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Not in my borough: two neighborhoods tackle waste

In the Upper East Side on a chilly Sunday morning, every inch of the Asphalt Green Park is bustling with little soccer players wearing colorful knee socks and jerseys. Parents hold steaming cups of coffee and watch from the sidelines. Next door the basketball courts and playground are filled with children playing in the fresh air. But if the mayor’s waste management plan is carried out, up to 500 trucks transporting residential waste will pass directly through the park daily, disrupting this much- needed recreational space.

A 15-minute subway ride away, Barretto Point Park is a peaceful green oasis at the edge of industrial Hunts Point in the Bronx. It sits practically vacant except for a couple of kids skateboarding on the manicured paths and one man exercising on the basketball courts. In contrast to the Upper East Side, at least 15,000 trucks pass by Barretto Point Park every day, and when the air is still, the smell of sewage can become overwhelming.

Hunts Point in the South Bronx has been overburdened by waste for decades. The community has continually fought for green spaces, parks, and safe streets under the constant threat of industrial zoning and prolific waste management sites. The Upper East Side once housed a waste-processing center that eventually became obsolete. Residents there now face the threat of a new station, set to be one of the biggest in New York City.

While neither community wants the waste in their backyard, the city’s waste must go somewhere. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it is time for every borough to take on its fair share.

Every day, 33,000 tons of commercial and residential waste is generated in New York City.  That waste is treated and transferred though 63 waste transfer stations and 15 of those stations are in the South Bronx, which handles over 31 percent of the city’s waste. Manhattan handles none.

The New York City Solid Waste Management Plan, presented by the mayor in 2006, aimed to distribute New York’s waste more fairly by introducing two new marine transfer stations in Manhattan.

One station is proposed at East 91st Street and the East River. The station will sit just a block from luxury housing, within 300 feet of a public housing complex, and next to the Asphalt Green in the Yorkville neighborhood of the Upper East Side, part of a congressional district with an annual per capita income of $85,081.

This marine transfer station would take up two acres, jutting 200 feet into the East River, and would handle all of the residential waste generated from 14th Street to 138th Street on the eastern half of Manhattan. Diesel trucks would transfer trash to the station on the river where it would be processed and shipped by barge to disposal sites outside of the city. While the station would help to distribute trash burden in New York City, it is hard to ignore how close this station would be to a very vibrant park.

While the city’s plan was a major victory for environmental justice groups and residents of the South Bronx, people living near the waste transfer site on East 91st Street in Manhattan are strongly opposed to what they see as a major encroachment on their residential neighborhood.

Residents for Sane Trash Solutions is a 12-member group fighting to stop the construction of the marine transfer station. The group says that spending $125 million to build a waste station near a park and public housing makes no sense. “There has to be a better solution,” said Jennifer Ratner, a group member and pediatrician who lives eight blocks from the site. “Our children are playing just an arm’s length away from what would become major truck traffic.”

The Department of Sanitation says that the new facility will be state of the art. Waste will be processed and shipped in new containers and the surrounding community will not be burdened with smell.  But Ratner is skeptical. “Sure the facility might be state of the art,” she said. “But the diesel trucks carrying the waste through our neighborhoods will not be.”

Asphalt Green, which would be cut in half by a commercial truck ramp, is not a typical public park. In fact, 70 percent of park time is available only for those who pay a monthly $99 dollar membership fee, which also includes use of the indoor gym. In a lawsuit filed last summer against the city, residents attempted to halt construction of the waste transfer station by invoking the public trust doctrine that protects parklands.

The court favored New York City, finding that Asphalt Green was not a park and that the construction of the waste transfer would not significantly intrude upon the green space.

But while Asphalt Green is a fee-based non-profit organization, it does allow certain groups, like schools from East Harlem, to use the park daily for free.

And from the looks of it, by most people’s standards, Asphalt Green is a park. “You can bring a 4-year-old here and ask them what they are seeing,” said Ratner. “ I guarantee you, that child will say they are looking at a park.”

With lawyers, lobbying efforts and community-based actions, the group continues its work to halt the mayor’s plan.

