The Hunts Point Riverside Park in the Bronx, New York, took a home a $10,000 Rudy Bruner silver award for urban excellence. The park, built on an old industrial area of the Bronx, grew out of a recognition of the lack of green space in the Bronx. Developers also said they wanted to reclaim the Bronx River as a recreational site for the community. It’s a 1.7 acre project, and a planned greenway will eventually connect the park to all of the communities along the water. Linda Cox, Executive Director of the Bronx River Alliance answered a few questions about why the Bronx needed a park like this.
Why was it so important to create this park?
This was the first waterfront park in Hunts Point, a neighborhood surrounded by water but with almost no access to it and little parkland. Hunts Point contends with some of New York City’s highest rates of asthma and diabetes. The park’s creation stems from a movement to reclaim the long-neglected Bronx River as a natural resource and a community asset. It is the first new park of the Bronx River Greenway, a string of parks and bike paths that will soon stretch along the full length of the Bronx River, and the starting point for a second greenway that will traverse Hunts Point and connect to Manhattan via bike path.
What has the reaction been to the Hunts Point Riverside Park?
Pleasure. Surprise at the elegance of the park and its abundance of flowers and butterflies. People like it for family gatherings and community-wide celebrations, and hundreds of people come for small boat trips and canoeing. Those who played a part in recapturing this street-end, cleaning it up and turning it into a community place before it was fully developed by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation tell me that the completed park achieved their vision for it and surpassed their expectations.
Have you been able to track any economic benefits that have come to the community because of the park?
We are seeing a growth in green jobs springing from collective efforts to create new parks, restore natural areas along the river, foster environmental education, and improve water and air quality. Also, Hunts Point Terminal Market, one of the largest wholesale food markets in the world, is next door. The businesses there prize the park because it’s good for their workers’ quality of life and it improves perceptions of the area.
How was the community involved in the development of the park?
The story of Hunts Point Riverside Park is intertwined with the larger effort to reclaim the Bronx River, which began in earnest in 1997 with the formation of the Bronx River Working Group. The Working Group brought together ultimately 60 community organizations and public agencies around the common goal of claiming the river as a resource and by 2001 had raised $33 million to restore the river and develop the Bronx River Greenway. At that point, the Group formed the Bronx River Alliance as an independent non-profit to steward these funds and work with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, as well as other agency and community partners, to reclaim the river.
As the Working Group was gathering steam, Majora Carter, the director of Sustainable South Bronx, who was a member of the Group doubtful that the river touched her community, followed her dog down a trash-strewn abandoned street-end and discovered the river firsthand. Majora then wrote a $10,000 seed grant enabling residents and leaders to green the site and use the space as a park before its formal redevelopment. Following the allocation of an eventual $3.27 million in New York City mayoral funds, the NYC Parks & Recreation designers and planners consulted closely with community residents to envision the ultimate design.
Were there any disappointments or challenges? If so, what?
The park is located along a heavily-used truck route and a rail line used by infrequent, slow-moving freight trains. It was challenging to create and fund the intersection improvements needed to ensure safe passage for park visitors, and there was a delay as those improvements were worked out. Ultimately, a railroad gate was installed as well as a traffic light synchronized to train crossings. The traffic islands created at this intersection are beautifully planted and add another appealing element to the park entrance.
Do you think that other cities could create similar types of reclamation projects?
Yes and yes. Even a street end can become a great park. Let the park begin before the formal development process begins. Look for community allies and let them shape the outcome. Don’t overlook the power of connectivity: One park is nice, but a greenway that links a string of parks is even more compelling.