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A revitalized Bronx park shows off at “It’s My Park Day”

A park erected on an old landfill in the Soundview section of the Bronx attracted diverse volunteers to revitalize its garden during the event “It’s My Park Day” on Sunday.

Volunteers worked from late morning to early afternoon planting daffodils to attract butterflies and clearing out tall, dense shrubbery to reveal a view of the Bronx River from the Butterfly/Meditation Garden at Soundview Park. The Friends of Soundview Park, supported by Partnership for Parks, coordinated the event.

Volunteers help plant daffodils in the Butterfly Meditation Garden

Volunteers help plant daffodils in the Butterfly Meditation Garden (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

The lush, maintained green space that volunteers visited on Sunday was recently reborn after a neglected past.

“It was a dump” with a “dangerous reputation,” said Lucy Aponte, a longtime Bronx resident and current president of the Friends group. Aponte was speaking literally as well as figuratively. The park operated as a landfill from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Soundview Park’s trashy history is to be thanked for the far-reaching views it now offers; its landfill days raised the shoreline 30 feet above the marsh elevation. Its potential as a thriving waterfront park came to fruition in 2010 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Parks Foundation’s Catalyst Program, which aims to renovate parks in underserved areas.

With the imminent departure of Catalyst workers at the end of the year, the park’s management will be turned over to Friends of Soundview Park, a local volunteer group. Although the park has come a long way during the four years of Catalyst attention, the Friends group inherits some tough challenges.

A vital task for the Friends group is to increase visitors to the park. From the beginning, Catalyst’s Park Coordinator for Waterfront Activity, Carlos Martinez, had difficulty building interest in the park among nearby residents.

Events, like “It’s My Park Day,” have the double advantage of revitalizing the park and drawing visitors.

Volunteers add mulch to a street tree right outside the garden (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

Volunteers add mulch to a street tree right outside the garden (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

Luz Quezada, 48, a former Bronx resident now residing in Manhattan, found out about Soundview Park’s event through the nonprofit Fiadasec Federacion Internacional, a community–minded organization based in the Dominican Republic with a branch in New York City.

A first–time visitor to Soundview Park, Quezada said she thought the event was an “awesome way to create conversation about environmental issues with children.” She brought her seventh grade daughter Raymi to help plant daffodil bulbs.

Quezeda said she “never knew this park existed” and was “very amazed” by the park’s beauty. She said she and her family would be back soon to revisit the waterfront greenway.

Four years ago, Community Board 9 expressed concernes about the Catalyst Program’s goal of activating the space and bringing more people to such a large park, skeptical that Soundview Park could change its reputation as a dangerous area, Martinez recalled.

Today, with a new chairman in charge, the community board still has not thoroughly embraced the project. Chairman William Rivera “hasn’t talked to the friends group” yet, he said, and he expressed concerns over noise levels caused by sports leagues and barbeque parties in the park. Rivera said he is open to addressing his qualms with the Friends and hopes to establish a connection soon.

The two newest members of the Friends group are working hard to engage the community in the park’s activities by shooting a video.

Brothers Mohamed Kaba, 18, and Mamadou Kaba, 16, hope their video, which includes interviews with park attendees and shots of the park’s views, will “get people to want to donate and help,” Mamadou said.

Mohamed took classes at his high school on videography and will post the finished version on the NYC Park’s website page and Facebook page. The brothers’ plan to include old photographs so that viewers can see how drastically the park has changed.

The Kaba brothers interviewed Wanda Diaz, 23, who found out about Soundview Park’s “It’s My Park Day,” from a flier during a class trip to Poe Park in the Bronx. She said she enjoyed the event and would take part in further activities.

The Kaba brothers interview Wanda Diaz about her experience at "It's My Park Day" (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

The Kaba brothers interview Wanda Diaz about her experience at “It’s My Park Day” (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

To help fund the activities the park hosts, the Friends will take a page out of the Catalyst program’s book and reach out to the Bronx River Alliance, which provides contacts with corporations.

Last month’s “International Coastal Clean-up” at the park was sponsored by the outdoor retailer R.E.I. and “It’s My Park Day” was sponsored by TD Bank. The corporations not only provide money for tools and supplies, but also give out T-shirts and reusable bags.

Jaime Feliberty, 59, the Friends member in charge of “It’s My Park Day,” said Carlos Martinez, the Catalyst worker, taught their group how to organize themselves to be efficient. He “feels terrible” about Martinez’s departure, and joked that he is “going to tie him up so he doesn’t leave.”

Even though Feliberty said there is still much to learn about taking charge of the park’s activities, he noted that the Friends group has a good team of people, including artists Laura Alvarez and Lucy Aponte.

