Tag Archive | "Bronx"

All Eyes on Throggs Neck Amid New York City’s Affordable Housing Crisis

A sign against “Up Zoning” hangs on a street post in Throggs Neck.

Compared to the fast-paced, chaotic borough of Manhattan, Throggs Neck sticks out as an almost suburban neighborhood. Located in the southeastern corner of the Bronx, it’s made up of mostly single, free-standing homes. It can be hard to remember it exists within the boundaries of New York City until making the mile trek to the closest train station at Pelham Bay.

“It’s mostly a working-class, middle-class community that appreciates urban living but not congested urban living,” said Janine Franciosa, a Throggs Neck resident who has lived in the neighborhood all 40 years of her life. 

Currently, some Throggs Neck residents like Franciosa are worried that’s about to change. 

A for-profit developer, Throggs Neck Associates LLC, is seeking to build four multi-story buildings across Bruckner Boulevard, some of which will include affordable housing units. But to do so, they first have to change long-standing low-zoning laws which are designed to prevent larger developments from being built. 

The debate has stirred things in the community, with some residents battling to maintain the zoning laws in an effort to “preserve” the neighborhood and others rallying in support of the project if it means more affordable housing units for residents in need. 

Those in support include Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and Mayor Eric Adams.

“Housing construction has not kept up with population growth in New York City,” explained Brendan Cheney, Director of Policy and Communications at New York Housing Conference, an affordable housing policy advocacy group.

“New York City is constrained in terms of vacant land. It is expensive to build here in the city. There are also zoning restrictions that can prevent growth,” he added. 

According to NYC planning, Throggs Neck is currently designated as a low-density district, meaning there is a restricted number of residential units allowed on one zoning lot. The majority of residential buildings also have height limitations. In 2004, residents in the area amended the zoning to include more restrictions after raising concerns about over-development.

These zoning laws have prompted Throggs Neck Associates LLC to ask for a rezone of the area in order to build their project, which includes a 3-story building, a 5-story building, and two 8-story buildings.

According to the developer’s proposal, the four buildings will have a total of 349 residential units, 168 of those units will be reserved for low-income residents, 99 units primarily for seniors, and 22 units reserved for veterans whose rents will be paid by Tunnel to Towers, a non-profit organization. 

Around 46 percent of Throggs Neck residents are renters—nearly half of those renters are considered rent burdened, according to the US census report

At the end of last year, more than 900 households in the 13th Council District, which includes Throggs Neck, ended up in homeless shelters, according to Cheney.

“So you’ve got people who are rent burdened, you’ve got people who are living in poverty in the council district, you’ve got people whose housing crisis is so severe in the neighborhood that they’re needing to enter shelter,” Cheney said.

“That neighborhood should be looking for ways to get more affordable housing in the neighborhood instead of rejecting affordable housing coming into the neighborhood.” 

In May of 2022, when the proposal was introduced to Community Board 10, it was voted down with a near unanimous vote, Matthew Cruz, Bronx Community District 10 Manager told The Bronx Ink. 

“This is a rezoning that is far too expansive for our taste,” Cruz said. “In short, and to be kind, there was no planning behind this rezoning application and I think that’s why the community board and much of the community remains opposed.” 

Like Cruz, many residents are skeptical of the developers’ long-term plans within the neighborhood.

“I think it is an opportunistic endeavor for a small number of developers that are kind of exploiting the situation of this community,” Franciosa said.“It’s setting precedence for any developer to come and over-develop and…exploit what they can do in this area for their own personal financial gain.”

According to NYC Planning, Bronx Community District 10 is one of just four in New York City’s 59 community districts that are labeled as “lower density growth management”. This means certain rules are in place, such as parking and yard/open space requirements, to help manage growth.

“This is the last neighborhood of its kind because so many other neighborhoods have been exploited with over-development,” Franciosa said. “People should feel agency where they live. People should have a say in how they want to live.” 

