A big vacant public lot in the South Bronx, between W 169ths and 170th Streets, Nelson and Shakespeare Aves, was planned as parkland decades ago. But, funding was never allocated to this heavily disinvested area of our City to make it real.
Instead of becoming a park, the land sat collecting trash and growing weeds for decades. Even after the land was transferred to the jurisdiction of NYC Parks about seven years ago, and after one of those iconic NYC Parks signs went up on the fence, the gate remained locked, adding to the hardship of life for those who lived nearby. At some point, the city did not act on its plan to acquire the middle lot to make it a full park, and a housing development went up, dividing the planned park into two chunks.
Despite these circumstances, there are always the visionaries: in April 2016, a local advocate and gardener, who, walking by, couldn’t help but see the potential for an open healing and growing space that her neighbors needed and desired here, contacted us. We helped her navigate a pathway for making her and her neighbors’ vision for a community green space here real.
Facing two abandoned public spaces, the group of neighbors sought first to transform Bronx block 2519 lots 27 and 32, which front W 169th between Nelson and Shakespeare Aves. They came up with a stunning vision of community-run public green space called Holistic Health and Wellness Garden (proposal below).
In the midst of their campaign for community land access and against their wishes, this particular space was “alienated” so that the city could more forward in selling it to a senior housing developer. The lead organizer was invited to a meeting about what was taking place at the last minute, the night before, and only after the actual, meaningful decisions had already been made.
In light of this, advocates are requesting that their plan for those lots become incorporated in the park that is finally coming to the block as part of the the Jerome Avenue Rezoning and Neighborhood Plan on W 170th Street between Nelson and Shakespeare Aves (Bronx Block 2620 lot 19, and a demapped old street, Cpl Fischer Place). We sent the following items to relevant NYC Department of City Planning staff, NYC Parks staff, as well as local elected representatives, as part of the campaign to make this happen. Click the links to check them out:
- Letter to NYC Department of City Planning, NYC Parks, and local elected advocates, December 2017;
- Project Overview for Holistic Health and Wellness Garden with Garden Design created by local organizers, June 2017;
- Photos of the organizing process, November 2016 to present;
- Advocates’ testimonies from NYC Council Hearing on Inaccessible Parks Properties, December 2016;
- Petition with approx. 300 signatures!
The PDF we sent (everything but the petition signatures) is here. Check out the organizing history for this place on the lot page, and sign up to Organize for updates there too: https://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59053/.
* * *
December 19, 2017
Michael Parkinson, AICP
Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan
Department of City Planning – Bronx Office
One Fordham Plaza, 5th Fl.
Bronx, NY 10458-5891
RE: Design for Corporal Fischer Park in Jerome Avenue Plan (Bronx Block 2520 lot 19 and de-mapped Cpl Fischer Place)
Dear Mr. Parkinson,
Thank you for your work of engaging local residents in creating their future neighborhood through the Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Planning process!
I am writing regarding the design of “Corporal Fischer Park,” the land between W 169th and 170ths, Nelson and Shakespeare Avenues (reference page: https://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59053/). As you may know, the bulk of this block was planned as a public park in the 1990s. Though a Parklands sign went up about seven years ago when NYC Parks took jurisdiction of the land, it has remained vacant, locked behind a fence, collecting trash and growing weeds. At the same time, local residents felt their dense neighborhood badly needed what a green space would offer.
In April 2016, Dian Hawkins, a neighborhood resident, advocate and community gardener, got tired of envisioning a green oasis here and seeing a dumping ground instead. She contacted my organization for assistance in making a green space here real. Gathering with a group of likeminded neighbors, they collected hundreds of signatures and created the attached plans to transform a portion of the promised public green space, particularly Bronx block 2519, lot 27 & 32 (which fronts W 169th street) into a real one called Holistic Health and Wellness Garden. Dian and fellow neighbors’ testimonies from last December’s NYC Council Hearing on inaccessible Parks Department properties detail this experience further.