It’s also not clear whether the transfer station at East 91st Street would actually provide some relief to the South Bronx, a community with an annual per capita income of $13,959, making it the poorest congressional district in the United States.

“If the efforts of groups on the Upper East Side are successful it would mean, at the very least, the commercial waste that’s generated on the Upper East Side will continue to be trucked to the Bronx,” said Eddie Bautista of the Environmental Justice Alliance.

Sandra Christie, a resident of Yorkville and member of Sane Trash, disagreed. She claimed that that the proposed waste transfer station in the Upper East Side will in no way affect the South Bronx. “Not a speck of the trash that will be processed at the proposed station currently goes to the South Bronx,” she said. “I feel for the people living there, but this station will not solve their problems.”

But mixed messages may be coming from within Residents for Sane Trash Solutions.  A recent article in the Daily News quotes the president of the group, Jed Garfield, suggesting the city “put the facility near the Hunts Point in the South Bronx where it would not actually touch any neighborhoods except the Hunts Point Market.”

The problem is, people actually do live in Hunts Point, and many residents currently live near waste transfer stations.

People that have grown up in Hunts Point consider the smell of sewage and trash a fact of life. Wanda Salaman, of the non-profit organization Mothers on the Move, has been fighting the smell for 10 years.

She knew things had really become unbearable when a reporter covering her fight against trash told her that on the subway back into Manhattan from the South Bronx, people on that train began to hold their noses. “It was then the woman realized,” Salaman said. “The smell was coming from her.”

Mothers on the Move’s first fight against sewage in Hunts Point targeted the New York Organic Fertilizer Company, a company that converted human waste into fertilizer pellets. The smell was so bad that families living near the plant at Barretto Point Park had to keep their windows closed during the summer.

After a decade of fighting, they succeeded when the city cut its contracts with the sewage treatment plant, and the company was shut down. But the Hunts Point Sewage Treatment Facility, another sewage processing company, still remains.

“The smell has gotten better in the last few years,” said Jahira Rodriguez, who grew up in Hunts Point. “But in the summer, it is still really bad.” Rodriquez thinks it is unfair that the Upper East Side is refusing to process their fair share of garbage.

In addition to the thick smell of sewage in the South Bronx, waste transfer through the neighborhood also contributes to high asthma rates. According to the Department of Public Health, Hunts Point has one of the city’s highest asthma rates for youth ages 0-14 at 11.5 percent while The Upper East Side has on of the lowest at 1.2 percent.

In 2006, researchers from the New York University Graduate School of Public Service found that high asthma rates in the South Bronx are directly related to the multitude of trucks that pass through the neighborhood daily. Many of those trucks are carrying commercial waste from other boroughs to the waste transfer stations in the Bronx. The mayor’s plan aims to alleviate truck traffic allowing the majority of waste to be transported by barge.

Truck ramp next to the Asphalt Green in the Upper East Side where trucks will carry waste to the proposed marine transfer station. (JANET UPADHYE/Bronk Ink)

Mouloukou Diakite, 48, exercises at Barretto Point Park, the closest green space to his apartment in Longwood. His daily routine includes running laps around the basketball court, breathing through push-ups against a steel fence and jogging backward in the grass. Unfortunately his son Mory, 13, is unable to exercise with the same intensity because he has asthma.

Mory had trouble breathing at a very young age but was lucky to have never been hospitalized because of his asthma. He was also lucky to spend some time in his father’s home country of Mauritania where his asthma cleared up enough for him to now play basketball on his school’s team and sometimes join his father at Barretto Point Park. In order to get to the park from their Longwood apartment, the Diakites must pass through streets zoned for industry.

The city’s zoning policies are another example of the burden placed on Hunts Point.   A large portion of the neighborhood, 41.3 percent, is zoned for industry and commercial use while only 3.1 percent of the Upper East Side has been zoned for the same use. The proposed waste transfer station will be built on that land. In a small geographic area where there is a high concentration of residents, such as New York City, people are forced to live and play near industrial zones.