Another sign against “Up Zoning” is displayed in the window of a home in Throggs Neck.

Open New York, an affordable housing advocacy group, has been involved in the zoning proposal since it was introduced and has advocated to see it through. 

“This is a community that’s been able to draw a line around itself and say, ‘no, you have to build everywhere but here.’ And that’s not fair to the rest of the city,” said Logan Phares, Political Director of Open New York.

Over the last eight years, Council District 13 has added just 58 affordable housing units, ranking fifth lowest across all New York City council districts, according to data compiled by NYHC. Over the same course of time, City Council District 17, also located in The Bronx, topped the list, with 8,555 affordable units built. 

Michael Kaess, a resident in Council District 13 and a member of Open New York, is one of a few residents voicing support for the project. 

“It’s time that communities like mine build their fair share. I really think it has a city-wide implication whether something like the Bruckner Site rezoning passes,” Kaess said.

As of 2019, in the New York Metro area, there are only 47 affordable and available rental units per 100 very low income households, according to data provided by National Low Income Housing Coalition. To be considered very low income, that household must make at or below 50% of the area median income, for a family of three that is anything under $60,050. Currently the New York City Metro area is short 771,855 affordable units for very low income households

Though Kaess is one of few residents supporting the project, he suggested that those who oppose don’t actually make up the majority of the neighborhood. 

“I don’t think the average person is that engaged,” Kaess said. “The unfortunate reality is that the people who show up to every community board meeting, those are the folks that are going to be the most against it.” 

At the end of August, members of Open New York attended a rally in support of the project. They were met with fierce opposition from community members, one even sprayed a hose towards them over the fence.

“These are folks who are so afraid of any change to the status quo that they will go to extreme lengths of hosing down supporters,” Phares said.

The Bronx Community Board 10 told The Bronx Ink it does not condone any threats made towards supporters. 

“I think these conversations bring about some charged comments and things are said that are really unwanted and do not help the conversation,” Cruz said.“That’s not indicative of who we are as a community. We’re much better than that.” 

The City Council has until October 17th to make a final decision on rezoning, according to New York’s URLUP process.

“I’m not going to say that a building going up is necessarily going to make me move,” Franciosa said. “It’s not just the building. It’s…what the implications will be.”

Posted in Bronx NeighborhoodsComments (1)

South Asian non-profit addresses increase in domestic violence cases 

Content warning: This article contains mentions of domestic and gender-based violence.

*Bangla and Bengali are synonymous

South Asian women attending a general socializing event hosted by Sapna. Photo courtesy of Sapna NYC.

K.F. was one of the first to speak. Through a Bengali translator, she described her first marriage —  arranged in Bangladesh  — when she was 16 years-old. K.F. (her name is being withheld for her safety) divorced and migrated to the U.S. where she was abused by her second husband.

K.F. is one of about a dozen South Asian women from mostly the Bronx who gathered in a virtual circle, via Zoom, last Thursday. Several of the women who participate in the weekly session are survivors of domestic violence. 

The circle is led by women from Sapna NYC, the first and only non-profit organization in the Bronx that provides services for low-income South Asian immigrant women. It was formed in 2008 in response to a growing Asian community. In 2008 there were 11,132 residents of Asian descent in the Soundview and Parkchester area, compared to 14,946 in 2021, according to census data.

R.S. sounded frustrated as she spoke about applying for jobs. She’s not able to work a strict 9-to-5 job because she has to look after her child, making it difficult for her to find employment. R.S (her name is being withheld for her safety) was married in her early twenties, abused in her marriage and is now a single mother. She has a master’s degree and wants to gain her financial independence, according to Naurin Islam, Deputy Director of Sapna NYC and translator for the womens’ circle. 

An increase in incidents

When Sapna started providing assistance for mental health last year, they said that between April to June, 11 women received services. In the same quarter of 2022, 34 women received counseling, and in the second quarter of 2022, 187 women were counseled. Now, the number usually hovers between 50 and 60 per month. The women who come to Sapna have either endured verbal abuse, physical violence, or both.

