Elena Conte, Senior Organizer for Planning and Policy
On behalf of Pratt Center for Community Development, a proud member of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance (SBRWA or “the Alliance”), it is my extreme pleasure to testify before you today in support of Resolution 15, calling on the State and the City to partner closely together, with local communities, to advance the recommendations of the City’s Sheridan Expressway Hunts Point (SEHP) Land Use and Transportation Study. The Study is otherwise known as the TIGER study, because of its federal funding source. Yet as catchy as both those names are, we prefer to use the name common among the Alliance and in the South Bronx; the plan to transform the Sheridan corridor that the City’s recommendations largely reflect, is known as the Community Plan.
Fifteen years ago, the local environmental justice and community development organizations in the South Bronx that form the Alliance partnered with technical assistance groups, including Pratt Center, to craft a plan that would address dangerous air quality, deadly streets, divided communities, lack of open space and waterfront access, lack of access to quality jobs and badly needed affordable housing, while making it safer and easier for commercial vehicles to access the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. The answer was found in undoing the legacy of Robert Moses’ incomplete and ineffective Sheridan Expressway and in reconfiguring the transportation network into a safe and efficient set of connections that serves all users better.
Years of community meetings, neighborhood organizing, visioning, strategizing, modeling, improving the plan, coalition building and advocacy, led by the Alliance, created the Community Plan. The unified support we built with our local elected officials and their strong efforts also created the political opportunity to conduct a formal hard look at the issues. Major portions of the Community Plan were finally codified through a City-led process funded by US DOT that, for the first time, did what community residents had been calling for in a planning approach – it looked at the relationship between the transportation network, land use and the lives of those land users, in a simultaneous and interconnected way.
The result of the two year process is a set of consensus recommendations that enjoys broad support across multiple neighborhoods and interests and that, when implemented, will do no less that be the most singularly transformative project the South Bronx will see – improving the health and quality of life for existing residents who are overwhelmingly low income and people of color, while improving their access to economic opportunity and safe, decent affordable housing. It will also support the regional economy by creating safe pedestrian access for transit at Hunts Point Avenue – the existing 6 train, which serves more than 60,000 riders daily and the future MetroNorth Station; by improving the network links at the interchange of the Bruckner and Sheridan Expressways, and by creating direct vehicle access from the Bruckner Expressway into the Hunts Point peninsula, supporting the Food Distribution Center and other commerce in the area.
It will do this while closing dangerous and unnecessary exit and entrance ramps, removing trucks from local streets. By transforming the on-grade portion of the Sheridan into a boulevard and by shifting its footprint, a literal and figurative barrier to the parks, the waterfront and to the development of new affordable housing will be removed. Cross-walks across the Sheridan will prevent the life-risking mad-dash across a highway that young residents regularly make in order to get to Starlight Park, saving lives and dramatically improving the environmental quality of the area.
The Community Plan, when implemented, will improve the lives of South Bronx residents, and it will be a shining example of national significance of the power of community-based planning to solve issues that government cannot tackle alone.
We have described – and the appendix materials illustrate – the major features of an extensive plan. Yet as inspiring as these major elements are, the strength of the Plan is that it contains hundreds of recommendations, touching the neighborhoods of West Farms, Crotona Park East, Longwood, Hunts Point, and Bronx River that can be commenced immediately. Local residents can begin experiencing relief from the legacy of top-down, racist planning in the South Bronx tomorrow.
All that is needed is a proactive and cooperative partnership between the State, the City and the local community. That is what Resolution 15 calls for and that is why we are here to enthusiastically support its passage. We thank the Council for its efforts introducing it. We look forward to continuing to work with all our partners in the South Bronx and with you, Mayor de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo and all his agencies to make this historic plan a reality.
NOTE: This testimony was prepared by the Pratt Center for Community Development. It does not necessarily reflect the official position of Pratt Institute.