Marchers demand cleaner air, healthier food

By Rachel Brown for the Hunts Point Express

Dozens of Hunts Point residents marched with nearly 400,000 demonstrators in the People’s Climate March in Manhattan this past Sunday, calling on world leaders to make drastic changes, all the while chanting slogans such as, “The South Bronx is under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Local marchers gathered at 9 a.m. with the Bronx Climate Justice bloc at La Finca del Sur community garden in Mott Haven, and started the day with some yoga, a contrast to the huge cardboard fists people would soon carry. Led by two yoga instructors, the marchers were encouraged to remove their shoes, spread their toes, feel grounded to the earth and breathe deeply, bringing calm to the already palpable hustle of the day.

Representatives from Sustainable South Bronx, South Bronx Unite, the Green Worker Cooperatives, Mothers on the Move, Percent for Green, The Point, Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition and La Finca del Sur then took turns outlining their platform points, from waterfront access to healthy food. Most of the groups also made the point that while climate change affects everyone, vulnerable communities such as Hunts Point often bear the brunt of the negative impacts. Another common theme among speakers was that the people have solutions for the issues they face, and lawmakers need to listen to them.

By 9:30 a.m., the group dispersed to take the 1 train to Central Park West, where the citywide march began. A faction of the crowd instead mounted bicycles, and several riders wore lime-green gas tanks labeled with “Stop FreshDirect” stickers to symbolize the health effects that the company’s diesel trucks would bring into a community already burdened with very high asthma rates.

“As a mother whose daughter grew up with asthma, I decided to join today,” said Candace Adams of Morrisania, who rode her bike to midtown after the Bronx gathering. The South Bronx bike group later joined with a larger bike bloc, a group advocating for divestment in fossil fuels and calling attention to bicycles as an environmentally friendly way to get around the city.

Also on the bicycle route was Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, one of the co-founders of Boogie Down Rides, a Bronx-based cycling group. “As a South Bronx resident, at a time when the city is making decisions that affect us, I’m here today because I want to be a part of that,” Ramos-Fermin said.

Longwood resident Nicolás Dumit Estévez said he was participating in the demonstration to be united with the people of the South Bronx who are routinely neglected by the city government. He suggested that climate justice is connected to race, class and gender. “There is a reason we refer to the earth as mother,” Estevez said. “I think we need to change that idea to lover. We have to start loving the earth.”

Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite, a coalition working to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the area, was also one of 38 international civil society delegates to the United Nations Climate Summit held on Sept. 23. He marched along while monitoring the FreshDirect parade float, which was the size of a delivery truck and bore the message, “FreshDirect aims to bring 1,000 daily diesel truck trips through a South Bronx community where 1 in 5 children have asthma.”

“Hopefully I will have the opportunity to bring issues facing people every day in the South Bronx to the world stage,” Johnson said, interrupting himself to tell marchers to watch their step, and, a second later, to pick up the pace. “And I hope that the governments will create a binding agreement on carbon emissions.”

“Sustainability with Dignity!” was a phrase on Alicia Grullón’s Percent for Green sign at the march. Through months of conversations with Bronx residents, she has drafted the Percent for Green bill, which would require that city-funded development projects dedicate 5 percent of costs to public green space. The youth activist program A.C.T.I.O.N and the circus program from The Point could likewise be seen marching, juggling and holding up a banner that read “The Bronx is Breathing.” “It feels amazing to be part of a huge march like this,” said Twahira Khan, a long-time Bronx resident and volunteer with the Bronx River Alliance. “When you’re in a small community trying to solve problems, it can feel overwhelming. But when you know that others are out there working on the same issues in their communities, it’s inspiring.”

Latinos on the line

Latinos on the 6 Train Line: A Tour of BX Latino Environmentalists and More!

First published on Bronx River Sankofa by Morgan Powell

Let’s enjoy a few of the hundreds of places overfull with environmental, cultural, and advocacy history (1970s to the present) worth savoring along the Pelham Bay/ no. 6 train line in the Bronx, NY!  This journey builds on the scholarship of people like Elena Martinez who produced the landmark map and documentary on 20th century Bronx Latino music calledFrom Mambo to Hip Hop.  Where she walks us through a century of rhythms and song, Andre takes us to additional sites of place making and centers of action for Bronx Latino environmentalists.  Sometimes they intersect.  Orlando Marin (associated with 52 Park) performed at one of the Bronx River Restoration’s first block party/ river celebrations in the mid 1970s (probably at 179th St. by the river!  Hundreds more Latinos have made both big and small environmental progress in the Bronx so this is simply an introduction.  It is hoped that more writing for everyday people will be produced that goes beyond individual profiles and celebrates these great Americans as a group to better know, love, and learn from!  Enjoy your trip!

