An ambitious master plan to increase access to open space in the south Bronx was recently released.
The New York Restoration Project presented The Haven Project, a vision to design, build, and fund a new network of connected open spaces including waterfront access in the neighborhoods of Port Morris and Mott Haven.
The ultimate goal of the proposal is to facilitate improvements in quality of life and deliver measurable health benefits for south Bronx residents.
The low-income neighborhoods, which are high in industrial infrastructure and low in health measures, have a need for additional and improved public outdoor spaces, said NYRP director Deborah Marton, in addition to untapped potential of underutilized waterfront.
“It presents itself as the ideal place to do this new network of open spaces,” she said.
NYRP partnered with a host of organizations including South Bronx Unite, Civitas Inc., Montefiore Medical Center, Columbia University, HealthxDesign, and Barretto Bay Strategies, in addition to hosting three large community meetings to discuss ideas with residents from the neighborhoods.
“We believe deeply that the people that know best what a community needs and wants are the people on the ground,” said Marton.
The master plan, available at NYRP.org, proposes:
- A waterfront park at 134th Street, including the preservation of the historic gantry cranes
- Improved street crossings, bike and pedestrian routes to the waterfront and the Randall’s Island Connector, a NYC Economic Development Corporation initiative to connect the south Bronx with Randall’s Island
- Continuous waterfront access from the Randall’s Island Connector up to a redeveloped pier at 132nd Street, designed to protect the neighborhood and industries from storm surge and foster waterfront recreation
- Deployment of green infrastructure and plantings, beginning with over 800 new trees planted in Mott Haven in 2015 with two years of stewardship
- Community identity and engagement through public art in a network of trails
Though many of the ideas are part of a long-term vision, and are contingent on significant funding, two short-term projects are in the works.
NYRP is developing a ‘wayfinder’ system to direct people along the safest routes to the Randall Island Connector when it opens later this year, and is funding a shuttle bus to provide transportation in the neighborhood to both the connector and St. Mary’s Park.
“We know big capital projects take a long time,” said Marton. “We wanted to make sure south Bronx residents benefited from the project immediately.”
In order to create the best conditions for eventual funding of the projects, the master plan was rooted in data, she said.
“What is the latest research showing us about the correlation between health and open spaces?” was the key question that drove NYRP’s ideas, said Marton.
That research includes evidence that the body mass index decreases near parks larger than six acres, but not at smaller parks, which is why it’s so important to NYRP to provide access to large open spaces like Randall’s Island.
Research also shows that air quality is better on the waterfront, said Marton, creating a compelling reason to provide public space on the shoreline.
If and when the components of the plan are realized, the Haven Project could become a model for the development of open spaces in a low-income community, said Marton.
“It could be one of the most extraordinary networks of green spaces in the city.”