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BRONX, MEET YOUR WATERFRONT PLAN!
Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 11:32am
New Ideas for the Bronx Shoreline from MIT Students
Look at a map of the eight-mile Harlem River, and you'll see long stretches of green-colored public access on the Manhattan side, showing that groups like the Harlem River Park Task Force, the New York Restoration Project, New York Rowing and the NYC Economic Development Corporation are devoting time and resources to devising new ways for the public to get to and on the water. But the Bronx side of the Harlem River is far less accessible -- mostly gray on a map; mostly barricaded in person.
Earlier this year, a dozen graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Urban Studies and Planning spent several months on a project to re-imagine the Bronx side of the Harlem River. The result, titled "Bronx, Meet Your Waterfront Plan," is a series of practical proposals with a multitude of maps, photographs and illustrations that would accomplish for the Bronx the kind of waterfront revitalization that has been under way for several years in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The project was one of 10 winners (out of 150 submissions) of the NYC Institute for Urban Design competition for new ideas for the City's public realm.
The MIT team and their professor, Eran Ben-Joseph, worked initially with Michael Marrella, the Dept. of City Planning project director of Vision 2020: the NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan.
"Since many of our urban planning students come from NYC (and we have many of or graduates working in the city) we thought it would be a great opportunity to be engage with pertinent issues the city is dealing with as well as to help the local community," Prof. Ben-Joseph told WaterWire.
MIT graduate students on a site visit at the High Bridge. Photo by Albert Ching
Mr. Marella put the MIT team in touch with the office of the Bronx Borough President, the Bronx Council on Environmental Quality and other agencies and civic groups. Public design charrettes were held. The riverfront was explored. The students went back to Cambridge, MA to brainstorm.
The challenge is how to transform long stretches of industrially contaminated land into a people-oriented waterfront integrated with its bordering neighborhoods. Bronx community activists have pursued such revitalization for years. In February of 2011, for example, Friends of Brook Park brought a map to the Community Board with waterfront access points proposed along the length of the Bronx side of the Harlem River. The MIT plan may give new impetus to these efforts by offering ideas that focus on and connect four distinct riverside sites; from north to south, High Bridge (in the High Bridge picture below, the Bronx is on the right), Macombs Dam, Pier 5 and Lincoln Avenue. A sampling of ideas follows, with the students' map with colored tabs.
- At Macombs Dam (red tab on map), where a big parking lot next to Yankee Stadium is under-used, the students propose a food truck court and plentiful waterside seating.
- At and around Pier 5's 18 acres (lime green tab), which are adjacent to Mill Pond Park, the young planners propose natural plantings, with space for cultural programming.
- The transformation proposed for the Lincoln Avenue area (orange tab), which has direct access to the water, focuses on stormwater management with new swales and rain garden planters.
- At the High Bridge (top teal tab)--NYC's oldest bridge, which will reopen in 2013 to pedestrians and bicyclists--the student planners acknowledged a well-received plan for the High Bridge Cove area on the Bronx side by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects (rendering above) and then came up with more ideas. Among them: new bridge entrances that would strengthen connections with the neighborhood and simultaneously help control erosion and stormwater runoff. How? Prune vegetation around the stairs to the bridge and plant rain gardens.
NYC planners were impressed with the students' work. "The breath of innovation about how we looked at this river and our waterfront that these students brought was so refreshing," said Wilhelm Ronda, director of planning and development for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. "Up to now we've been struggling with connectivity. They said things like 'let's capture rainwater runoff from the Major Deegan and direct it to a vacant parcel of land at 149th Street.' Who the heck was expecting that? I'd never made the connection. Capture the water, bring it into the park, have a portion of the park serve as a way to clean the water, but also create a soft marsh. The brilliance was in the connectivity between the existing infrastructure and the available resources."
Mr. Marrella, from City Planning, was pleased, too. "The students prepared an amazing plan that builds on the Vision 2020 recommendations for the area to address the serious challenges of the waterfront -- physical, financial, and environmental," he said. "We're now working with the Borough President's office and local advocates to evaluate how to best move forward on the recommendations of the students, including examining grants for pursuing specific projects."