St Mary’s Park, the largest park in the South Bronx serving the Mott Haven and Melrose communities for over a century has remained a neglected eyesore for the residents who have lived here for decades—it is a stark reminder of a tale of two cities where economically depressed communities such as these, were left with little to no resources to keep up with even the most basic of maintenance of these parks.
Where in Manhattan, park funding is boosted by generous philanthropists, our parks have awaited desperately for an infusion of capital and in the process have languished.
But for St Mary’s Park, the wait is over.
Today, at a press conference at the park itself, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, announced $150 million in capital funding for 5 parks across the city—one in each borough as part of the administration’s Anchor Park program—where over 750,000 New Yorkers love within walking distance of these spaces.
“New Yorkers deserve to have the greatest parks in the world steps from their homes. That’s why this administration is focused on park equity, which brings fair access to and development of parks across the city. The Anchor Parks program, joined with the Community Parks Initiative and Parks Without Borders, marks another major step in advancing park equity for all New Yorkers,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I am proud to be part of a team announcing $150 million in capital improvements coming to parks in all five boroughs.” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Outdoor spaces like St Mary’s Park are great equalizers for our city, and this funding makes it clear that every New Yorker, in every neighborhood, deserved access to quality outdoor spaces. I thank Mayor de Blasio and Council Members Mark Levine and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland for their engaged and collaborative work on Anchor Parks Initiative and look forward to our continued partnership as we work to ensure every New Yorker in every neighborhood in our City has access to quality, open spaces.”“
We call these sites Anchor Parks because they provide a stabilizing, centering force for the communities they serve by offering larger and more diverse resources than smaller community parks. Now, New Yorkers in all boroughs have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make their older parks new again,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.
For decades, community leaders and residents have pleaded with city officials to fund much needed improvements for St Mary’s, one of the original 6 Bronx parks and the first in NYC to become a full service park back in 1951 under Robert Moses.
Although a fitness loop and two tennis courts were added in 1996 and synthetic turf added in 2006, they were but minor patches on a broken park.
From broken stairs and paths leading over the rolling hills of the park, to the baseball field where the bleachers have been removed, and poor lighting, St Mary’s Park will now have the necessary funding to reverse the decades of neglect.
Last year, NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who’s district covers the park, provided $1.5 million for the restoration of the western playground at St Mary’s and the city also provided $4 million for capital improvements of the recreation center and $400,000 for upkeep of paths.
St Mary’s Park’s 35 acres itself are steeped in history as not only one of the six original parks of The Bronx but also home of our borough’s first playground in 1914 and as previously mentioned, the first full service park in 1951 featuring am indoor recreation center complete with a swimming pool.
Other parks receiving funding are: Highbridge Park in Manhattan, Betsy Head Park in Brooklyn, Astoria Park in Queens and Freshkills Park on Staten Island.
But it is The Bronx, the greenest borough with almost 25% of its land dedicated to parks and green spaces, which stands to benefit the most—especially the undeserved areas of the South Bronx.
With the newly reopened High Bridge connecting The Bronx to Highbridge Park in Washington Heights in Manhattan, Bronx residents will benefit from the $30 million being invested there as part of the initiative, a park that’s heavily used by Bronxites.
Also, with Randall’s Island Connector which opened last year and providing easy access to over 300 acres of parkland on Randall’s Island, Bronxites can readily access Astoria Park in Queens which, thanks to Anchor Parks program, will also receive $30 million.
Although our borough is the greenest with the most parkland, South Bronx residents have some of the worst rates of access to green spaces in the city. It is one of many Bronx dichotomies.
For now, we have our work cut out for us as NYC Parks department will begin community outreach this fall so we can determine how to allocate this funding.