The Tri-State Transfer Station in Hunts Point, which handles 84,836 tons of material annually, sits just three blocks from a tree-lined street of single-family homes and a Head Start program. Two blocks from the station is the first of several six-story apartment buildings, each with a minimum of 60 apartments. One block from the plant is Dancers Dreamzzz dance studio where local youth can take salsa, hip-hop or ballet classes. As kids break from class, they step outside to breathe fresh air and can see a waste transfer station.

Sharon De La Cruz, 25, grew up in Hunts Point. She is used to the smell, air pollution, and high asthma rates that accompany heavy industry and waste processing. For her, it is a normal way of life, but that doesn’t make it fair.

“I am sorry that a waste transfer station is proposed near a park in the Upper East Side,” she said. “But in my neighborhood, we have the opposite problem. We have to propose parks in the middle of several waste transfer stations because that is the only land we have.”

De La Cruz loves Barretto Point Park but says that it is difficult to walk past waste treatment plants and a line of diesel trucks to get there. She thinks that the trucks and the odor keep people out of the park.  “Don’t we deserve accessible green spaces too?” she asked.

Bautista believes that they do. Industrial or not, people live their lives in Hunts Point. “Residents for Sane Trash Solutions justify suggesting the Bronx and our other communities of color because they’re industrial,” said Bautista. “They ignore the fact that we have a few hundred thousand residents living in these communities as well.”

While the Upper East Side fights the mayor’s plan, residents of the South Bronx wait and wonder when the burdens of air pollution and smell will lessen in their small community. “We don’t want to be the community that takes on everyone else’s trash anymore,” said De La Cruz. “It makes us feel like we are trash.”


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured0 Comments

Job scarcity leaves little room for second chances

Hairston has spent a fifth of his life behind bars and half of his life in and out of the criminal justice system, making it nearly impossible for him to find work.

Hear Harrison’s story: 

Sitting on a stoop in Hunts Point, Richard Hairston fixes his gaze down the street where a group of teenaged boys are hanging out as he absentmindedly plays with a thread on the cuff of his North Face winter jacket. The leaves on the ground are gold and red, signifying to him the passing of another year. In one week it will be three years since Richard Hairston was released from prison, and he has yet to find a job.

“I know times are tough for everyone right now,” the 28-year-old Bronx native said. “But for those of us who grew up in the prison system, it feels nearly impossible.”

New York State is currently experiencing an 8 percent employment rate. With nearly 765,000 state residents out of work according to the Labor Department, looking for a job can feel like a never-ending uphill battle for many. This number, though, seems miniscule compared to the 61 percent unemployment rate for ex-offenders in New York.

Hairston has spent a fifth of his life behind bars and half of his life in and out of the criminal justice system. While other young people his age were going to school and getting summer jobs, Hairston was selling drugs and worrying about court dates, visiting hours, and felony counts. He said the police also repeatedly harassed him in his neighborhood.

“About twice a week,” he said. “For as long as I can remember.”

“The psychological effects of police harassment of young people can be devastating,” said Isaac Ontiveros, Communications Director for Critical Resistance, a national anti-prison organization. “Harassment can cause stress creating a vicious cycle where young people sometimes feel unworthy of work and forced back into prison.”

And once a young person has been convicted of a felony, they will always have to check that little box on every job application identifying themselves as felons, which greatly decreases their chances of employment.

Though it is against the law to refuse to hire an applicant based on a prior conviction, many employers continue to stigmatize ex-offenders. According to a survey published in 2011 in the Journal of Labor and Society “only about 40 percent of employers would “definitely” or “probably” hire applicants with criminal records, especially for jobs that involved dealing with customers or handling money.”

“Sometimes I think I should lie on the application and not check that little box,” said Abdul Garcia, 24, of Hunts Point. “But I know they would find out anyway.”

Garcia was first arrested at age 11 for robbery. That case remained unresolved for five years until he was finally convicted. He was later arrested at age 17 on charges of attempted murder and reckless endangerment when he fired shots at a rival gang member in the streets of Brooklyn. Like Hairston, Garcia served five years and is now looking for work.

