Upper River Run

Upper River Run

My research schedule is becoming tight, but I allowed myself to participate in the Upper River Run – a half-day canoe trip with the Bronx River Alliance Recreation Program. Canoe trips are one of the main and very popular outreach activities of BxRA. Today about 20-25 people, mostly residents of the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, but some also from New Jersey, started canoeing in Shoelace Park near 219th St. in the North Bronx, and slowly continued south through the Bronx River Forest, New York Botanical Garden, and the Bronx Zoo to the Bronx River Park.

Michael Hunter, Recreation Program Coordinator, and Andrew Mittiga, Recreation Assistant, talked before and during the trip about the history of the Bronx River, current environmental issues, and how BxRA serves the River and the Bronx. During the trip we have seen different kinds of fish, a turtle, a few cormorants, and two egrets. Then somebody told me that at least a few people who in the past participated in canoe trips later became interested in different issues about the River, and became volunteers in different BxRA’s programs.

Bronx River Festival

Bronx river festival

The Bronx River Festival is organized by the Bronx River Alliance, and takes place in different locations every year. Today it was in the Bronx River Park, a beautiful and popular green refuge south of the Bronx Zoo that is frequently enjoyed by local residents. A special guest of the performance was Sonia Manzano, known as Maria from the Sesame Street TV show (see the photo above; also note waterfalls in the background, and the Golden Ball – a symbol of the Bronx River).

I helped at the canoe rides registration table, which BxRA organized today for free for anyone. I have registered about 60 people, and asked most of them whether this was the first time they canoe. To my surprise, all of them except for two people were going to canoe for the first time in their life.

BxRA organizes all kinds of activities where anyone can participate or volunteer: from canoeing to science learning, from restoration of riverbanks to development of curriculum materials, from tree planting to organizing environmental festivals. I wonder how many people, including youth, participate in more than one type of BxRA activities, and whether participation in various activities has stronger impact on their attachment to the River or other environmental education outcomes.

Tree planting on the riverbank, the North Bronx

Tree planting

Today young Bronx residents again were helping the BxRA Conservation Crew to restore the Bronx River floodplain in the North Bronx near 227th street. This time participants were very young – 6-10 years old kids from the Rainbow Rhymes Learning Center, located nearby, and also several after school mentors who were about 20-years old. For all 25 kids it was the first tree planting in their life. Their mentors helped them to decide where trees will be planted and kids also did much of the job. It was the first time that RRLC program collaborated with BxRA. This after school program is located within a few blocks from this place, so similar environmental activities are more meaningful for participants because this is their community. I sent several good photographs from this event to Marcia, the director of RRLC, hoping that this program will continue collaboration with BxRA on environmental projects in the future.

Desfile del Pescado

Fish parade

Today the A.C.T.I.O.N. at the Point organized an annual Fish Parade in the South Bronx. Youth from this education program and Adam Liebowitz, Program Director, orchestrated this event. Diverse participants came from local communities – anyone from old Latino gentlemen on hippie-style bikes to mothers with small children in strollers. Many participants were dressed in various costumes, pretending to be fish or jelly-fish, giant King Neptune, or other river or marine creatures.

The parade began at the Hunts Point Riverside Park on the Bronx River, and continued to the Barretto Point Park. Both parks were opened recently after tremendous efforts of community leaders, and now they frequently house multiple community events and provide open space for local people to relax, play, or learn about nature.

Streets were closed as the parade processed through the neighborhood. It was interesting to see the reaction of many people who came out from their houses to watch the parade. I briefly talked with a few of them, and found that they were not aware that now there are new parks just a few blocks from where they live. I think the event captured their attention, and I hope one day they will go and discover new parks with their children.

In the Barretto Point Park, before the entertainment program, different environmental organizations presented their work through information booths. Several organizations I already knew, and the new organization from me this time was Sustainable South Bronx. Marta Rodriguez, SSBx’s community outreach associate, introduced me into organization’s programs. I will probably post here what I learned from Marta later. And for now – some information about SSBx from the web:

Sustainable South Bronx (“SSBx”) works to promote environmental justice through innovative, economically sustainable projects informed by community needs. Founded in 2001 by life-long resident Majora Carter, we also address land use, energy, transportation, water, and waste policy to advance the environmental and economic rebirth of the South Bronx. We work to inspire solutions in other areas facing the same challenges as the South Bronx in other cities around the world. One of our core projects is the South Bronx Greenway, helping local government agencies coordinate design, financing, and construction efforts toward the completion of the Greenway’s first phase. We have also dedicated resources to re-stocking and maintaining the urban forest of Hunts Point, creating a safe and attractive streetscape that encourages walking and bicycling for healthy living.

Restoration projects

Restoration Bronx River Park

Ecological restoration and management is one of the main programs in the Bronx River Alliance that does outstanding projects to protect and conserve terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Today I had a great opportunity to work with some members of the Bronx River Conservation Crew – Valerie Francis, Penny Mata, and Mildred Torres – near the Burke Bridge, in a park north from the NYC Botanical Garden.

