A River Runs Through It: Community Access to the Bronx River in Tremont and Hunts Point

Matthew Bodnar


Rivers that run through urban areas are often neglected and forgotten. This is because the primary services that they provide for major cities are transportation and shipping. Many urban waterways have become polluted as a result and fail to reach much of their potential. New York City’s rivers and waterfronts are not typically a place where people seek recreation in the form of swimming or boating, except for a few places such as Coney Island, City Island, and Rockaway Beach. Other waterways that could be assets for their communities are also sometimes overlooked. After living in the Bronx for three years, the only knowledge that I had about the Bronx River was that it ran through the forest in the Botanical Gardens. It was not until the fall of 2010 that I learned that there was much more of a history to the river that flowed through the gardens and had a parkway named after it.

While spending a semester doing volunteer work with the Bronx River Alliance’s restoration crew, I saw many places throughout the Bronx along the river that I probably would have never visited had I not been a volunteer. I helped to clear fallen trees out of the river in the northern part of the Bronx in Shoelace Park on one occasion and ventured all the way to the south Bronx where I assisted the crew with building the structures for an oyster farm off the shore of Soundview Park. I learned more about the river that was only minutes from my home during this experience and I also saw many parks that I never knew existed. I was intrigued by the contrast between the dense urban environment of the surrounding neighborhoods and the peaceful parks along the river. These events inspired me to further investigate parks in the Bronx.

All parks provide services for their communities based on what facilities they may contain. Parks with ball fields, basketball courts, and skate parks are inviting to people who enjoy outdoor recreational activity. Playgrounds in parks draw parents with their children. Some parks benefit from their natural landscapes, which could include a river, a lake, or a mountain. Sometimes landscape architects actually attempt to recreate these landscape features in parks that they are designing. The parks along the Bronx River provide services that typical neighborhood parks have as well as some of the natural beauty of the river. I was interested in what people use these parks for and how, if at all, they utilize the river. I was also curious about the way that people perceive their parks and what their recommendations to improve them are. Thus, I began to conduct research about the parks along the Bronx River. I initially researched the history of the Bronx River and the construction of the parks and the Bronx River Parkway. Then, I chose two of these parks, each with different features and amenities, to study. I recorded observations about how the parks are used by people who visit them. I also interviewed several people to hear their ideas about the park, its uses, the way they perceive it, and how they think it could be improved.