“I was young and involved in the gang life,” he said. “But the whole time I was locked up, I just wanted to come home.” Being home is not so easy though. Unable to find work, Garcia has a hard time supporting his 3-year-old son without work. He is just getting by with temporary construction work he finds with the help of the United Hispanic Construction Workers, Inc. who have connections with local contractors and developers. But he is finding it harder to do manual labor because he has a crooked spine that has affected him since birth.

Garcia has applied to many jobs since he was released almost two years ago. On his list: Target, Best Buy, JCPenney, Toy R’ Us and Macy’s. “Every time I go to a store I get an application,” he said. “Nobody calls back.”

He often thinks about being a security guard though that would require a security guard license from the state, that with his record, he will never be able to get. According to a New York State Bar association report, “over 100 occupations in New York State require some type of license, registration, or certification by a state agency,” making licensures another barrier that formerly incarcerated individuals face in seeking employment.

Garcia also claimed regular police harassment. “Almost once a week when I walk out of my building some police officer will ask me if I live there and where I am headed,” he said. “But that just makes me want to get a job more so I don’t have to deal with them as much.”

According to the Doe Fund serving the homeless and formerly incarcerated, over 127,000 individuals are released from state prisons and local jails in New York State each year. Luckily, numerous private charities have been stepping in to help.

The Men’s Wearhouse in Co-op City donates suits to help young men look professional for interviews. Getting Out Staying Out prepares ex-offenders for possible discrimination by teaching them to focus in interviews on all of the positive things they have learned and done since incarceration. The Fortune Society helps ex-offenders develop a resume and refine their skill sets.

Hairston sought support from several agencies when he was first released. Though the groups were helpful, they were never able to get him a job. The red tape got to be a little much for him. He felt he was spening too much time applying to support programs and attending meetings then he wanted and finally decided that his time was better spent looking for work on his own.

“Programs can only do so much,” he said. “When it comes down to it, it’s just you and that little box you checked in an interview with a potential employer.”

Posted in The 12 Percent0 Comments

Twitter helps find missing autistic girl

Missing person posters for Janice Lewis.

Janice Lewis, who went missing Tuesday afternoon, was found a little over 24 hours later with the help of social media. Her older brother started a Facebook and Twitter campaign to help locate his 17-year-old sister, who suffers from autism. Celebrities, including Talib Kweli and Sean Combs, retweeted Lewis’ picture to their followers. One Twitter user recognized the young girl walking down a Brooklyn street and called the police. She was safely returned to her family late Wednesday.

“I don’t even know what a tweet is,” said Lewis’ mother, Keri. “It’s amazing how it took something I don’t understand to get her home.”

Lewis fell asleep on the train on the way home to the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, from Manhattan High School on the Upper East Side, where she is a senior. She woke up near Coney Island, unable to find her way around. She has not told her family any more details about what happened during the time she was missing. Police say that she may be traumatized and hope that after returning to her daily routine, she may begin to talk.

Diagnosed with autism at the age of three, Lewis has limited short-term memory and sometimes gets confused. Up until a month ago, she rode the train home from school everyday with her younger sister Brittany, 15. But when Brittany’s schedule changed, Lewis declared that she was ready to ride the train by herself. “I felt secure about it,” said her mother. “I felt as though she was ready.”

Friends from school walked with her to the Uptown D train at 42nd Street on Tuesday. They were the last to see her before her dissapperance. The next day a group of worried students walked out of Manhattan High School trying to find their friend, but were brought back to talk with counselors.

Lewis plays basketball for her high school team, sang, and played keyboard and bass guitar for her church choir. She loves Lebron James.

Lewis’ five siblings, grandma, cousins, aunts, uncles, and family friends gathered at her home while she was missing waiting for news on her whereabouts. Nobody slept until she was found.

The tight-knit family posted flyers of the missing teen as far as Brooklyn. Family members who work for the MTA alerted commuters. And Lewis’ older brother Christopher, 24, hit the social media sites.

