In the waning days of his presidency, Barack Obama prophetically reminded us that “progress does not always move in a straight line.”
This is as true locally as it is nationally. Consider our community’s decades-long effort to bring a greenway, ironically in a roughly straight-line fashion, along the banks of the Hudson River.
There’s no need to catalog our collective fits and starts. Likewise, there’s no need to assign blame for the fact that it hasn’t happened yet. While it’s true that the numerous challenges of the project have forced us to take a metaphorical scenic route to the river, we have collected some notable successes along the way.
The most significant of these were to reach a consensus in the form of a unanimous community board resolution to create it, and to fund a Metropolitan Transportation Authority feasibility study to envision it. Next up, to fund an engineering study to actually build it.
One of the inherent risks of vigorously pursuing an ambitious and seemingly distant goal is losing sight of why we want it in the first place. So let’s fix that here and now.
We want access to a waterfront from which we have been effectively separated for more than 150 years. The ability to reconnect with our river, not from a residential terrace or the platform of a train station, or from the passenger seat of a car as it traverses the Henry Hudson Bridge. To actually smell the water, feel an ocean-like breeze with the Palisades as a backdrop, is probably our most compelling reason to pursue the greenway.
Not far behind is the ability the greenway would afford us to connect homes to work places, schools to parks, uptown to downtown, and bring neighborhood and people together.
For those requiring a more quantifiable argument, greenways add value to a community and generate economic activity. Consider the following: A three-mile greenbelt around Lake Merritt in Oakland was found to add $41 million to property values in the surrounding areas. Homes along a 12-mile trail in Seattle sold for 6 percent more than nearby comparables. And lots adjacent to the Mountain Bay Trail in Wisconsin sold for 9 percent more than similar properties not situated along the trail.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection Office of Greenways and Trails estimated an additional $2.2 million per year in economic activity from the 16-mile St. Marks Trail. A similar boost was seen from the opening of the 20-mile Mineral Wells Trail in Dallas.
These are not isolated cases, and they stand to reason. The neighborhoods adjacent to our greenway would see an increase in visitors, and an indisputable increase in spending in our local businesses.
But money isn’t everything. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that creating and improving spaces in our communities for physical activity leads to measurably improved health benefits and a reduction in obesity and mental health problems. And then there’s the environment. Greenways reduce carbon emissions through increased opportunities for biking and walking, and a concomitant reduction in fossil fuel vehicular use.
Since our last public conversation about the Hudson River Greenway, we have seen the earth shift beneath our feet. Gargantuan ice shelves have fallen into the sea. Methane from defrosting tundra has escaped at unprecedented levels into the atmosphere. And wildfires have devastated state-sized swaths of woodlands that are critical to maintaining the planet’s ecological balance.
Those that have heretofore been content to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem, or worse, portray it as a hoax, have faded to quiet as a new generation of environmental activists and leaders have risen to demand urgent action on a global scale.
Locally, the arc of our history with the greenway has, in many ways, mirrored this international movement. Those stakeholders that were once lukewarm at best and oppositional at worst, are now fully committed to the project.
It goes without saying that the Hudson River Greenway in the Bronx will amount to but a blip in our belated attempt to address the climate crisis, but it may be our best way, as a community, to straighten the line of progress for ourselves, and for our children.
Recently, Friends of the Hudson River Greenway in the Bronx launched our redesigned website at GreenwayLink.org. Please check it out and learn how you can help bring our community closer than ever before to making the greenway a reality.
The author is chair of Friends of the Hudson River Greenway in the Bronx.