Residents of Mott Haven, Morrisania and Highbridge are battling to prevent a land grab. City Hall wants to snatch a parcel of riverfront land earmarked to expand Mill Pond Park and use it instead to build apartments buildings.
The city does need new housing, but in his thirst to reach his goal of 200,000 affordable apartments our mayor appears to be blind to the value of human scale, open space and community character.
To gain an understanding of what is being stolen from local residents, cross the 145th Street bridge and stroll south through Harlem River Park, a broad esplanade lined with trees and benches and affording river views. Turn north to check out the progress on Highbridge Park, from 155th Street to Dyckman Street.
As long as you’re in Manhattan, take a stroll on the 35-block long East River esplanade, part of a city-state plan to create access to all of Manhattan’s waterfront. Ironically, on the same day that the city asked Community Board 4 to approve the mayor’s plan to re-purpose the land next door to Mill Pond Park, the mayor announced that the city would spend $100 million to close an eight-block gap in the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, between East 61st and East 53d streets.
“We believe families on the East Side deserve the same access to our waterfront as people on the West Side. We’re taking that on,” de Blasio tweeted.
Now look at the Harlem River in the Bronx. There are two parks north of Mill Pond; none south of it. Lining the shore is an ugly hodge-podge of businesses that have no particular reason to be next to the river, including some on public land. Opportunities are plentiful both for parks and for businesses that can benefit from a waterfront location while brightening the neighborhood—boat rentals, ferry stops, restaurants, markets.
All of this has been imagined over and over again, by non-profits, academics and community organizations. Five years after the last such study one long-overdue project, the creation of a park at the foot of 132nd Street, is actually under way.
Can more be achieved? The experience of the east Bronx offers hope for the borough’s westernmost neighborhoods.
Ten years ago the Bloomberg administration commissioned a secret plan. It called for building high-rise apartments along the Bronx River.
Residents disagreed. They were celebrating the opening of Hunts Point Riverside Park and continuing a years-long struggle to build Concrete Plant Park. Those vibrant parks would not exist if local neighborhood organizations like Sustainable South Bronx, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and The Point had not mobilized residents to demand them.
More broadly, a river to which oysters, fish, osprey, egrets and even a beaver have returned would not have been possible without grassroots effort and without the stewardship of the Bronx River Alliance, and the river would not be bordered by a necklace of parks strung on a recreational path from one end of the Bronx to the other.
A similar alliance can produce similar results along the Harlem River’s Bronx shore.
Perhaps it shouldn’t take decades of study and advocacy to defeat misguided dictates from City Hall and achieve common sense goals, but this is New York and it does. What’s more important is that when residents and advocates come together and persist, they can succeed.