In the Bronx, there were 20,688 family-related domestic incident reports in 2021, compared to 14,728 cases in 2020, according to The Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV). 

Community Board 9, which includes Parkchester and Soundview, had the highest number of reports of family-related domestic incidents (2,719) out of the borough’s 12 community boards, with the lowest being Community Board 8 (Riverdale and Fieldston), according to the 2021 study.

The city offers support to domestic abuse survivors and their children, and manages a number of Family Justice Centers throughout New York City.

The Bronx Family Justice Center has a disproportionately high percentage of South Asian clients from Parkchester (zip code 10462), Islam said. Additionally, that  Family Justice Center has the highest number of clients who speak Bengali, according to Islam. Sapna serves the entire South Asian community, but because of their Parkchester location, they mostly assist the Bangladeshi American community.

The city data does not break down the number of domestic violence cases by ethnicity, but at the Bronx Family Justice Center located in Concourse Village, Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries of birth of clients seeking support, according to Beth Seibold, Senior Communications Advisor with the mayor’s office, ENDGBV.

“There is very little information about our communities which means that a lot of times, if you don’t exist in numbers, you don’t exist, and your needs don’t exist,” said Diya Basu-Sen, Executive Director of Sapna NYC. 

BRONX FJC:

Bronx FJC clients reported 72 different countries of birth

Top 10: Country of birth for Bronx FJC clients (not including the United States)

1.Dominican Republic 
2.Mexico
3.Honduras
4.Jamaica
5.Ecuador
6.Bangladesh
7.Trinidad and Tobago
8.Colombia
9.Guatemala
10.Ghana

In many cases, the women seeking help are subjected to verbal and physical abuse by their spouses and remain compliant since the husband supports the family financially, Basu-Sen said.

“Ladies are confused about what to do and whether they should compromise with their husband. If they don’t compromise, then they have to get out of the house, but this is not good for the children,” explained Laila Khairun-Nahar, who works in Case Management and Outreach at Sapna.

Mental health stigma and language barriers 

Both directors, Islam and Basu-Sen, point out that a large portion of the population experiences poverty, loneliness, unemployment, low levels of English literacy, and depression. Many are mothers who do not know how to advocate for themselves or for their children.

“Sometimes they probably don’t know (what domestic violence is) because they don’t really think they’re being abused,” said Nafisa Subhan, Program Associate at Sapna NYC. 

Sapna received a foundation grant from the Cabrini Foundation in 2021, to hire a mental health counselor, Arpita Chatterjee, who is fluent in Bangla.

“A lot of domestic violence survivors are now referring their friends and say, ‘Oh, I think you can go and get help’, whether it’s for applications, whether it’s for counseling, whether it’s for the women’s circle, or simply to just build from scratch a new community,” Chatterjee said.

Sapna developed the Mukti mental health program in 2021, and according to their study, 20% of South Asian women reported having personally experienced domestic abuse from a spouse in the previous five years. Nearly 50% of respondents said they knew at least one other woman who had endured physical or emotional abuse. 

“There’s a lot of unmet needs in the South Asian community in the Bronx, and so Sapna was born to address this gap in services and also to create a safe space particularly for women,” Basu-Sen said. 

“In our communities there’s a lot of stigma around mental health, so it’s not necessarily something people are used to doing, such as having a counseling session. So we have the women’s circle that people can either do so they meet other women and feel happier,”  Basu-Sen added.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx NeighborhoodsComments (0)

Riverdale Avenue Goes “On A Diet”

A protest held by political leaders and community members on Sept. 7 on Riverdale Avenue after the road diet project was completed by the Department Of Transportation

Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation took Riverdale Avenue and put it “on a diet.” The project known as a “road diet” transformed the avenue from a two-lane traveling road to one. A bike lane and a turning bay were added to the road that stretches from West 254th to West 263rd Street.  

