by Gary Axelbank
January 4, 2019
For as long as anyone can remember the football field-sized plot of green space commonly known by locals as ‘The Grove’ that sits at the intersection of Mosholu Parkway, Sedgwick Avenue, and Gun Hill Road has been largely unused land. But now, community and environmental advocates say this plot can serve the dual purpose of preserving the local environment, paritcularly for the historic Amalgamated Housing neighborhood that abuts it, as well as become recreation space for the entire region that includes Van Cortlandt Village, Mosholu, Norwood, and Bedford Park.
Earlier this week Bronx Council of Environmental Quality (BCEQ) Board Member Karen Argenti circulated an email notice to community stakeholders of a meeting to be held Thursday, January 17 , 7:00pm-8:30pm at nearby Vladek Hall to discuss ideas on upgrading the area, which could include green infrastructure (nature-based methods used to capture stormwater runoff from the roadways), and some amenities for the community’s use. The public is being asked to bring ideas of what they would and would not like to see there.
Aside from providing more recreation space there’s a significant environmental imperative for the region, Argenti told thisistheBronX in a Thursday afternoon interview. Because The Grove – now formally being called ‘Hilltop’ – is at the top of a steep hill that runs along Van Cortlandt Park South through the Amalgamated community, it’s a prime spot to catch some of the water runoff that Argenti claims is devastating local streets.
“You can see cracks on the sidewalk,” she said. “You can see that the edges around the trees are getting washed out because the runoff goes at such a very fast speed from the top of the hill, which is the grove, all the way down to the step street. It’s gushing and it damages the sidewalks, the concrete, and the edges of the trees.”
Argenti, who for years has firecely advocated for better management of the City’s storm water systems thinks this Hilltop Project can be done cheaply and effectively.
“There’s a tremendous amount of water that could be captured if the land was manipulated to the point where there could be berms that hold water and native plants that would catch the water and dredge it down into the soil and stop it from running down that hill.”
The local Assemblyman, too, thinks the time is now to turn this unused property, which is actually not mapped parkland, but property of the City’s DEP, into something meaningful.
“I want that area to be part of the community,” Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz said. “It’s kind of not a place that people go and doesn’t serve a positive role in the community. I think we could change that without going through tremendous expense.”
The notion of turning a neighborhood’s existing green space into a natural water-collection facility has not been done in New York City before, Argenti said. She thinks it’s time now to take a fresh look to find creative, ecologically-friendly ways to deal with the combined sewage overflow (CSO) that could support street infrastructure, and naturally impact the local climate.
“All this water is now going down the drain and into the sewage treatment plant and it costs them money to do that,” she said. “If you put the water into the soil, it would lower the temperature and the native plants would be able to take care of themselves without having to get somebody to give them water. It’s just a very environmental, ecological way to live.”
Both Argenti and Dinowitz agree that this is not going to be a short process but they urge participation in the January 17 planning meeting as a vital first step in a project that could be driven by the community.
“This is an effort to get the DEP and city agencies to work towards what people in the neighborhood would like to see and at the same time bring to light the complex issue of managing storm water on site as opposed to letting it go into a pipe and polluting our waterways,” Argenti said.
“I don’t want to create a plan and then say to the community, ‘this is it’,” the Assemblyman said. “We need input from the beginning rather than at the tail end when people might feel it’s too late to really have a deep, serious input.”