For years, community residents have worked on plans for the Harlem River Greenway, a linear park from Randall’s Island to Kingsbridge on the Bronx side of the river. The Riverdale Press has followed the community’s work at large meetings held at Manhattan College, and throughout the Bronx, where a vision has emerged to clean the river’s waters by getting the public to its shores.
The Riverdale Press has offered wonderful editorials proclaiming and sharing our dreams of renewing the waterfront and reestablishing the grand waterway to what it was a century ago. This is why it is so surprising to see last week’s editorial on FreshDirect.
It is myopic to look at this from the standpoint of the South Bronx Greenway connection to Randall’s Island, which is just one small piece of the community’s plan for parkland access.
Greenways are linear network pathways, in this case along the shores of the Harlem River. Decades of planning for the Bronx side of the Harlem River Greenway would connect networks that include the Hudson River Greenway at the waterfront, along the Henry Hudson Bridge, and the Putnam line.
The Harlem River extends along five community boards from the Hudson River through Spuyten Duyvil, Broadway Bridge, Marble Hill, University Heights, Morris Heights, Roberto Clemente State Park, High Bridge, Mott Haven, and Port Morris where it reaches the East River. Three years ago, community groups created the Harlem River Working Group to facilitate and coordinate this work.
We are just finishing up work with the Trust for Public Land and the Pratt Institute to develop a Community Consensus plan and create a map for the entire river. The proposed FreshDirect warehouse, with its 2,000 diesel trucks moving in and out daily, will land right in the middle of this Greenway.
More importantly, this is not a new issue to Riverdale or the Bronx. In the early 1990’s, the Harlem River Yards and its sweetheart lease—on which the FreshDirect deal would piggyback—was opposed by Bronx residents for many of the same reasons you hear today: environmental racism, pollution, asthma. Among Bronx residents there were many young Riverdalians who formed the Bronx Clean Air Coalition to fight the project, which they knew would pollute the air with increased truck traffic.
That court case, won in the lower court, was surprisingly overturned on appeal by the highest court in the state. As feared, the Harlem River Yards project brought us toxic “neighbors” like Fed Ex and Post distribution centers and a waste transfer station.
FreshDirect’s announcement that it will deliver to all Bronx neighborhoods is not the “neighborly” gesture you tout but an empty, cynical PR stunt they hoped would neutralize a snowballing opposition. It won’t.
This is not about delivery to the neighborhood — more trucks increase traffic and pollution in an already heavily burdened corridor, and most Bronx residents cannot afford FreshDirect’s wares anyway.
This is not about a “pilot” computer program accepting Food Stamps — local stores and green carts already accept them. This is not about “eat local” or using energy-saving alternative fuels — we have CSAs and Farmers’ Markets. This is not about jobs — the fact that FreshDirect worked so hard to avoid the already-laughable “living wage” stipulation that recently limped out of the City Council should tell you how they treat their workers.
This is about an ugly legacy of environmental racism that the FreshDirect deal would perpetuate for decades to come. Have we really come nowhere since the 1930s, when Robert Moses developed the West Side Highway to include beautiful parks and riverfront promenades for wealthy residents of the Upper West Side but warehouses (and purposely blocked access) for the residents of Harlem?
This is not just about the connector bridge to Randall’s Island. This is about the entire Bronx waterfront. This is about improving the lives of the people of the Bronx, access to clean water at the waterfront (which the rest of the city already enjoys), a Greenway network, clean air and open space.
This is also about maintaining an economic quality of life — that is, supporting local stores in our neighborhoods, not killing local businesses with massive giveaways to outsiders.
Karen Argenti is a community activist, member of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality and former Community Board 7 chair. The Points of View column is open to all readers.