The project was the result of efforts that started back in March of this year between DOT and local elected officials, DOT wrote in an email.  

From 2015 to 2019 there were three traffic fatalities along the stretch and 66 total injuries, according to DOT. They added that two of these fatalities were senior-aged pedestrians which demonstrated the need for a safer street.

However, residents are concerned about the new project which was completed on Sept. 5. because of increased traffic, double parking during school hours and congestion due to sharing the lane with city buses. 

The Traffic and Transportation Committee of Community Board 8 held a meeting on Sept. 15 where residents showed up to voice those concerns. 

Riverdale resident, Eric Miooan, was one of several who spoke out against the road diet. 

Taking out a lane is “like cutting off somebody’s leg and saying you’ll get used to it,” Miooan said. 

Community Board 8 rejected DOT’s proposal due to not receiving enough traffic studies to change the road, according to Community Board 8 meeting minutes.  The board also said that the plan didn’t take into account merging traffic and parking. 

Across the nation, road diets have been known to help reduce speed and accommodate other modes of traffic like bicycling, according to the federal highway administration. 

DOT proposed that the 60-foot-wide road be divided into smaller sections. The road is still the same width but a lane for bikes has been added and a turning bay, leaving a smaller amount of room for cars. 

At the Sept. 15 meeting, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D) spoke of how shocked he was that DOT delivered the new road so quickly.   

“It’s an absolute insult that the DOT could have moved this quickly,” Dinowitz said.

He said that it normally takes the department months to complete projects like this but they finished the road diet in eleven days. 

First Deputy Commissioner Margaret Forgione of DOT said they got the project done quickly because the department wanted it finished before children in the community went back to school.

On the other hand, Dinowitz said he’s been pushing for left turn signals on Riverdale Avenue for years now. 

“Put in the left turn signals, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out the battle in the flow of traffic and make the decision to put in left turn signals,” Dinowitz said.

There was a protest on Riverdale Avenue on Sep. 7 after the project was finished, where City Council Member of District 11, Eric Dinowitz (D) called on DOT to take a look into community concerns. 

“We’re calling on the DOT to take into account actual community concerns and to be a collaborative partner in projects or proposed projects, instead of completely ignoring the community,” Dinowitz said. 

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez attended the traffic and transportation meeting on the 15th to listen to the community’s concerns and get feedback. 

One member Yesenia Jimenez explained how she almost got into a car accident earlier that week because people aren’t used to the new road. 

Laura Spalter, Chairperson of CB8, said she got a phone call from the board office earlier that week that two cars had gotten into a sidewalk accident, and were found up on the curb of the Skyview Shopping Center on Riverdale Avenue between 258th and 259th street because of the new conditions. 

“If somebody had been walking on the sidewalk they would be dead,” Spalter said.  

Spalter also spoke at the protest earlier this month saying that the Traffic and Transportation Committee voted against the plan repeatedly.  

DOT said that they would come back in a year and reassess—if they see no changes or an increase in accidents at that time, then they’ll “go from there.” 

DOT has done similar projects in the Bronx that have shown to reduce total injuries between 22 percent and 47 percent, and citywide road diets have reduced deaths and serious injuries by 30 percent on average, according to research from DOT. 

“So we do expect to see that here and we will be monitoring it,” Forgione said. 

Shawn Garcia, Bronx and Uptown Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, is in support of road diets across the city and responded to a tweet from the commissioner on Sept. 15 just hours before the meeting.  

“Appreciate the commissioner @ydanis pushing forward this work, especially despite the small anti-road diet forces in Riverdale. The racial and class equity issues here are so apparent.” 

In an interview with The Bronx Ink, Garcia said that Community Board 8 isn’t representative of Riverdale as a whole. 

“We don’t want to wait for the next person to die or a child to get hit by a car,” Garcia said. 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Northwest Bronx, TransportationComments (0)

Bronx Community Leaders Reach Out to Communities of Color Disproportionately Affected by Monkeypox

Community members grab sanitary products from NYC Health during a Monkeypox outreach event. Churchill Ndonwie for the Bronx Inc.