Martinez said that the Friends group would continue to receive advisory support from a Partnership for Parks Borough Coordinator. He also said that he would be available for Friends members to contact for help, even as he heads to the next “Catalyst Park,” Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem.

The launch into Soundview Park’s future was secured by the Catalyst Program. The park is now poised to enter a new era. The park itself is thriving, with an improved “greenway,” a path that hugs the shoreline and connects waterfront towns, and with coming attractions like an amphitheater, which will provide a venue for local performers, an extensive wetlands area, which will allow the native ecology to flourish, and a dog park.

In addition to managing events and recruiting members, the Friends of Soundview Park must widen their outreach to promote their park’s new track, playgrounds, greenways, and gardens. Transforming from a desolate dump to a picturesque park, Soundview Park is poised for an influx of visitors.

A couple sits by the Bronx River, which runs adjacent to the park's "greenway" (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

A couple sits by the Bronx River, which runs adjacent to the park’s “greenway” (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Activists raise concerns over the future of the Bronx River

Bronx environmental activists will meet this month to generate community interest in preventing the Bronx River from lapsing into its former life as a massive sewer.

Although the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spent the last couple years constructing structures to help keep the river clean, local activists charge the agency is neglecting crucial maintenance. They claim the city’s narrow approach to keeping pollution at bay and its limited attempt to engage local residents handicaps its long-term goal.

Robin Kriesberg, the Ecology Director at the Bronx River Alliance, said via email that although DEP supports a maintenance crew, “that will not be enough” to support the immense number of implemented and planned structures.

Jaime Stein, a visiting assistant professor at the Graduate Center for Planning at Pratt Institute said the city’s outreach to the public is “too little and too late.”

It took activists more than a decade to pressure the city to install a system that would keep storm water from overwhelming local sewers and sending waste into the river. In 2012, the DEP installed the first of a dozen bioswales – highly absorbent patches of green space on sidewalks that soak up heavy rainfall. Typically about ten feet by four feet in size, they feature thirsty plants like summersweet clethra and swamp milkweed. They look more like mini-parks than like sewage devices and thus double the advantage they bring to urban areas.

Storms can force sewer waste into waterways (

Storms can force sewer waste into waterways (New York City Atlas)

Bioswales extend five feet beneath their surface. Layers of absorbent soils and stones underneath the bioswale store around 2,244 gallons of water during a storm, which is equivalent to about 45 bathtubs of water.

A bioswale on Lafayette Avenue across from Soundview Park (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

A bioswale on Lafayette Avenue across from Soundview Park (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

Although effective if properly maintained, bioswales quickly become useless when neglected, which is precisely what worries Bronx activists. As global climate change increases the likelihood of storms, controlling flooding, they say, is more urgent than ever in a city that has yet to comply with the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Storms often wash away a bioswale’s soil; left unattended, it will not be able to retain as much water. If its plants are not watered during dry spells, they will vanish and leave the bioswale feeble. Weeds and offending plants like mugworts, dandelions, and ground ivy can also decrease efficiency. If excess leaves and trash collect in a bioswale, they clog up it, rendering it useless.

Trash collected in a bioswale on Story Avenue by Colgate Avenue

Trash collected in a bioswale on Story Avenue by Colgate Avenue in Soundview (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

Caretakers must be able to identify plant species, remove weeds, clear out trash, ensure soil has not been washed away, check vegetative health, and add water during dry spells.

A barren bioswale on the corner of Metcalf Avenue and Gleason Avenue

A dry bioswale on the corner of Metcalf Avenue and Gleason Avenue in Soundview (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM/THE BRONX INK)

The DEP claims it funds gardeners from the Department of Parks specifically to take care of the bioswales. But activists and academics working with nonprofit organizations like Stormwater Infrastructure Matters Coalition (SWIM) doubt that the city can meet needs in light of its aggressive construction schedule. Though the city does not provide a precise account of how many bioswales it has installed, the 2013 DEP NYC Green Infrastructure Annual Report states that in the Bronx River Watershed between 2010 and 2013, it built 18 green infrastructures (which includes bioswales as well as raingardens, permeable pavements, stormwater harvesting and reuse systems, among other devices.) DEP is planning to build 57 more in 2014.

The Bronx River Alliance’s Kriesberg said she is unsure how the city will handle maintenance at this rapid rate of installation – a 217 percent increase over the last three years.

SWIM member Stein said the lack of community involvement in the city’s initial discussions on stormwater management, which would have boosted bioswale upkeep, will hinder future maintenance.

