Series of forums to seek ideas from residents
With FreshDirect set to occupy a crucial piece of the waterfront, a grassroots coalition, buoyed by promises of federal support, has launched an effort to reclaim recreational access to the Harlem River shore.
The Harlem River Working Group, a two-year-old organization devoted to the initiative, is planning a series of forums in March and April to seek ideas and public support for parks, greenways, boat launches and other public facilities along the river.
Formed by the Bronx Council on Environmental Quality in May 2009, the working group includes some 50 environmental and community organizations. Last October, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Roberto Clemente State Park to announce that the federal government would support efforts to gain access to the Harlem as part of the President’s Great Outdoors Program.
Access to the Harlem in the Bronx is currently limited to Mill Pond Park in Mott Haven and Roberto Clemente State Park in Morris Heights. The working group hopes to see walking trails, boating on city-provided boats, improved water quality, eventually good enough to allow swimming and educational programs and festivals to attract more people to the river.
Last year, advocates worked with students and faculty members from MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning to envision some of the ways the shore might be converted from its current dilapidated state. Among its proposals was the creation of a playground and park on the water at the foot of Lincoln Avenue, a rain garden at Lincoln Avenue and East 138th Street and a new outdoor art gallery and the intersection of Lincoln and Bruckner Boulevard.
The Harlem River Working Group’s forums are designed to showcase such proposals and solicit public feedback on them, as well as to gather new ideas from residents.
The announcement that the online grocer FreshDirect would occupy 16 acres in the Harlem River Rail Yards added urgency to the working group’s agenda. The organizers have joined the opposition to the deal, because it threatens plans to build a pedestrian bridge from the Bronx to the playing fields of Randall’s Island.
The bridge “addresses a decades-old slight to the communities of Port Morris and Mott Haven,” Chauncy Young, the organization’s coordinator, told a public hearing on FreshDirect, as he asked unsuccessfully for the decision on state and city subsidies to be postponed.
Negotiations over the bridge are underway, according to John DeSio, the spokesman for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who said the bridge was “a separate issue” from the agreement worked out between the borough president and FreshDirect last month concerning jobs.