Bronx community leaders gathered for a night of Monkeypox outreach Wednesday, to raise awareness about the spread of Monkeypox in the Bronx and address the disproportionate impact the disease has on Black and Latino communities.

Members of the community were given information about vaccination resources and educational pamphlets on how to protect themselves from Monkeypox. They were also given condoms, sanitary products and encouraged to seek care if they feel sick or identify a rash or sore.

“We know that inequities continue to exist. The numbers within our communities, particularly communities of color among African American and Latino men are still high when compared to other groups” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, who’s office hosted the event in partnership with the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, Third Avenue Business Improvement District, NYC Health and Destination Tomorrow.

Though cases are beginning to decline citywide, latest data from New York Health as of September 18 shows 632 of the identified 3480 citywide cases are in the Bronx. And of those citywide cases, 60% are among Blacks and Hispanics, the majority demographic group of the Bronx. 

“Lot of people out there haven’t been able to get the education that they desperately need in order to understand and take the steps that are necessary to protect and prevent from being harmed by it” said Sage Rivera, Chief Development Program Officer for Destination Tomorrow, a grassroots agency and the LGBTQ+ center for the Bronx borough. The center also serves as a first dose Monkeypox vaccination site.

Rivera also talked about the importance of not falling prey to stigmatization against a certain community because they are the most affected. “It’s very, very easy to fall into the trap of what’s going on, because it’s been so prevalent amongst people of color, and affecting so much the LGBTQ community. This is a skin to skin contact disease, plain and simple,” he said.

On July 18, the five Borough Presidents sent a joint letter to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky demanding more Monkeypox vaccines be sent to New York City. Latest New York Health data shows 95,345 doses have been administered citywide with 5,639 doses administered in the Bronx. About a third of the citywide  doses were administered to those identifying as Black or Hispanic. 

“We do know that access is an issue. So we want to get more vaccination sites,” said Anita Reyes, Assistant Commissioner, Bronx Neighborhood Health, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

New York City Health recently opened a Tremont Monkeypox vaccination clinic in the Bronx. The clinic, located at 1826 Arthur Ave., is open to the public for first dose vaccination walk-ins. 

“I think that health is an issue that is still not spoken about enough in the Bronx….Monkeypox is just something that is making a lot of people question what makes them feel safe and healthy in a community, especially for the LGBTQ community,” said Cecil Brooks, a long time Mott Haven resident. 

“If we have enough people who are fighting misinformation, and know what resources are available, then we can do our small part to make the South Bronx an even better and more welcoming space,” Brooks said.

Posted in Bronx Life, Community Resources, HealthComments (0)

Grammy-Award Winner Eddie Palmieri Launches the Lehman Center’s 2022-23 Season

Eddie Palmieri, age 85. Photo courtesy of the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts

Grammy-Award winning artist Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra launched the Lehman Center’s 2022-23 season on Saturday evening. 

Palmieri is a long-time performer at The Lehman Center and his popular presence is in-line with efforts to focus concert programming on reflecting the community’s diversity. Those efforts have been heralded by The Lehman Center’s Executive Director, Eva Bornstein, who took over in 2005 with a philosophy to “focus on Latinos, African Americans…and then all the other diverse communities in the Bronx.”

“I’ve been following him since 1962,” said audience member Harold Bridgewater. “He’s a legend, I wouldn’t miss this.” 

The 85-year-old matched the enthusiasm of his dynamic Salsa Orchestra— at one point, walking center stage to dance salsa himself. At another point, he had the audience clap along to the distinctive rhythm typical of salsa. 