This restoration project was particularly interesting because it involved about 30 youth from high schools – most of them came from different communities in the Bronx and some Westchester county. We had to pull out weeds and then plant trees and bushes near the Bronx River Parkway, and on the riverbank. For young participants it was a one-time event, and relatively far from communities where they live. This was also a requirement of their international exchange program (they were selected from hundreds of applicants to go to a European trip this summer).

Similar restoration activities are not used to be considered within the education framework, although, I am sure, they have a lot of potential to connect youth with local ecosystems, communities (maybe develop a sense of place attachment and social capital), and give a chance to learn from each other and from adults. I would like to see similar activities where youth participate on more regular basis and with more participation in decision-making.

Student Symposium & Bronx River Assembly

Bronx River Assembly

On June 5th, the Bronx River Alliance with partner organizations conducted the Student Symposium & Bronx River Assembly. The first part of this event offered young people in the Bronx to present their Bronx River projects, and the second allowed “to celebrate all good things happening in the watershed.” This event took place in a new Hunt’s Point Riverside Park. The amazing, stunning beauty of this public park is another story. The park was opened recently after tremendous efforts of different environmental organizations and as a result of leadership of local residents on a previously abandoned end of a road, now serving as a place for recreation, waterfront access, community meetings, and various environmental and outdoor activities.

During this event, which included performances, boat rides, and information booths presenting different organizations, I met with some environmental education organizations, which were new for me. Most educational programs were presented by young participants themselves. The first was A.C.T.I.O.N. at The Point. Several young people who work under supervision of Adam Liebowitz, A.C.T.I.O.N. leader, told about their impressive work, a lot of which involved civic participation in decision-making regarding the environment. I should definitely come to this organization and learn more. Here is some text from a brochure that Adam gave me:

Activists Coming tInform Our Neighborhood is a teen community leadership programs of THE POINT CDC. The program engages young people who work to identify social and environmental justice issues facing the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx with the goal of creating and implementing ongoing youth-led solutions. Working together with community members and fellow community organization, A.C.T.I.O.N. serves as a community link for the re-envisioning of Hunts Point. We implement grassroots techniques in community planning and policy, and disseminate such information to the community. A.C.T.I.O.N. serves as role models for positive change for the current generation in Hunts Point.

Then I talked with young participants from Rocking the Boat. One of them, Marcus Caceres, prepared extraordinary posters about monitoring of water quality in the Bronx River done by the Rocking the Boat team. This organization also organizes outdoor experiences, such as boating on the Bronx River, and participates in ecological restoration of the Bronx River. Later this evening I took a boat ride with Rocking the Boat. To my greatest surprise, all boats that were of real professional quality were made by teens!

Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice

YMPJ on the Bronx River

Today I had an incredible opportunity to visit and learn about Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice – a nonprofit organization famous for its outstanding service for communities in the Bronx, empowering youth through education programs, and bringing hope of building thriving, stronger, and healthier communities near the Bronx River.Alexie Torres-Fleming is a founder and executive director of YMPJ. She was born and grew up in the South Bronx. She has strong leadership, charisma, and love for this community where she opened YMPJ in mid 90th, and now this organization inspires many young people to take more active position in community issues.

I visited YMPJ when Gretchen Ferenz (Urban Environment program leader in CCE-NYC) organized a course on Sustainability in Historic Preservation, and one of classes of this course took place in YMPJ. Alexie told a meaningful story about how she grew up in this neighborhood and about different struggles that this community went through, and about impressive programs, including environmental education program, which this organization offer to youth.

One of interesting environmental stories was about the 1.2-long Sheridan Expressway going through this neighborhood. The problem is that this expressway cuts Bronx’s residents from the Bronx River and urban forests along the river, and possibly is one of the main causes of one of the highest rates of asthma. YMPJ initiated public debates about decommission of this expressway, and conducts restoration and education projects on the River.

Today YMPJ (Alexie Torres and Stephen Oliveira) also organized a short trip on the Bronx River. It was the first canoe trip in my life. I can tell now that the Bronx River is a real treasure! We have seen swans, herons, and other wildlife – and this is in the larges American city. What I learned about YMPJ and the Bronx River exceeded all my expectations.

This is the description of YMPJ from the web:

Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (“YMPJ”) works to develop young people for lives dedicated to the promotion of peace and justice. Through our work with youth, we collaboratively strive for the redevelopment of the South Bronx, molding young leaders who will create change for years to come. Our Community Wellness program helps young people understand the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet in the promotion of life-long health. The program also offers a venue for developing better and more equitable access to healthy foods and adequate recreational spaces in the South Bronx. We also work closely with the Bronx River Alliance on the development and activation of Concrete Plant Park, a destination along the Bronx River Greenway.