Members of Friends of Pelham Parkway

Friends of Pelham Parkway

Members of Friends of Pelham Parkway

In 1982, African-Americans mobilized “the largest civil disobedience in the South since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., marched through Alabama” against a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill in Warren County, N.C. These protests lead to studies showing how hazardous wastes were exported largely to communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. The protesters’ human instinct to protect their homes and their families gave birth to the environmental justice movement.

Fast forward over 30 years to 2019, when the United Nations released an alarming report predicting that over 1 million of species of animals and plants are on the verge of extinction, with grave consequences for humanity. The report was a call for action for everyone to Think Globally and Act Locally before it is too late.

But as long as environmental discrimination—towards people of color and those who lack economic and political clout—exists, the call for action can’t be fulfilled by many of those marginalized communities.

The city, via the parks department, should heed the United Nation’s call for action and lead in environmental issues, including environmental justice. But NYC Parks lags on those issues in its own stewardship of our public green spaces. Overdevelopment of our green spaces, the lack of adequate public spaces, removal of native mature trees to be replaced by ornamental nonnative trees and the lack of maintenance funding to care for our parks and the trees: All of this tends to happen in communities of color and low- income communities.

In a private meeting last month, the NYC Parks Department unveiled its plan for the second phase of restitution planting for the Pelham Parkway Reconstruction project. Over 70 trees were removed for the reconstruction, which is in progress. Without any input from the residents of Pelham Parkway North, the department announced that the bulk of our replacement tress will be planted on the South side of the parkway. A smaller number of non-native, less costly trees are proposed on the North Side, at least west of Williamsbridge Road, which is the area most used by the neighborhood’s lower-income people.

This was the first-time Friends of Pelham Parkway was invited to their meetings despite months of requests to be included in the process. Friends of Pelham Parkway is an all-volunteer group founded in mid-2017 to deal with the lack of maintenance and care of Pelham Parkway North. On a shoestring budget of $1,300, we do monthly cleanups, mulching trees and planting flowers including daffodils. Our efforts engaged the community to not only join our efforts but also to appreciate the beauty of the parkway, which resulted in less littering.

Pelham Parkway North, west of Williamsbridge Road, is a low-income community of color—including NYCHA residents—that has historically been underserved. This section of the Parkway is a sacrificial zone when it comes to trees and tree maintenance.

 When Phase 1 was completed, the restitution trees for the trees removed on the South Side were planted on the South Side. Yet in Phase 2, the restitution trees for trees removed on the North side will be planted largely on the South Side. The NYC Department of Design and Construction decided not to follow its standard practice of tree planting after the project is completed. In fact, this is the only project where trees planted in restitution will be done before the project is completed.

At this hour-long private meeting, there was no room for discussion and it grew quite heated when NYC Parks made baseless assertions about soil erosion on the North side. NYC Parks said nonnative trees species were chosen over native trees to complement the existing trees, a decision that is subjective to one’s taste. When Friends of Pelham Parkway requested soil studies, the planting of native trees, that tree planting be delayed until after the completion of the project, and a public meeting, we were ignored and NYC Parks has not responded since then to our request for information via email.

Environmental discrimination is more than being dumped on, and more than the inequalities of resources. It’s also about being unseen, unheard and undervalued.

Call us protesters or environmentalists. Call us selfish or justice warriors. Call us what you think but just don’t take away our trees.

Roxanne Delgado is a member of Friends of Pelham Parkway.

The Parks Department responds: Pelham Parkway is an important historic landscape that we are working to preserve and restore in the midst of DDC’s large, multi-year critical infrastructure replacement project. Our ultimate goal is to provide a thriving tree canopy on both the north and south sides, consistent with the historic design of the Parkway, that will provide the entire, surrounding community with cleaner air, more shade, better water absorption and flood protection, and a host of other benefits for decades to come. As a part of DDC’s Pelham Parkway Phase II project, 332 trees will be planted on Pelham Parkway—221 on the north side and 121 on the south side. Tree plantings occur as construction is finished by section, and will not be fully complete until the project ends in 2023. 

6 thoughts on “Opinion: Unfairness and Opacity Surround a Tree Planting in the Bronx

  1. Thank you, Friends of Pelham Parkway, for being vocal tree advocates. If you are an urban tree, residing anywhere in NYC but especially in underserved, disenfranchised communities, you have much to be concerned about so having community advocates is critical to an urban tree’s existence. What Parks is not including in their promise of a “thriving tree canopy…” is that this is determined by the way in which the planting site is prepared, the amount of rootable soil which will be afforded the trees being planted, the quality and appropriateness of the trees being selected for planting, the level of Best Management Practices incorporated into each and every tree planting as well as establishment period criteria including irrigation and mulching. The devils is always in the details and it’s a rare part of NYC’s tree canopy that could be said to be “thriving”. The state of our urban trees bears witness to the gross incompetence exhibited by Parks as the official entity responsible for this invaluable public resource – our urban trees.

  2. Once again the city makes blanket statements devoid of any connection to the reality of situations they create and the communities they affect. Who is working for whom?? NYC government agencies are supposed to be serving the communities not the other way around! It is time for us all to get up and speak out. If we join together in demanding our government represent us and not just billionaire developers maybe we can take back our city and our parks. The people of Pelham Park, fighting for their green spaces, are true heroes!!

  3. Those numbers are not exact, what parks fails to state is that many of those trees will be east of Wiliamsbridge Road and not even on the parkway but as street trees. Also they removed 77 trees from the north side which is void of trees in the 1st place and they now will use our monies to plant elsewhere. NYC Parks forestry fails the community. We have over 4 trees planted next to or even on top of existing trees. They neglect our trees on the North side and now take away our replacement trees for the homeowners. Environment Discrimination exist in our own backyard. Our residents want and deserve to be made whole again and we want native trees that add to the biodiversity and brings nature to our strip of green space between the thruway. Yet they dump ornamental inexpensive tress and plant the oak and tulip tress just across the corresponding street on the south side.

    And Nave Strauss in charge of street trees are so arrogant and nasty at the meeting. Yet he makes over 90k yet the street trees in the Bronx are in poor conditions. They are either planted in the wrong location, or they are not maintained.

    It is sad when the people who claim to be expert on trees have NO love for trees. We have a tough fight ahead and we may most likely lost but we wont be silence.

  4. “332 trees will be planted on Pelham Parkway—221 on the north side and 121 on the south side. ”

    NYC Parks numbers are INCORRECT. 221 plus 121 does not equal 332 and the amount is way less for the North side east of Williamsbridge Road

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