The opening act included performances by Puerto Rican Tres player, Nelson Gonzalez, and the Del Caribe Latin Jazz All Stars. Spanish-Cuban singer, Lucrecia Pérez Sáez, then joined the group on stage to a “dancing” ovation from the audience. Eddie Palmieri kicked off the second half of the concert with an intimate piano-bass duo before performing favorite repertoire from his collection of over 36 albums. The crowd spoke a mixture of Spanish and English. 

Singer-songwriter Arlene Gonzales performed “Para Que Sepan Quien Soy Yo”, which Palmieri wrote for the singer back in 2021. Her vocals floated above the complex cross-rhythms and subtle dissonances in Palmieri’s choice of chords on the piano. The pair are currently recording a new album together. 

Palmieri’s parents emigrated from Puerto Rico to New York City in 1926. He was raised in the Bronx and learned to play the piano before starting his career as a timbales player in his uncle’s band. He is the recipient of ten Grammy awards, including the first-ever Grammy for the Best Latin Recording with The Sun of Latin Music in 1975. 

“I love the Bronx and I’m going to dedicate this performance to the Bronx”, said Palmieri. 

Assembly Member José Rivera recounted giving Palmieri his first gig in the Bronx. 

“A hundred dollars for four hours. Eddie would tell you that was a lot of money,” the 86-year-old said.

The Salsa Orchestra’s singers, percussionist, and guitarist in center stage at the Lehman Center’s season launch concert on Saturday, September 17 2022. Henrietta McFarlane for the Bronx Ink. 

The Lehman Center is located in Bronx Community District 7. According to the Community District Profile, Latinos account for nearly 70% of the population.

Robert Sancho, the show’s producer and former chairman of the Lehman Center’s board of directors, spoke on stage about resigning years ago because the music didn’t reflect the community in the Bronx. 

“You’ve got 600,000 Latinos in the Bronx. Let’s have some salsa,” said Sancho as the crowd cheered. 

Henrietta McFarlane, reporter for the Bronx Ink, has a background in performance and music criticism. She graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in Music in 2021. 

Posted in Arts, Bronx Beats, CultureComments (0)

Residents Pickup Hundreds of Pounds of Litter at Soundview Park on International Coastal Cleanup Day

Around 75 residents of Soundview and neighboring areas volunteered on International Coastal Cleanup Day to help preserve the Bronx River. Mansi Vithlani for The Bronx Ink.

Volunteers removed 47 bags of trash from the Bronx River on Saturday during International Coastal Cleanup Day. The event, which is held yearly on the third weekend of September, was hosted by The Bronx River Alliance.

This is the first time since the pandemic that the coastal cleanup returns to Soundview Park at such a large scale, according to Victoria Toro, a Bronxite and the Community Outreach Coordinator of The Bronx River Alliance

“People are giving up their Saturday to clean up garbage, that’s pretty damn cool,” said Christian Murphy, Ecology Coordinator at the Bronx River Alliance.

There are three main pollutants to the river of which floatable trash is one of them, according to the Bronx River Alliance’s research

The Bronx Community Board 9 district’s 2023 budget request, of which Soundview is part of, states there is a greater urgency to “maintain and supervise” the local parks and playgrounds. 

Christian Murphy, Ecology Coordinator at the Bronx River Alliance after finding a heavy picnic blanket thrown out as garbage,  in the Bronx River. Mansi Vithlani for The Bronx Ink.

“There’s not a lot of green spaces in the Bronx, and they don’t have as many trees compared to other boroughs in New York City, so whatever we can do to keep these parks healthy and happy is really important to the community,” said Murphy.

Groups of volunteers each concentrated on a specific section of the Bronx River, collecting trash while recording their findings via a tracking sheet, highlighting the type and amount of trash they had collected. 

Ocean Conservancy will use the information gathered from the Soundview event and other worldwide locations to learn more about the types of trash that are entering the environment, developing policies that could have an impact in both the United States and other countries.

Volunteers tracked the amount of items they had collected along the shoreline, with their findings later added to the Ocean Conservancy’s “Clean Swell App”. Mansi Vithlani for the Bronx Ink.

