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The Weeds Are Winning in Bronx War of the Rosebushes

By Patrick Wall | July 16, 2012 8:36am
In June, the public plant beds along the 161st St. underpass were lined with rosebushes. Now, the rosebushes are engulfed by weeds.
In June, the public plant beds along the 161st St. underpass were lined with rosebushes. Now, the rosebushes are engulfed by weeds.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

GRAND CONCOURSE — The roses never stood a chance.

A thicket of weeds has engulfed two block-long rows of rosebushes in public plant beds alongside the 161st Street underpass near Yankee Stadium that a private group cleared out last month, but which the city has failed to maintain.

After a local business improvement district removed several bags worth of weeds from the beds in June, it asked the Parks Department to step up maintenance of the area.

Parks referred the group to the Transportation Department, since the two agencies signed an agreement several years ago in which the DOT promised to care for the green spaces along the underpass, which runs below the Grand Concourse.

But as anyone who noticed the rosebushes disappear behind a miniature jungle of weeds and wild grass can see, the agency has struggled to keep its promise.

“It’s sad because this is a beautiful area in the heart of the district,” said Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, which recruited volunteers and staff members to weed the beds last month.

“To get the agencies in motion on this,” Goodman added, “is not easy.”

When DNAinfo.com New York inquired about the plant beds last month, DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said, "We are currently working with the 161st Street BID and other local stakeholders to redesign the foliage in these areas.”

On Friday, Mosquera said, “We are continuing to look for a maintenance solution that will work for this location.”

But Goodman said that no one from the agency has ever contacted his office.

“I don’t know who they’re working with on it,” he said. “But it ain’t us.”

With little hope for city support, Goodman has taken on responsibility for the fate of the public plant beds.

He occasionally asks the BID’s two paid maintenance workers to tend to the spaces, though their normal sidewalk cleaning duties leave them little time for gardening. He has also started to ask local merchants if they would help pay for the beds’ upkeep.

And, on Monday, he plans to meet with a representative from the New York Botanical Garden to discuss whether the institution’s community outreach program, called Bronx Green-Up, would be willing to sponsor the spaces.

Other community members who have grown weary of the city’s spotty maintenance of certain local green spaces help pick up trash and water plants themselves.

“I do feel like we’re picking up the slack” for the city, said William Casari, a resident who often waters trees along the Grand Concourse and organizes annual volunteer days in two nearby parks.

The local community board occasionally recruits participants from a courthouse alternative-sentencing program, as well as Department of Sanitation workers, to do maintenance work on the area’s traffic islands and medians.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that we have to do,” said Jose Rodriguez, the board’s district manager, “but whatever we have to do, we do it.”

Beginning six years ago, the DOT oversaw a $52 million renovation of the area around 161st Street and the Grand Concourse.

After the work was completed in late 2008, the DOT and Parks Department signed an agreement divvying up maintenance duties for the area. The DOT took on the underpass plant beds, along with the planted Grand Concourse malls north of 165th Street.

Theo Williams was walking on Friday from his work in an office building on 161st Street towards the train station, briefcase in hand, when he noticed the weed-ridden plant beds.

“They did all that remodeling of this area,” said Williams, 40, “they should take care of it.”