One longtime resident of Soundview in the Bronx, Nancy Reyes, 50, said she thinks the city is “trying to do a good thing” with the three bioswales she passes on the corner of Morrison and Lafayette as she makes her way into Soundview Park. But, the former customer service representative said, she “got no information” during their construction.

Her neighbor, Raquelle James, 51, a former employee of the Board of Education, said that the city needs news coverage from local stations to promote green infrastructure. Reyes and James want to know more but Reyes bemoaned they “don’t know where to begin.”

Peter Antonio, 44, a retired Soundview resident, said he “doesn’t know what’s going on,” with the bioswales next to Soundview Park, even though he often walks by them.

The Bronx River Alliance’s Kriesberg said that she is “hoping that DEP will install signs to let people know what is going on” wherever bioswales are placed.

Antonio expressed a desire to attend bioswale information workshops and would be interested in helping to maintain them – if he finds out about them.

The DEP began its “BioswaleCare Program” along with “Million Trees New York City” in the spring of 2013, after many bioswales had already been built. Only 77 community members participated in BioswaleCare workshops in 2013. Announcements of workshops are posted on the DEP’s website, which draws an audience of people already aware of the program.

Kriesberg said that attendance at past public meetings was low. She expects DEP will do more to attract the public – it is now offering free water bottles at meetings in Flushing Bay.

Even with a reliable and sufficient maintenance crew, the bioswales alone might not be enough to stave off river contamination in a storm, however.  Kriesberg said, “The models and results so far indicate that the approach will have to be expanded beyond bioswales.”

Stein, an environmental activist with SWIM, said that implementing multiple bioswales within a short period of time is too narrow an approach. The bioswales are limited by available public sidewalk space. Once the sidewalks are filled, Stein asks, what will the city do?

Stein compared the bioswale plan to the city’s Million Trees initiative, which intended to plant oxygen-producing trees throughout the South Bronx to improve air quality.  Good in theory, Stein said, but “there was not enough space for a million trees.” In addition, many of the planted trees were neglected and are now dead.

“The city won’t pay for maintenance,” said Soundview resident Patrick Holms, a 43-year-old accountant who lives near two bioswales on Morrison Avenue. Without information, “the community won’t get involved” to maintain the bioswales, he warned. Holms recommended that Bronx Borough President Rubin Diaz, Jr. speak out on bioswale maintenance.  “If he made appearances, more people would care,” Holms said

DEP representatives did not respond by press time to repeated requests for comments.

Stein and members of SWIM are looking forward to the public meeting on October 27 to engage public officials, scientists, attorneys, representatives of nonprofits, and city agencies in the discussion on stormwater management in the face of rising temperatures and precipitation. They are hoping, too, that the meeting will be an occasion for involving the community in protecting its river.

Phil Pena, a letter carrier who has “been around a few years,” passes two bioswales on Gleason Avenue on his delivery route in Soundview. He said, “The city is trying to make the sidewalk look good.”

After finding out that they capture stormwater, he said that the city should have installed one on Metcalf Avenue, between Gleason and Watson Avenues. “The sidewalk gets flooded every time it rains,” he said. “Nobody talks about it,” and “I’ve got to walk in the street.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Southern Bronx1 Comment

Teen sentenced to five months in jail for killing a Bronx father with a single punch

The family of a Bronx hospital worker who died after a teenager sucker-punched him was dismayed Wednesday when the judge sentenced the assailant to five months in prison on a misdemeanor charge.

Although the family wished to press for a manslaughter conviction, current law does not allow for criminal charges when death is caused by a single punch. Elijah Burt, 17, pled guilty last June to assault and harassment misdemeanor charges.

The incident occurred on June 21, 2014 at the corner of Thieriot Avenue and Lafayette Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx when Ildefonso Romero Jr., 59, tried to break up a fight among teenagers outside his home. The father of five fell to the ground and remained unresponsive after Burt punched him with a closed fist directly in the face. Romero Jr. was pronounced dead two days later.

The victim’s daughter, Jennifer Perez, a 30-year old accountant, read a tribute to her father at the sentencing on October 1 at the Bronx Supreme Court.  Perez told the judge and both families present that  her father, who worked as an institutional aide at Lincoln Hospital for many years, was a “hardworking man that did everything to provide for his family.” She spoke of the pain her family has endured over his loss. “The simple opportunity to say, ‘I love you’ is forever gone,” she said.

Addressing Burt directly, she asked, “How much compassion did you have when you decided to put your hands on my father?” Her voice rose as she said, “You may say it wasn’t your intention to end my father’s life, but the intent was there as soon as you chose to viciously hit him.”