“Volunteers are helping collect important data that is going to inform advocacy, policy and action, not only for non-profit organizations, but also political agencies and governments,” said Toro

The 23-mile Bronx River serves as a gateway to the Atlantic Ocean, where litter that passes through New York Harbor and Long Island Sound could eventually end up.

 “There are so many people in the city, this [event] should be as crowded as a marathon,” said Yonkers resident Cadecia Forgnie.

Volunteers most often found wrappers, bottle caps, and plastic bottles along the shoreline. A car engine, half of a dishwasher unit, pacifiers, a fire extinguisher, a kids’ play mat, and a large pillow were among some of the more unusual objects. 

The Bronx River Alliance started the process of cleaning up and rehabilitating the river in 1974, advocating for the equitable restoration of the Bronx River. 

According to their annual report, in 2020 a total of 2500 bags of trash were removed from the river, 1000 native species were planted, and 335K square feet of invasive growth were eliminated. 

Volunteer, Oscar Asencio-Ramos, and his wife have been living in Soundview for 38 years and regularly attend events held by The Bronx River Alliance.

“We live in the neighborhood, we use the park and we want to walk through and see a clean park with no garbage all over the place and the waterfront clean.” 

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Community ResourcesComments (0)

A sign that says

Bronx Community College Hosts Kids Comic Con Sci-Fest

The Kids Comic Con Sci-Fest welcomes Bronx families to learn more about comics, science and technology. Lindsey Choo for The Bronx Ink.

Dozens of families attended the annual Kids Comic Con event held at Bronx Community College Saturday—the first one held in-person since 2019. This year’s convention, named Sci-Fest, was focused on the relationship between comics, science and technology.

The event was co-founded and organized by comic book writer Alex Simmons and Bronx Community College Director of Collaborative Programs, Eugene Adams, as a way of introducing Bronx kids, particularly those in Black and Latino communities, to careers in science and technology through comic books.

“We want young people to see that—of course, Iron Man is cool—but we also want you to know the technology for Iron Man,” Adams said. “They are areas that … you can actually learn from. So we combined the idea of comic books with robotics, computer science, coding and media production.”

A number of volunteer vendors had comic book displays and sketches, as well as tabletop science experiments and demonstrations. Many displays featured main characters who were people of color.

“The goal is just to see more kids of color enter STEM based careers,” said Delanda Coleman, founder of the publishing company behind More than a Princess, Sydney and Coleman. “A lot of kids, especially minority kids, children who are poor or in rural areas, don’t get the right level of exposure to STEM based concepts… so we integrate science concepts into the story.”

The convention also featured a tribute to the late actress Nichelle Nichols, who starred in the Star Trek franchise and led efforts in the 1970s to diversify recruits in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, including the hiring of the first Black American astronaut and the first female American astronaut.

Alex Simmons, comic book writer, speaks during a tribute to actress Nichelle Nichols. Lindsey Choo for The Bronx Ink

“[Other] comic cons are more expensive,” said Danira Roman, a student at Bronx Community College who works with children with special needs. She added that Saturday’s convention was inviting.

Other attendees were in agreement, making references to New York Comic Con, where a one-day ticket costs $67.75 according to its website.

“It’s kind of tight right now with a lot of parents, especially mine” said Aryanna Chiraunjilal, a Bronx Community College student. “So having this free Comic Con at the college, it provides a safe environment to bring the kids out here and give them an opportunity to be excited, to explore, to meet new people, especially to be creative.”

Posted in Arts, Bronx Life, Culture, Education, Education, Multimedia, Northwest BronxComments (0)

Residents Voice Concerns Over Planned School and Housing Development

Bronx residents voiced concerns Tuesday, over a proposed development that would include a new school and apartment complex at the site of the former Church of the Visitation at the first in-person Community Board  8 meeting since the pandemic.

