronx Unite, HealthxDesign, Healthfirst, Montefiore Medical Center, BronxWorks and other local groups, to launch The Haven Project last November, to create open space along the waterfront.
The first phase begins with the development of the East 132nd Street Pier Park, a now desolate lot wedged between a Con Edison yard and the Action Environmental waste management facility. Funding from the city and the borough president’s office will help create recreational facilities, bike lanes, and walking paths. Action Environmental has pledged to contribute a strip of unused land on its property for a walkway between the pier and the southern edge of the Randall’s Island Connecter, which opened earlier this year.
“Today, the tide is changing,” said Salamanca. The project, he said, will help an area “that for far too long has been denied access to safe and quality green space.”
Deborah Marton, executive director of the New York Restoration Project, said the waterfront park will be the area’s first.
“This will be a new model for how industry and recreation can serve the borough together,” she said.
Groundbreaking is scheduled to take place in the summer of 2018.
More than 16,000 trucks pass through Port Morris daily, resulting in high rates of asthma, diabetes, and obesity, according to a 2014 health department study.
“We want to propose positive change, and part of the proposal to create positive change is waterfront access,” said South Bronx Unite spokesman Mychal Johnson.
A century ago, the local waterfront was known as Stony Point, and was home to the Stuyvesant Yacht Club, a popular recreation center. Today people use the fenced off, publicly owned area for fishing, and as an informal gathering spot. The Restoration Project says such neglected public areas contribute to the South Bronx’s high rates of pedestrian injuries, and subsequent ER visits and hospitalizations.
Mott Haven resident Monxo Lopez is hopeful safer waterfront access will lead to the kind of community improvements locals have long been hoping for.
“People are already using this area and other points along the waterfront,” said Lopez. “To have safer and beautiful access would be wonderful, and shows that people care.”
Valeri Elarko, an artist who paints urban landscapes, said she has been using isolated spots along the local shoreline as her vantage point for years. She expects the riverfront facelift will help draw more people from across the city to Port Morris’ hidden natural appeal.
“I think there is an innate thing that people want to be around nature,” she said.