Mott Haven Falls Short of Open Space Benchmarks in New Report

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mayor de Blasio wants to tackle park equity issues. The South Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood is a great place to start.

A comprehensive assessment of the area’s open-space resources released Thursday by New Yorkers for Parks paints a picture of a community with great potential, but one that has been neglected for too long.

There are parks and playgrounds, but their equipment is worn and dated. The spaces lack shade trees and green landscaping that would attract visitors and improve the neighborhood's air quality and storm water management. The waterfront and Randall’s Island Park are nearby, but there is little access to them. Open spaces in the neighborhood’s five public housing complexes abound, but could be improved to feel safer and more accessible. And in the once-grand St. Mary’s Park, bathrooms flood, bleachers have been ripped out and pathways are deteriorating. The 35-acre park should be a gem for the neighborhood, which is in the poorest community board district in the city and poorest congressional district in the country.

Ultimately, Mott Haven failed on 11 of 15 open space benchmarks, including the amount of and access to open space, tree canopy, surface permeability and overall maintenance.

“There is a substantial open space canvas to work with in Mott Haven,” said Tupper Thomas, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. “Armed with our study's findings, the de Blasio administration, which has spoken often about addressing the needs of every-day New Yorkers at the neighborhood level, has a great opportunity to really spearhead an open space renaissance in Mott Haven’s parks and public housing properties. Here is a chance, through significant public investment, for the City to send a strong message about its dedication to solving park equity issues and building more livable neighborhoods in every corner of the city.”

To conduct the study, surveyors assessed 15 categories of open space resources, including the total amount of active and passive open space, walking distances to parks, permeable ground surfacing, and the number of features such as recreational facilities, courts and fields. Each category was then contrasted with citywide benchmarks developed by NY4P in consultation with a variety of urban park policy and planning experts.
In addition to this data, the report offers preliminary recommendations about how local advocates and officials might increase and improve open space in this dense community. Among the recommendations:

·    Make capital investments in aging playgrounds: Local elected officials and the Parks Department should engage with the community to prioritize improvements to spaces like Saw Mill Park, Ranaqua Playground, Playground 134 and Pulaski Playground.

·    Revitalize St. Mary’s Park:
The City should spearhead a major capital and long-term maintenance initiative in what should be one of the great neighborhood parks in the city. A commitment of public funding could also catalyze targeted private open space investments in St. Mary’s and throughout the district.

·    Expand programming, especially in NYCHA developments:
  Our surveyors overwhelmingly found NYCHA open spaces to be places residents, especially women, tend to avoid. Much more should be done to make these spaces desirable and welcoming, and that can start with increased programming and stewardship initiatives, such as through NYCHA’s successful Garden & Greening Program.

·    Take advantage of Randall’s Island Park: Even with the expected completion of a connecting bridge in 2015, getting to the island, which offers a wide array of top-notch recreational amenities, is difficult for most Mott Haven residents. Wayfinding signs, bike lanes, traffic-calming measures and streetscape improvements could help alleviate the issue.

·    Explore creative ways to provide waterfront open spaces: Mott Haven residents and community groups have advocated for better waterfront access for years. There is significant momentum building around better waterfront access: Mayor de Blasio’s recently released Housing New York plan includes a detailed discussion of Harlem River waterfront revitalization, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. discussed a similar proposal in his recent State of the Borough speech.

·    Address public safety: Any attempt to improve open spaces in Mott Haven, which has one of the highest crime rates in the city, must first consider residents’ personal safety concerns. Better maintenance, increased programming and strategic capital investments in parks and open spaces would be a signal from the City that it believes in the neighborhood.

"We have a unique opportunity to address inequities in our park system via the City’s budget, which currently allocates substantial capital dollars for improving our neighborhood parks," said New York City Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Council's Parks Committee. "The logical next question is: how can we bring fairness and transparency to the process by which these funds will be allocated? This report begins to answer that by providing rich primary source data that will both be a valuable resource toward improving parks infrastructure in Mott Haven and set an example for how we should evaluate all of our parks needs throughout the City."

"New Yorkers for Parks’ report will serve as a guide in helping direct government resources to help meet open space needs in Mott Haven," said Borough President Diaz. "I deeply appreciate the concepts advanced, many of which dovetail with my current open space work in the area.”

Funding for the report was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.


Read the full report

About the Open Space Index project:
NY4P’s open space assessments – this is the 5th – provide residents, civic organizations and elected officials with detailed snapshots of their open space resources – data that can help them prioritize their needs and advocate for strategic investments. The 2010 assessment of Jackson Heights, Queens was the springboard that civic groups and elected officials used to garner support and funding for several recent open space improvements, including a new park and public plaza. The 2012 East Harlem study was done in partnership with Mount Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center as part of a comprehensive study analyzing the links between local children’s access to a variety of open spaces and their physical activity and health. The 2013 Manhattan East Side report has already catalyzed efforts by a local community board and elected officials to create more open space and improve the East River Esplanade. 

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