Lovers of unlikely urban parks should turn their eyes uptown from the glammy High Line to Hunts Point, where an enviable emerald necklace will replace waste-transfer stations, prison barges, and brownfields. “You need a money shot,” says Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line. “Something that will communicate so that you don’t have to tell the story.”
“We showed up at the hearings for the new waste facility with these beautiful maps and posters with these plans for greenways and renderings of parks,” says Majora Carter, 2005 MacArthur “genius” grant winner and founder of the nonprofit Sustainable South Bronx. “People were like, ‘Oh!’ That’s why we were able to get ourselves out of the whole mess: We had a plan.”
On that day in 2004, those parks were only a visual, and one hard to overlay onto the trashy, overgrown, often invisible edge of the Bronx River. But $20 million has now been raised for the construction of the greenway—the first part, really, of a larger homegrown narrative for this unbeautiful, deeply impoverished neighborhood as an experimental laboratory of green building and green industry.
The city has now embraced the idea of a corridor of landscaped bike paths as part of the Hunts Point Vision Plan, linking parks with fishing piers and outdoor amphitheaters, and transforming the underside of the expressway into a transportation alternative instead of an impediment. Barretto Point Park and the Hunts Point Riverside Park will open this summer. There aren’t parks likely to trigger a real-estate gold rush but a neighborhood finally getting its share of urban amenities. The city intends to rezone in order to create a buffer between the residential and industrial areas.
Carter would like to bring the park right into the neighborhood. In the greenway plans, Lafayette Avenue becomes a boulevard, with a landscaped pedestrian path down the center. It ends at Riverside Park. Carter wants a food market there, at the water’s edge, like the famous one on Granville Island in Vancouver. The Bronx Overall Development Corporation is also exploring the possibility of a destination brewery on the waterfront.
Greenway advocates worry that without developers’ footing part of the bill (as at the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park), the greenway will not be completed as they envision it. “Real-estate developers like the fact that they can charge more for park views and are willing to pay into a fund. We don’t have that luxury here,” Carter says.
When you find the river, flowing by food-industry parking lots and the New York Post printing plant, it is surprisingly wide, calm, and blue. The ideal fund-raising image for the new greenway is the underside of the elevated CSX railroad tracks, a sublime allée of concrete arches that landscape architects Mathews Nielsen show lined with lampposts and covered in clinging vines. This, one of the greenway’s first sections, is planned to open in 2007. It is the seam between Hunts Point and Port Morris (where the appearance of a few artist’s lofts has provoked a media frenzy), and it is also the logical place for a connection to the extensive sports facilities on Randalls Island.
Around the point, new food facilities, including the just-arrived Fulton Fish Market, will have mandatory setbacks from the river’s edge. Anheuser-Busch signed up to build a $40 million sustainable beverage-distribution center on the waterfront last year and has already donated $1 million to the greenway.
Carter’s vision includes the development of what are termed “green-collar jobs.” The Oak Point brownfield, a waterfront site with a deep-water bulkhead, is envisioned as a recycling industrial park—a clean version of the illegal debris processing that now occurs in Hunts Point. The Department of Correction, however, recently filed plans to build a 2,000-bed jail there.
SSB installed a green roof on the top of its offices in a former factory building last fall and wants to green the roofs of the one- and two-story industrial buildings that form a large chunk of the neighborhood’s building stock. Maybe the most outrageous ideas are easier to hear in a neighborhood in long decline. For the South Bronx to recycle itself into health with parks, bike paths, and destination fresh-food markets is a beautiful vision indeed.