Group discusses future of waterfront

Mott Haven residents and activists met in July to consider ways to revive the local waterfront in ways that would echo initiatives already realized along the banks of the Bronx River farther east.

A fishing pier and a High Line are among river revival ideas

Mott Havenites and Columbia planning students studied a map of the South Bronx waterfront at a community meeting at Brook Park on July 25.

While Manhattan residents have access to vibrant waterfronts with bike lanes, parks and recreational features, Mott Havenites have smog-spewing factories, waste transfer stations and nowhere to sit and admire views of the Harlem and East rivers.

That was the imbalance several dozen activists and residents sought ways to correct at an evening discussion at Brook Park in Mott Haven on July 25. Some two-dozen local residents joined with representatives from community groups South Bronx Unite and Friends of Brook Park to share strategies for converting the heavily industrial East and Harlem river waterfronts into areas the public can access and enjoy. 

Several Columbia University planning students came armed with maps, charts and computer graphics, looking to inform locals about the waterfront’s potential, and detail the damage it has incurred over the years from heavy industrial use.

“We have our 100 acres of waterfront and we want our plans to be considered,” said Harry Bubbins, executive director of Friends of Brook Park. “It’s our money and we should have a say.”

Some said they wanted to see public access to the 96-acre Harlem River Yards, and a reduction of industrial use at the site, where waste transfer stations and other polluting industries now operate. Food delivery company FreshDirect plans to move its operations there, but has been halted by a lawsuit filed by a public interest group representing area residents opposed to the truck traffic they say the company would bring.

One resident expressed skepticism about any political will to marshal improvements.

“How come things take 10-15 years and nothing takes place?” she asked the presenters.

“You have to speak up and talk to elected officials,” answered Chauncy Young, head of the Harlem River Working Group. “This is a start,” he said, adding that he and others would bring the group’s recommendations to local community boards and elected officials.

After the participants broke up into smaller cells, representatives presented ideas from each group.

Some said they wanted a fishing pier built at the end of Lincoln Ave. in Port Morris, where fishermen now hoist their lines over concrete barriers. Retired architect Juan Carlos Taiano passed around a map he created of an area along Locust Ave., where he suggested a boat launch be constructed.

One group recommended plants and vines cover walls on streets near heavy traffic, to absorb pollution. Another suggested trollies be reintroduced. Still another wanted to see revived ferry service to and from the Port Morris gantries.

Community Board 1 member and local activist, Mychal Johnson, said a cleaned-up Harlem River Yards site could be made to replicate one successful city project where a derelict train yard was converted into greenery and tourism.

“Business is booming on The High Line,” said Johnson of the city’s recent conversion of elevated tracks on Manhattan’s west side into a popular park.

“When you build for recreation, people will start coming and then businesses will come, as well,” he said.

While efforts to revive fortunes and natural assets elsewhere in the borough are a step in the right direction, said Bubbins, they shouldn’t end there.

“The restoration of the Bronx River is nice but that isn’t the whole Bronx,” he said. “We have over 100 acres of waterfront and we need to stop being left behind.”

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