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Bronx Group Turns Parking Space into Temporary Public 'Park'

By Jeanmarie Evelly | September 26, 2012 3:51pm

SOUNDVIEW — Though she lives only a few blocks away, 28-year-old Latonya Walters has never been to Concrete Plant Park, the green space that opened three years ago on the Bronx River waterfront between Westchester Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard. 

"One day I said my daughter and I should go down there," she said. "It looks like a nice place where I could go jog."

A group of residents camped out on a tarp between two parking barriers on Bronx River Avenue on a recent Friday reminded Walters of her intention to visit Concrete Plant Park. Armed with pens and Post-It Notes, the group approached strangers and asked them to write their responses to the question: "Why do you love your park?"

The group was one of three in the Bronx participating in Park(ing) Day, an international movement where citizens and activists convert metered parking spots into temporary, tiny public "parks" to draw attention to the need for more open urban public spaces, according to the event's website.

The Bronx groups, in collaboration with the Bronx River Alliance, set up their Park(ing) Day sites to inform and remind residents about the great park resources that exist in the borough.

"Today really was about trying to raise some awareness around the river," said Devona Sharpe, of the Bronx River Alliance. "How many people pass by here and say, 'What park?'"

The Alliance and other advocacy groups have been working to increase the visibility of the Bronx's waterfront parks, several of them built in just the last few years. Transportation Alternatives is working to improve traffic conditions around the new spaces to make them safer to get to and more accessible to residents.

Nilka Martell, founder of the Parkchester-based neighborhood beautification group G.I.V.E (Getting Involved Virginia Avenue Efforts), said they participated in Park(ing) Day to show their appreciation for their community parks, and to share it with other residents. 

"These types of events offer you the opportunity to speak to people you normally wouldn't," Martell said. 

Martell, her two children and a handful of neighbors blocked off a parking space at the corner of Westchester and Bronx River Avenues with traffic cones and rope. For the next few hours, the group spent their time jumping rope, coloring with sidewalk chalk, playing games and doing other "park-like" activities. 

Martell chose the location because it's near Concrete Plant Park, where G.I.V.E "adopted" 40 trees this summer, visiting the park to water them every week. Everyone who walked past the group's curbside camp was approached by Martell, who asked them if they knew about Concrete Plant Park and another parks project, Starlight Park, set to open later this year further up the river in West Farms. Martell had passersby write down what they love about their neighborhood parks. 

"We live in the city, where you don't get boat rides and things like that," said Christine Ortega, 32, co-director for G.I.V.E, who said she wasn't aware of the river until she started working with the group last year. Now she frequently brings her 13-year-old son to the parks for programs, like bike riding lessons. 

"For them to get that and experience it in the Bronx, that's priceless," she said.

Charles Berenguer, 62, brought his young granddaughter out to Park(ing) Day, and said he's a regular at Concrete Plant Park. Growing up in the suburbs of Westchester, it was an adjustment when he moved to the Bronx a decade ago, when open spaces were scarcer than they are now in the borough.

"It was something that I took for granted, and when I moved back here it was, wow, what a difference — no birds, no crickets, no lightning bugs," he said. "We all need to be aware of the environment and make that connection in our daily lives."