The defense attorney argued that Burt had no criminal record and his action was “an aberration.” The attorney’s office said it will continue to work with Burt to “ensure the situation never reoccurs.”

The defense attorney and Burt’s family members who sat behind the teen during the sentencing, declined to comment.

Although Judge William McGuire acknowledged that the charge would not satisfy the family, he sentenced Burt to jail for three weeks shorter than the six-month maximum for his misdemeanor conviction. McGuire claimed the three weeks would place a higher burden on the jail than it would benefit Burt.

The Romero family has not yet decided if it would press for an appeal, but members are working with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda and Senator Jeffrey Klein to push for harsher punishments in the future for similar one-punch deaths. Sepulveda arrived immediately after the hearing and said that he and Klein would “see how we can allow a bill to increase penalties,” to elevate the charge from misdemeanor to “negligent homicide.”

Community Board Nine chairman William Rivera commiserated with the family and expressed concern at the weak penalties for such serious crimes. He believes “there is an underlying problem” in his community that has enabled high crime rates among teenagers. The youth “get locked up, arrested, and then released.”

The family of victim Ildefonso Romero Jr. outside the Bronx Hall of Justice

The family of victim Ildefonso Romero Jr. outside the Bronx Hall of Justice (ELIZABETH GOLDBAUM / The Bronx Ink)

Posted in Crime, Featured, Southern Bronx2 Comments

Raving at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx

Time Warp, a German-based rave, plans on turning the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory into a techno haven for two days in November. The New York Daily News reports. 

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

No closure in cop sexual assault case

The parents of a Bronx girl who was sexually assaulted 16 months ago by an NYPD officer grimaced in the gallery yesterday when the judge announced that closure would have to wait at least another month.

Sentencing was expected Wednesday, Sept. 24, for Modesto Alamo, 38, who pleaded guilty in July to sexually abusing, forcibly touching and endangering the welfare of a 13-year-old girl. Alamo resigned from the police force upon his May 24, 2014 arrest. Instead, Judge Laurence E. Busching of the Bronx Supreme Court said he would issue a sentence and determine Alamo’s sex offender category Oct. 23.

Bronx Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Militano petitioned Wednesday for Alamo to be designated a Level 2 sex offender, for “moderate risk or repeat offense,” arguing that his betrayal of a position of trust justified the heightened classification.

Defense lawyer Solomon J. Schepps argued that the victim “was the one who established the relationship in the first place” through a series of non-sexual text messages. Schepps also claimed there is no precedent for holding police officers to the higher standard Militano endorsed. He encouraged a Level 1, “low risk,” designation.

It has been a “lengthy, stressful, disappointing process,” the victim’s mother said in the hallway after yesterday’s hearing. She added that her daughter, now 15, receives counseling and has changed middle schools since the incidents. Although the parents have been fixtures at Alamo hearings, they said they try to shield their daughter from news of the case.

“It is ridiculous that he gets away like it,” said the mother, who sobbed in the courtroom when the prosecutor described the abuse. “He was never in custody.”

Alamo arrived in court in a long-sleeve T-shirt and blue jeans, donning a baseball cap upon leaving the courtroom to obscure photographs of his face. Busching denied a special request from The New York Daily News to photograph today’s proceedings.

Schepps and Militano declined to comment.

In the criminal complaint, the victim is said to have referred to Alamo as her boyfriend. She initially reached out to Alamo for help with a bullying situation at school, Militano said in court and the two exchanged frequent texts for several weeks.The complaint states that Alamo visited her multiple times in her apartment lobby, first on New Year’s Day 2013, where he kissed her and groped her rear end. Alamo also sent the teenager lewd photographs via text.

The victim’s mother said outside court Wednesday that it was Alamo who initiated contact in November 2012 when he complimented a picture her daughter had uploaded on Instagram.

Alamo is released on bail of $1,500.


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime0 Comments

Bronx nonprofit’s dishonest operator goes to jail

Joseph Junkovic, 49, diverted funds from the $25 million he received from government contracts for his nonprofit Cancer Services Network to a personal consulting company. He will spend a year in jail and face a hefty penalty. The New York Post reports.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Bronx unemployment rate dips below 10%

The unemployment rate in the Bronx is now 9.8%, which is the lowest it has been in six years. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Governor Cuomo credit state-backed programs as driving forces. The New York Daily News Reports.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Wrongly Convicted Bronx Man Dies Before Lawsuit

William Lopez, 55, died of an asthma attack Saturday before his $124 million lawsuit for wrongful conviction headed to trial. He was freed 20 months ago after spending 23 years in jail. The New York Daily News Reports.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

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