Tishman Speyer, a real estate investment firm, purchased part of the former site of the Church of the Visitation, located at 171 West 239th Street in Kingsbridge, and plans to build a 336-unit residential building with approximately 70 parking spaces. The other part of the site was purchased by New York City School Construction Authority to build an approximately 736-seat school.

“We had advocated for a school on that site. They’re accommodating the school but the school that they’re accommodating is reduced to one-quarter of the property,” said Christina Carlson, a college professor at Iona University who lives close to the site.

Visitation School at 171 W. 239th St. was closed in 2017. Mingxuan Zhu for The Bronx Ink

“It doesn’t allow for a playground, it doesn’t allow for outdoor space. It’s terrible. It’s just not appropriate for the neighborhood,” Carlson said.

The Church of Visitation was closed in 2015, and its parochial school was closed in 2017. New York State 81st District Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said that since then, he has been proposing a new school. Building a new school at the site would be ideal since there are four school zones, each within a few blocks away, and the new school can alleviate the overcrowding at the other schools.

However, Tishman Speyer’s residential housing program is going to occupy 1.3 acres of the site, leaving the school with only half an acre.

“I want the school on the site, on the whole site,” said Dinowitz in the meeting. “It’s very important that we get that the school is going to be crammed into a little corner, a little part of that site. And it’s just not enough.”

There were also concerns about the housing complex.

Tishman Speyer is going to build an eight-story building with 25% studio, 45% one-bedroom, 20% two-bedroom, and 10% three-bedroom, resulting in more than 40 units per floor, according to Gary Rodney, the Managing Director and the Head of Affordable Housing at Tishman Speyer. The project is going to be built between Van Cortlandt Park South and 239th Street, and between Broadway and the entrance to the Major Deegan Expressway.

Residents are also worried that building a school and residential housing with just 70 parking spaces is going to add more pressure to the already congested corridor.

“Imagine what it would be like with at least an additional 1,000 vehicles including dozens of school buses, staff, teachers and private cars,” said Giovanni Puello, a retired consultant who also lives close to the site. “This is a recipe for a disaster.”

Carlson also voiced her concern about the traffic at the school.

“Where will they gather in the event of a fire drill, or god forbid, a fire when the fire trucks can’t get to them because of the traffic,” she said.

Robert Fanuzzi, a community board member, who was also at the land use committee meeting, voiced his concerns over the site’s geographical region, which is vulnerable to flooding.

The Bronx was heavily impacted when Hurricane Ida hit New York City last year. Kingsbridge and Van Cortlandt sections suffered most of the flooding, especially Major Deegan Expressway, right by the site.

The Major Deegan Expressway has been closed three times since Hurricane Ida.

“You (Tishman Speyer) are contributing a lot of wastewater now through additional units, residential space to already sewers that I need to tell you are at capacity and presenting a real public emergency on a regular basis now,” Fanuzzi said. “There is definitely an environmental impact of building in a flood zone.”

A spokesperson from Tishman Speyer declined an interview request, but sent a statement via email.

“We are pleased to be a part of the redevelopment of the former Visitation Church site, which will bring quality affordable housing and much-needed public school seats to the neighborhood,” it stated.  

“We are grateful for the opportunity to present our initial vision for an all-affordable apartment building to Community Board 8 and appreciate the feedback we have received from the community.”

Laura Spalter, chair of Community Board 8, said that she understands the concerns of the community regarding traffic, public safety, flood planning and education for the children, however, the Tishman Speyer affordable housing project is an as-of-right project, meaning the company can take action without obtaining permission from the community. 

“We can try to influence the design, and we have set up a committee with Tishman and members of our traffic and transportation committee, also members of our environment and sanitation committee,” Spalter said.

“But this is an as-of-right project, so we don’t have a vote.”

“It wouldn’t be as problematic if it wasn’t next to this affordable housing project. People support affordable housing. They support a school. But it’s the density,” she said. “That’s just a lot of cars, a lot of traffic, a lot of school buses… Just a lot.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, HousingComments (0)

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