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A South Bronx waterfront area, much of which has remained derelict for decades, may get a dramatic facelift, thanks to the efforts of a coalition of local organizations. Welcome2TheBronx reports that The Haven Project, an initiative spearheaded by the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), will offer more than 100,000 residents access to beautified greenspace on the water, as well as public events and education programming.
Welcome2TheBronx points out the cruel irony that while the Bronx is technically the greenest borough, with a quarter of its land dedicated to parks, many South Bronx residents do not have easy access to such spaces. The Haven Project master plan notes that due to the presence of heavy industry on the waterfront, residents of neighboring Mott Haven and Port Morris can’t get to the area—and the consequences of this can be dire. According to the Haven Project, “residents who live in a neighborhood not designed to accommodate public life and physical activity are more vulnerable to chronic disease and crime.” Per South Bronx Unite, asthma rates in the area, for instance, are eight times the national average.
The link between a lack of greenspace and negative health outcomes is one of the reasons why the NYRP turned its attention to the South Bronx. The nonprofit, founded in 1995 by Bette Midler, is devoted to making aesthetic improvements to public spaces in the city’s low-income neighborhoods. In 2014, the NYRP began working with residents, activists, local politicians, and area businesses in Mott Haven and Port Morris to learn about some of the challenges they were facing, and what they wanted for their neighborhood.
Out of an extensive engagement process came the Haven Project, which includes plans for several waterfront parks, walking and cycling trails, infrastructure designed to reduce traffic and air pollution, and improved access to nearby Randall’s Island. “Something that has always been on our minds is the impact of community spaces on public health,” says Bethany Hogan, government relations and special projects manager for the NYRP. “We want to bring funding in to create a network of green spaces that could become really vibrant.”
Thanks to $2 million from the City Council, the NYRP can launch the first phase of the project, the design and development of the East 132nd Street Pier. Hogan says that the site used to be a yacht club, but burned down and sat derelict for decades. Revitalizing the pier will also help provide better access to the Randall’s Island Connector, a pedestrian and bike route to the island, which itself boasts hundreds of acres of parkland, pathways, and athletic fields. The Haven Project already offers a free shuttle bus to the Connector that stops around Mott Haven.
“We’re celebrating the assets of the South Bronx, but also signaling to locals how to get to places like Randall’s Island,” Hogan explains.
For the long term, the NYRP plans to break ground on the Haven Project within two years; phase two involves developing a waterfront esplanade that snakes around to the Randall’s Island Connector, creating a green loop within the South Bronx. Hogan estimates that $15 to $20 million in funding is needed to undertake these initiatives. Throughout, the NYRP will collaborate with the organization Health By Design on measuring health outcomes and demonstrating a causal link between access to green space and improved public health.
The South Bronx is an area where some plans for rezoning have provoked fears of displacement in residents—DNAInfo recently reported that the area is indeed gentrifying at a fast clip, and community groups like South Bronx Unite are pushing back against rapid development. The Haven Project, by contrast, may be an example of community-led revitalization that can benefit both long-time residents and newcomers.
As Welcome2TheBronx writes, “It’s important to know that this vision has been led and pushed for by the community.”
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