161st Street BID Wins Bronx War of the Rosebushes

By Patrick Wall on August 17, 2012 7:21am 

GRAND CONCOURSE — The city Department of Transportation has agreed to turn over maintenance of a popular yet bedraggled Bronx garden whose forlorn state sparked local outrage.

The DOT, which is responsible for two block-long rows of plant beds on 161st Street near Yankee Stadium, will turn over maintenance duties to a local group that informally adopted the gardens after the city let them spill over with trash and weeds.

“It’s a very symbolic thing for me,” said Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, which now will handle maintenance of the raised beds. “Here’s this plot of land right in the middle of the district and the city agencies were not taking care of it.”

A DNAinfo.com New York article in July reported the DOT had allowed weeds to engulf rows of budding rosebushes in the flower beds, which the BID had voluntarily revived the previous month. In the article, a DOT spokesman said the agency was working with the BID on the gardens — even though Goodman said no one in the agency had contacted his office.

An irate community board member then forwarded the article to the Bronx DOT commissioner, Constance Moran, who soon after met with Goodman at the flower beds, Goodman said. That's when they hashed out a preliminary agreement, in which the BID’s two paid street cleaners, along with local volunteers, would plant, water and weed the gardens.

“They’re formally going to turn it over to us,” Goodman said. “They don’t want it, they never wanted it, and we do.”

Nicholas Mosquera, a DOT spokesman, said the agency met with the BID and is “working on a maintenance agreement for these planted areas,” but would not say if or how the agency would support the BID as it assumes responsibility for the gardens.

The flower beds line 161st Street between Gerard and Walton Avenues, leading toward an underpass below the Grand Concourse. The gardens are visible from the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium subway stop, which was The Bronx’s busiest station last year, with 26,631 daily riders, Metropolitan Transportation Authority data show.

On Wednesday evening, the BID held a small ceremony, featuring cookies and a violin player, to show off the freshly cleared and planted flower beds. Despite a heavy downpour, commuters, Yankee fans and residents stopped to admire the garden.

“Oh my God, I love it!” gushed nearby resident Jezabel Hernandez, 40, who said she has started to walk along 161st Street each day, rather than ride the bus, to marvel at the flowers.

She led her three children Wednesday from their apartment behind Yankee Stadium through the rain to the garden party, telling them along the way, “We’re going to see something beautiful.”

Ernestine Davis-Thibou, 77, a longtime Concourse Village resident, recalled the mugwort and bindweed that had choked the rosebushes.

“It was all overgrown,” said Davis-Thibou.

But the new garden, she said, “brightens up the community.”

The latest weeding and planting was done by five Bronx teens in the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. They earned $7.25 an hour as they replaced knee-high weeds with colorful mums, pentas and violas.

“It was a lot of work,” said Brittany Lowe, 15, a Bronx resident who goes to high school in Manhattan. “There was a lot of garbage and the weeds were really tall.”

Wilhelm Ronda, the director of planning and development for the borough president’s office, passes the flower beds on his way to work each day and supported the BID’s quest to rejuvenate them.

“I just hoped they would get rid of the weeds,” Ronda said. “But they went ahead and created a garden.”

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