2014 is the 40th Anniversary of the first group dedicated to cleaning up and welcoming the community, through post Earth Day programming, to the Bronx River.  While they dissolved their board and stopped programming a little over a decade ago, their vision and work set the foundation for all we enjoy today and continues to inform current progress.  Bernie Hernandez (video above) of Aspira and Patrick Sands of Sands House came through Bronx River Restoration and each now do intensive community development work!

 Profiles of Places and People

Pelham Bay Park

Jorge Santiago of Co-Op City loves Pelham Bay Park and has been exploring its natural and archeological treasures for several decades!  He was instrumental in founding Givans Creek Woods Park in the Northeast Bronx.  Jorge’s a long-time advocate of Bronx ecology where he has long joined forces with fellow locals through the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality and other organizations including his community board.  He is also an indirect however real co-founder of the Bronx River Alliance.  Further, he was a catalyst to river restitution grants administered by the NYS Attorney General’s office.

Photo description: While there have been many articles in local Bronx newspapers about Jorge Santiago, almost none appear in web searches.  His only known reference in a book comes tangentially surrounding the Bronx War Memorial of Pelham Bay Park built in the 1930s.  That book is The Bronx in Bits and Pieces by Bill Twomey which Andre is shown reading at the Pelham Bay Park station ramp to the park.


Buhre Avenue

Bobby Gonzalez, poet and folklorist performs and blogs the Bronx.  See how at .  He’s the event coordinator and master of ceremonies for the annual Bronx Native American Festival which takes place at Pelham Bay Park in September. He is also a past member of the board of directors of The Storytelling Center, Inc. of New York.

Bobby is a dynamic speaker specializing in encouraging audiences of all ages and backgrounds to succeed, fulfill their full potential and adjust to a changing world by becoming more aware of the rich history and accomplishments of their ancestors. In his lectures and workshops Bobby urges his listeners to be more sensitive to the various cultures and belief systems of their neighbors and colleagues.

He wrote “The Last Puerto Rican Indian: A Collection of Dangerous Poetry.” These verses reflect on five centuries of dramatic upheavals and heroic triumphs for Native Peoples in North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.

Bobby González seeks to empower his audiences by encouraging them to embrace their heritage and use this knowledge to create a dynamic future. As an individual proud of his Native American, Latino and African ancestry, Bobby is a messenger of hope, pride and love of diversity.  Find his work on Facebook too.


Near Middletown Road

Do you see the Herbert Lehman High School campus in the distance?  Snow covers the Hutchinson River Parkway bike path to the left where many Bronxites bike for recreation and to work! This site is between Middletown Road and Westchester Square. Rich Gans is a long-time advocate of biking city-wide.  He can be seen leading rides during the annual Tour de Bronx and plays a prominent role in the Transportation Alternatives Bronx Committee which advocates for safer streets for bicyclists, pedestrians, and all public transit riders.  Hatuey Ramos-Fermin of Boogie Down Rides also volunteers with the TABC and  the Bronx River Alliance’s Greenway Committee.  Both men trace part of their heritage back to Puerto Rico!

Westchester Square/ East Tremont Avenue

Angel Hernandez of the Bronx County Historical Society is no stranger to adventure.  He was in the Outward Bound program in his teens and loves the great outdoors.  Exploring at a local level before graduating high school, he made himself familiar with the collections and interior of the Huntington Free Library (shown at left) as well as the graveyard to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  Both sites are just outside the Westchester Square stop.  The library is open by appointment and welcomes you to its free monthly power point talks called the East Bronx History Forum.  See this Lehman College graduate’s work.


Zerega Avenue

B.A.A.D! (Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance) is located at 2474 Westchester Avenue in a stone building in the grounds of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  BAAD! was founded in Hunts Point in the late 1990s by Arthur Aviles (dancer/choreographer) and Charles Rice-Gonzalez (activist/novelist/marketing expert).  Both Arthur and Charles were key to the first Golden Ball Festival in 1999 and are associated with numerous river developments before and since that date including hosting classes for river worker training and much more!  Arthur danced the whole length of the festival from Westchester County to the Bronx while Charles took the huge responsibility for organizing promotion, in partnership with Partnerships for Parks, of this historic and well documented watershed in Bronx history.  Bronx River Sankofa first learned of their love for the river in 2003 seeing photos of the river and surrounding communities on display at their former American Bank Note Building space.  Those iconic images were taken by Arthur.  Over the years BAAD! has been a vital venue for Bronx L.G.B.T.Q. artists working in dance, performance, dramatic theater, film and free public/civic events. BAAD! is a Bronx-based arts organization that creates, produces, presents and supports the development of cutting edge and challenging works in contemporary dance and all creative disciplines which are empowering to women, people of color and the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community. Find their work on-line!