They didn’t lose hope, while holding on to recent memories of Lewis wrestling with her brothers on Thanksgiving and being baptized with her sister last Sunday, among many more. “I remember when she was born,” her brother Christopher said. “She would follow me everywhere I went, not saying a word, just tugging at my coat. She made me realize what it was to be a big brother.”

The family is ecstatic that she was found. “We just want to thank everyone who posted her picture on Facebook and Twitter,” said her mother. “We are so grateful to have her home.”



Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

The Bronx’s own project runway

Runway students listen to coach Tyra A. Ross at the Bronx Community Pride Center.

“Learning how to strut down a runway gives young people confidence that translates into other areas of their lives,” said Tyra Ross, as she stood before her runway class at the Bronx Community Pride Center.

For the last three years,  Ross has taught these professional modeling skills to gay, lesbian and transgender youth in the only class of its kind in New York City.

“Here they can learn with someone who truly understands where they are coming from,” said Ross, who has trained up to 50 Bronx teens in the art of runway since her first class at the center in 2008.

Ross was born and raised in Tobago, in a family and a culture that did not support her emerging transgender identity. After surviving sexual assault by an elder in her community, Ross began dreaming of making a life for herself, far away from her birthplace. As soon as she was old enough to travel, she emigrated to New York City, where members of her extended family lived.

In the Bronx, as a 18-year-old aspiring model, Ross found a supportive community and success in the fashion industry. She walked the runways for designers Darius Wobil and B Michael couture in Brooklyn and in the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Pictures from her modeling days show her slender 6-foot-2-inch frame draped with elegance in designer dresses. She hopes to teach that elegance to her students, some of who dream of being professional models one day.

Ross is a fashion inspiration. “She is a role model,” said one of her students, 26-year-old Thai. “She has lived life and that shows through her teaching.”



Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Multimedia, Video0 Comments

City locks out Morning Glory gardeners

Elliott Liu holds a rake outside the garden he helped create as city workers tear down the fence.

Volunteer gardeners in the South Bronx looked on helplessly Monday morning as city workers yanked up their kale by the roots and threw it into garbage bags.

In a few hours, the city had destroyed their carefully tended garden beds, hauled away tables and chairs, and mowed under foliage in Morning Glory Community Garden on Union Avenue and Southern Boulevard.

Two years of grassroots work was destroyed in a few hours. “What we are seeing,” said Rafael Mutis, adjunct professor at Hostos Community College, “is just another threatened community garden in a low-income community where fresh food is already so scarce.”

The city hopes to develop the area and needs the garden cleaned out to prepare the  land for sale. A Bronx housing official, Ted Weinstein, said developers have expressed interest in bidding on the site, but first need to test it to see if construction is feasible.

“We are on orders to clear out the lot today,” Carol Allen, a department of housing representative, said to the stunned gardeners, holding petitions they’d hoped would save the garden from destruction “If you attempt to stop us, we will call the police.”

Until recently, the Morning Glory community garden was nothing more than an empty lot, owned by the city, and neglected for 30 years. Two years ago, a group of community members decided to convert the space into something useful.

Residents have since used the soil to grow corn, tomatoes, carrots, collards, kale, garlic and squash. Students learned how to grow their own food. The space hosts community barbeques, open mic events and organic farming opportunities.

On November 7, community gardeners Elliott Liu and Rafael Mutis stood outside of the fence with plans to gather signatures to take to City Hall, hoping community support could stall their eviction. Their plans were scrapped when the Department of Housing representatives arrived to clear it out.

Liu and Mutis frantically made calls for urgent support as the contract workers from Innovative Construction tore down a section of the fence and backed a blue van into the lot, running over small potted plants stopping to unload garbage cans, lawn mowers, and pickaxes.

“I don’t know why the city needs to clear out this garden today,” said neighbor Elizabeth Lynch as she signed the petition to save the garden. “If they have a plan to build something here, they should let the community know.”

Meanwhile community reinforcements gradually began to arrive on the sidewalk outside the garden. Anistala Rugama, of the Harm Reduction Coalition was disappointed that the high school students, who have the most stake in the garden, could not be there to protect it.

“The city came to destroy their garden while they are in school,” she said. “They were planning to come after school, but it might be too late.”

