A polluted river finds a voice

Sep 11, 2013

We discovered a long time ago that if people actually get out on the river and see it for themselves, they get a different view of what’s possible.

Linda Cox
Bronx River Alliance

There’s a river in the Bronx. However, years of neglect and abuse have prevented it from becoming the educational and recreational resource it could be. It’s not a recent phenomenon either – as early as the beginning of the 20th century, the river was referred to as an “open sewer.” That’s why, in 2001, an alliance of community members, conservation groups, government officials and businesses banded together to give the river a voice.

That group, the Bronx River Alliance, has helped haul more than 70 cars and 12,000 tires out of the 23-mile river. In addition to cleaning up the river, they are working to connect the community with this onetime-hidden resource. The Alliance has several teams that lead cleanups, organize educational and recreational trips, work on the long-term ecological health of the river and help construct the Bronx River Greenway on NYC parkland. When complete, the Bronx River Greenway will be a continuous bike/pedestrian path and linear park along the Bronx River from the East River to Kensico Dam.


“One thing we do a lot is get people out on the river,” said Linda Cox, executive director of the Bronx River Alliance and Bronx River administrator for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. “We discovered a long time ago that if people actually get out on the river and see it for themselves, they get a different view of what’s possible. Not only what’s possible for the Bronx River, but what’s possible for the Bronx as a whole.”

The project is an ambitious one, and it’ll take more than a few teams to change a polluted river into a neighborhood asset. “We’re a private, not-for-profit organization operating in a community without a whole lot of money,” said Cox. “So having corporations, foundations and individuals supporting our work is terrifically important. Bank of America is one of those really important supporters.”

The Alliance got a major boost when it won the bank’s Neighborhood Builder award, gaining access to funding and leadership development. “This was a really important step for us, because it was kind of placing a big bet on the Bronx River Alliance,” said Cox. “It helped us to aim high.” Bank volunteers have also supported the organization by planting trees.

New York City Market President Jeff Barker used to live in the Bronx and enjoys riding on the new bike paths. He calls the project a shining example of a public-private partnership. “It creates economic activity so small businesses can thrive,” he said. “It changes the nature of a community, and that’s why Bank of America was so excited to be involved with this great organization.”

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