Against the wishes of the neighbors who have wanted this portion of public land to finally become green space, as the city planned but did not fulfill decades ago, this space has now been alienated so that the city can sell them to a senior housing developer. In light of this, we are writing to request that the plans the group created for this space be incorporated into the park that is coming to the block on W 17oth Street (Bronx Block 2520 lot 19 and the de-mapped Cpl Fischer Place) as part of the Jerome Avenue Plan.
Dian and neighbors are pleased that capital funding will at last be allocated to make a green space here real! There are several examples of NYC Parks that have both passive recreation space maintained by NYC Parks, and community gardens inside them that are maintained by neighbors via GreenThumb; examples include the design for Little Claremont Park in the Bronx and the plan for Maple Street Community Garden in Brooklyn. Doing this would be a great way to ensure those who have immediately suffered the consequences of public disinvestment in this area until now can have their visions and leadership honored, can benefit from this investment, and can build community and resilience through active stewardship of public land.
Attached, please find the design and description of the community sanctuary. My organization, 596 Acres, has helped residents transform 37 vacant lots across NYC into thriving community open spaces. We stand ready to continue supporting these residents in participating in the design and stewardship of this future public green space so it can become a thriving, successful and sustainable local institution!
For next steps, I suggest we all meet in early 2018 to move forward in planning this future park together. Since the plans for Holistic Health and Wellness Garden were created by longtime residents, implementing them will ensure the future park is as useful as possible. Further, this group knows best what the neighborhood wants and needs to thrive so will be a great resource to the Parks department in this design process.
Please contact us using the information provided in the letterhead to schedule a time to meet with everyone. Thank you in advance for working towards making these local leaders’ vision for a community open space here a reality!
Mara Kravitz & Stephanie Alvarado
Directors of Advocacy and Partnerships, 596 Acres
cc: NYC Parks Borough Commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa; NYC Parks Chief of Planning and Neighborhood Development Nicholas Molinari; NYC Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson; NYC Assemblymember Latoya Joyner
* * *
Holistic Health and Wellness Garden – Project Overview
Vision and Mission Statement
The vision of the West 169th Street Holistic Health and Wellness Community Garden is to create an organic and green environment that is…
To fulfill this vision, the garden seeks to…
- Enrich the health and well-being of the people who visit and have a lasting positive impact on the residents and surrounding community
- Provide opportunities for all ages to learn about sustainable lifestyles through horticultural workshops; composting; a congenial space for growing fresh organic vegetables and medicinal herbs; nutritional programs; and fitness programs
- Partner with neighboring soup kitchens and daycares to “plant-grow-learn” and provide fresh produce
- Be accessible to all who wish to visit
Section I: Project Purpose
The project seeks to establish a community garden on West 169th Street between Nelson and Shakespeare Avenue in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx (block 2519, lots 27 and 32). The residents envision a garden that serves multiple communities with varying needs, revitalizing the abandoned lot that has blighted the neighborhood for almost a decade. The garden will be a positive and functional space where all members of the community can actively engage around issues of sustainability, health, and wellness. The garden will not only transform a vacant lot, but will provide educational opportunities and space for stress-free relaxation for members of the community.
Section II: Project Scope
When completed, the Holistic Health and Wellness Garden will include the following features as shown in the attached sketch:
- Greenhouse: 1300+ square feet, which will sustain plants and vegetables year-round for the community
- Children’s educational area
- Relaxation and meditation area
- Chicken coop
Section III: Project Milestones
A finalized timeline for the garden is to be determined, pending the approval of the NYC GreenThumb application. However, progress milestones associated with the project are anticipated to be as follows:
- Obtain letter of support from Community Board #4
- Gather letters of endorsement from local businesses, organizations, and community leaders
- Present at September 2017 Parks Committee and full board meetings
- Receive approval from NYC GreenThumb office
- Complete GreenThumb application, including identifying 10 community stewards
- Agree on group bylaws
- Secure funding.
- Complete grant applications through local non-profits and businesses (e.g. Green Guerrillas, Sustainable Bronx, Home Depot)
- Seek funding from city councilmember and other municipal resources
- Design greenhouse and other structures
- Work with Green Guerillas
- Build the garden!
* * *