According to James Edgar of the Department of Housing, it is too late. “We have put up No Trespassing signs,” he told gardeners. “This is city property and they will do what they want with it.”

Attorney Kafhani Nkrumah believes the garden might still have a fighting chance. “The next step is to contact Community Board District Manager, Cedric Loftin,” he said. “He should represent you.”

Gardeners planned to host a rally Monday afternoon outside of the garden, hoping to gather community support. But for now, all they could do was watch from behind the fence, as their hard work and hope for a greener South Bronx was demolished.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Food0 Comments

Halloween in Hunts Point

Southern Boulevard in Hunts Point was packed with hyper little fairies, monsters and clowns yesterday as children held out bags to local businesses yelling “Trick-or-Treat!” with eager faces waiting to see which candy would drop in.

Employees of local cell phone shops, clothing stores, and bodegas stood outside their stores’ entrances with large bags of candy, waiting for trick-or-treaters to come by. “We bought 40 bags of candy today,” said Jose Pinero, 28, who works at Forever clothing store. “We’ve been waiting for the kids all day.”

And the kids did not disappoint. They dragged parents and older siblings down the sidewalk, past policemen stationed on every block, eager to fill plastic pumpkin-shaped baskets full of treats. “I’ve handed candy to at least 400 kids already today,” said Dayton Turnquest, 24, of Ricky’s Super Store. “Some of these kids don’t have a lot of good things going on, so it’s nice to make them smile.”

Parents also appreciate the efforts by business owners. Candace William, 31, of Hunts Point, will only shop at stores that hand out candy on Halloween. She thinks the least businesses can do is give local kids some candy on Halloween.

In Hunts Point, it’s important that stores hand out candy, especially since many residents don’t feel comfortable trick-or-treating at residences. “No one goes door-to- door anymore,” said Mariceli Villanueva, 37, who held tight to her nine-year-old son (he was wearing a mask). “I wouldn’t take my son to a house I didn’t know.”

Just 10 years ago, Ivan Martinez, 28, loved to ask for candy at houses and see his neighbors. He now feels like people are so transient that he has no idea who his neighbors are.  “Things have changed,” he said, boarding a bus to a neighborhood north of Hunts Point with his wife and three kids. “Everything felt safer then.”

And some businesses benefit from the increased visibility on Halloween. Dominic Torres reminded parents, “This candy came from the Underground,” as he handed lollipops to the kids bought by the sportswear store he works for.

One business on Southern Boulevard, the shopping center of Hunts Point, thrives on Halloween. “We practically sold out of kids’ costumes this year,” said Mayko Matos, 19, manager of Ricky’s Super Store. “This is one of our biggest times of the year.” He added that the best-selling girls costume of 2011 was Jesse from Toy Story and little boys overwhelmingly went for Captain America.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

Far from Occupy Wall Street, Bronx parks wait for their own clean-up

Students clean up Aqueduct Walk Park in the Bronx. (RICHARD GAREY/BRONX INK).

There’s an old saying in real estate: “location, location, location.” The same holds true for parks. There was more proof of that last week when Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered Occupy Wall Street protestors to evacuate Zuccotti Park in order to sanitize it. But in the Bronx, parks are as dirty as ever. And no one seems to care, except the people who live there.

“If Bloomberg is interested in cleaning up parks,” said resident Richard Garey, an architect, “he can start in the Bronx.”

Parks in the Bronx have long been neglected, leaving cleanup efforts to community based groups like The Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, where Garey volunteers.

It took only 30 days of protest for the mayor to take action, announcing that protestors’ presence in Zuccotti Park “created unsanitary conditions and considerable wear and tear on the park,” and demanding that everyone leave the park in order for power cleaners to give it a good washing.

On the other end of the city, parts of Aqueduct Park in the Bronx have been unsanitary for years. “The area continues to be neglected and poses health & safety issues,” said Garey, who leads cleanups of Aqueduct Walk Park with student volunteers, “including deteriorated guardrails, broken glass, syringes, and dirty diapers.”

