Van Nest Park breaks ground

A new park will soon rise in Van Nest.

Officials broke ground Friday, May 16 on the $1.3 million playground slated for the center of the east Bronx neighborhood – marking the end of a years-long campaign to get the park built.

“We made a lot of noise, and we want to thank everyone who listened to our noise,” said Bernadette Ferrara, vice president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance. “ We are so happy to finally get this done.”

Push for $$$

Local Community Board 11 –which covers Van Nest among other neighborhoods–had listed funding for the park as a budget priority for nearly a decade. The former playground at the site was “garbage,” Ferrara told the Times-Reporter in March.

After a push from local community activists, elected officials were eventually able to fund the playground with allocations from Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., as well as City Councilmembers Jimmy Vacca and Joel Rivera, whose seat is now occupied by Ritchie Torres.

With the money in place, the Parks Department then met with community activists to brainstorm the aesthetics.

Renata Sokolowski, the department’s borough design director, came up with a train-themed design, honoring the nabe’s unique history as a railway hub shuttling visitors to and from the Morris Park Racetrack in the 19th century.

Final schematic designs include a jungle gym modeled after a train, as well as a sprinkler in the shape of an R/R railroad sign.

“If it wasn’t for Renata, I don’t know how quickly we would have had this,” said Ferrara at the groundbreaking. “She worked with our millions of emails, and was a true partner with the community.”

The new playground is set to open by next spring at Van Nest Avenue, Unionport Avenue and White Plains Road.

Other parks forgotten?

But as one Bronx park celebrated its rebirth, green spaces elsewhere in the borough are still being neglected, according to a prominent advocacy group.

Van Nest’s groundbreaking came just a day after New Yorkers for Parks slammed the borough for neglecting its open spaces in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx.

The advocacy group’s arguments were similar to those made by Van Nest locals when they pushed for their park years ago.

Mott Haven’s parks have worn-down equipment, according to the group, as well as a dearth of trees and green landscaping.

But Borough President Diaz refused let the scathing report rain on his parade.

“People want us to be their punching bag, but what people don’t talk about is that over the last five or fix years we’ve infused hundreds of millions of dollars into parks,” said Diaz.

“Is life perfect? Absolutely not,” the Beep added. “But we want to concentrate on the positives.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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