PORT MORRIS — The 132nd Street pier currently slated for renovation as part of a New York Restoration Project may be decrepit and falling apart, but some New Yorkers love it anyway.
The main way to access the waterfront involves ducking through a fence and clambering through large protruding rocks, overgrowth, and trash ranging from a condom wrapper to a discarded Doritos bag to empty cases of Coors Light.
It doesn't look inviting, but for Enrique Santiago it's an escape from the maddening world.
"When you're here, your mind is here," the 62-year-old South Bronx resident said. "All your problems go away, and the stress, all that, all that goes away."
Santiago, who was born in Puerto Rico but came to New York City when he was nine, said he takes the Bx33 bus to the pier every other day and stays there from about 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the hopes of catching some bluefish or striped bass, both of which he finds plenty of in the East River.
He has been coming to the pier for more than 20 years and describes it as his favorite spot to go fishing, despite the rough terrain, as it is close to his home, filled with fish and very peaceful.
"Nobody bothers you here," he said. "It's quiet."
But Santiago could get more company soon thanks to a plan from the New York Restoration Project called The Haven Project.
The proposal, which is meant to better connect South Bronx residents to their waterfront, was unveiled last year and would include building waterfront parks in the southeast corner of Port Morris at 132nd Street and 134th Street. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilman Rafael Salamanca recently allocated $2 million in funding toward rehabilitating the 132nd Street pier.
Artist Valeri Larko, 56, enjoys coming to the South Bronx pier as well and recently completed a painting of the area, which brought her to the waterfront five or six days a week.
She described the urban waterfront as a fantastic subject to paint and praised the pier for being an extremely peaceful place.
"It’s sort of a little bit of a refuge or a sanctuary in a very busy, noisy city," she said, "and then people go down there, myself included, and just look at the view, and there’s something very calming about being next to the water."
"I think we all need a little peace sometimes," she continued. "I think that’s why we go down there."
However, Santiago and Larko both acknowledged this peacefulness does not hide the fact that the waterfront at 132nd Street is in desperate need of repairs, and Santiago specifically said he would like to see the area renovated with amenities like a spot for people to sit down and an exercise trail.
The plan would presumably increase the amount of people who come to the pier if enacted, but this did not seem to bother Santiago, who said he would happily sacrifice some of his alone time on the waterfront if that meant getting it in better condition.
"I just want it to be nice, man," he said, adding that he was very confident the pier would prove to be a popular spot if it were spruced up.
Larko agreed that getting more people to use the pier would be a good thing and did not think renovating it would destroy its peacefulness either, given that it would still be located in a very remote part of the city.
"There will probably still be times when it’s quiet during the day, especially Mondays through Fridays, where people can go and just have a little break if they need it," she said.
She said renovating the waterfront would be a great amenity for the community, as it would allow more people to enjoy the tranquility of the area.
"People need a little quiet, a little nature," she said. "A little beauty."