Aqueduct Park was founded in 1968 and runs through the Bronx and up into Westchester County. “The history of this park is rich,” said Isa Anate, 55, who lives along the aqueduct. “It follows the actual canal that provided water from the Croton River to Manhattan. “

Anate has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years. “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could play in there?” he asked a young boy playing basketball near a fenced-off section of the park.

While the kids got excited at the prospect, Anate explained that that section of the park has been closed off since he moved to the neighborhood.  “It would be nice to see it put to use,” he said.

A neighborhood mother would not let her kids in the park alone. “Kids cannot play in this park,” Daisy Checo, 35, said standing near a fallen guardrail wrapped in yellow caution tape. “There is too much drug use. It would be dangerous.”

Last March, the NYC Parks and Recreation Department found the overall condition of Aqueduct Park unacceptable.  While 90 percent of Manhattan parks are deemed acceptably clean, only 75.4 percent of Bronx Parks pass the test.

University Woods Park, once named “the city’s worst park” by the New Yorkers for Parks, also has a history of unsanitary conditions and overgrown vegetation.

“Nobody goes in that park,” said Celestine Tejada, 30, who lives in the neighborhood. “It’s deserted so it is probably a breeding ground for drugs and prostitution.” She went on to say if the city were to clean it up, maybe she would take her daughter there.

In the end, protestors at Zuccotti Park were allowed to remain in the park.

The mayor may still force protestors to leave, but if he’s really interested in clean parks, people in the Bronx think their borough should be first in line for a good cleaning.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured1 Comment

Occupy Bronx, Day One


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The Occupy Wall Street movement headed north to Fordham Road on Saturday, officially enveloping the city’s poorest borough in its now global call to close the income gap in the United States.

Nearly 100 Bronx participants gathered near Fordham University, saying their borough’s residents represent the poorest Americans, and they have been silent for too long.

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx,” said Maribel Vasquez, Fulbright Scholar who wants to see change in her neighborhood.  “It wasn’t until I left that I realized I was raised in the poorest congressional district of the United States.”

Vasquez believes that Bronxites need to be more vocal about poverty, lack of affordable housing and subpar educational options. Saturday’s participants included residents, members of local non-profits, students and professors from Fordham University.

And Occupy Wall Street organizers are happy to expand. “We hope to be in every borough by the end of the week,” said Erik Maldonado, who was born and raised in Kingsbridge and has been a part of the populist movement aimed at the financial district that is galvanizing anti-corporate protests in cities across the U.S., Europe, Asia and South America.  “It is time for the Bronx to join this movement.”

With the highest unemployment rate in New York City and nearly 29 percent of residents living below the poverty level, organizers believers Bronx voices are a vital part of this movement.

Jonnie Rosado, 35 from Parkchester has four sons in school and is attempting to go back to school herself. But as she foots the bill for her son’s classroom supplies and pays for her own tuition, she doesn’t feel the government is supporting her family in getting an education.

“Here in the Bronx we are falling through the cracks,” said Rosado. “I have friends who work three jobs and still can’t make ends meet.”

Occupy Bronx protestors plan to meet every Saturday morning at 11a.m. in Fordham Plaza. Their game plan is to first participate in a general assembly meeting to discuss the Bronx’s unique position in the movement and then take the Fordham Road subway downtown to join the rest of the protesters on Wall Street.

On Saturday, police began to gather near the end of the rally on East Fordham Road and Webster Avenue.

Spectators watched the protestors walk by with mixed emotion. One older woman clapped her hands as they passed. “We support you,” she yelled. Others looked confused and took flyers that said, “Don’t let the one percent take another cent,” and posted Occupy Wall Street’s coming events. Sidewalk vendors appeared pleased at the prospect of new customers as they attempted to sell the protesters gold jewelry and apples and bananas from fruit stands.

“Join us, you are one of us,” yelled the group as they entered the subway station at Fordham Road and Jerome Avenue. Police held the emergency doors open, letting protesters ride for free.

We have had enough,” said Jason Emmanuel, 37. “The Bronx has been left behind and it is time for our voices to be heard.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured1 Comment

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