Castle Hill Avenue

Ed Garcia Conde is a popular blogger and ambassador of the Bronx’s Melrose community who increasingly reports on events farther and farther from his home base of Melrose.Welcome2TheBronx has joined his earlier Welcome2Melrose web pages. While green issues are not a dominant theme to his writing, they are present. More importantly, he is creating a broad body of local documentation of the Bronx as lived by Generations X, Y and millennials with great re-blogging and periodic features on older Bronxites.

Photo description: Ed and friends at the former South Bronx Food Co-op once located near the busy commercial district of The Hub.



G.I.V.E. began in 2010 and has gotten bigger and better ever since.  Their blog tells how they started.  Newbold Avenue’s intersection with Virginia one block from the Parkchester train station is one place you’ll see G.I.V.E. in action!  Located behind the C-Town Supermarket, they began as a block beautification project and grew into a new culture.  They plug local youths from many cultures into volunteer work.  G.I.V.E. teaches them through active involvement to take care of the Bronx while developing social skills and learning job skills!  G.I.V.E. seeks to cultivate awareness of urban environmental issues through volunteerism, education, activism, and hands-on experiences.  Their ever-growing beautification work includes the Yankee Stadium area, Starlight Park and beyond.  See how they’re growing on Facebook too!


St. Lawrence Avenue

This is your train stop if you want to see where Justice Sonia Sotomayor grew up.  The New York City Housing Authority development where she lived is within a short walk and they now bare her name.  Hear and see this distinguished Bronxite speak about her origins and be inspired!

Photo description: Andre holds the June 8, 2009 Time Magazine cover featuring US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.


Morrison Avenue/ Soundview

Andre is holding one of the few known printed accounts of the Bronx River’s rehabilitation that features a number of Latinos with deep involvement in profiles, mentions, and pictures.  Page 153 (shown) of Groundswell: stories of saving places, finding community includes impressions from and of Alexie Torrez-Fleming who founded YMPJ.  Youth Ministries for Peace and Justiceoperates a few blocks away and is a faith-based teen-focused program that address a wide range of social issues while providing practical support like tutoring, housing services, and more.

Elder Avenue

Velo City and Friends of Soundview Park deserve to be associated with this key train station which facilitates access to Soundview Park. Velo City was founded by three women of color who are each urban planners.  See their portrait against the MTA map at the top of this blog.  They use bike culture (touring, maintaining, etc.) as a means to open up career considerations and civic awareness.  Teens enjoy their programs in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn.  The Friends of Soundiew Park was among the most active Bronx park groups at the time this blog was published.  Long-time Soundview neighborhood residentLucy Aponte, who is a fine artist and Poe Park Visitor Center administrator, is among the core members.  Carlos Martinez, of Queens, through Partnerships for Parks, provided solid administrative leadership through 2014.


Whitlock Avenue

Omar Freilla worked for many years with others to get the open space you see in the background,Concrete Plant Park, re-built into something more pleasant and green you would find today while he worked at the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance followed by Sustainable South Bronx before creating Green Worker Cooperatives in 2003.

He was creative in his advocacy, often drawing the community to the site before the city accepted it as a potential park through his live Afro-Caribbean folkloric music.  He is a drummer, singer and dancer.  He also wrote about the adjacent highway, the Sheridan Expressway, in an anthology called Highway Robbery.

Omar is the second male from the left in this group portrait from the Groundswell book, page 144 showing many Bronx River advocates active in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Some have continued on while others now work elsewhere.


Hunts Point Avenue

Maria Torres is a co-founder of and continues to help manage The Point, a youth-focused community development organization and performing arts/ civic center.  She can be seen first from the left in this group portrait (click for a closer look).  Like many of her co-founders, she came from the now defunct Senaca Center once located on Hunt’s Point Avenue which served hundreds of youths from Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx.  Numerous youthful change agents find community and develop further at The Point.  A great place to see some of them is in the A.C.T.I.O.N. (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood) program (find details on more teen programs here).


Longwood Avenue

Casita Maria sponsors South Bronx Cultural Trail tours which begin at their home base near this station.  Learn more about how Casita Maria helps build a sense of place through the City Lore website!


  1. 149th Street

Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way is marked by an official NYC street sign unveiled in 2011.  It is located at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and E. 156th Street.

Take time to reflect and be empowered by thelegacy of Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty (1922-1984) near the East 149th Street station.  “Titi” or “Auntie,” as she was often called, formed United Bronx Parents and was a force for establishing bi-lingual education locally and nationally.  Among her hundreds of accomplishments, she protested, periodically shut down filming for, and got twenty jobs for local minorities in the filming of Fort Apache, a fictional film set in the Bronx.  Her mural across the street (shown here) reads her words from 1980: “We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us.  We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here.  We would fight back, there is nothing we would not do.  They will never take us away from here.  I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave.  And, after me, my children will be here to carry on…I have very strong children…and very strong grandchildren.”

Titi’s daughter Anita Antonetty once provided career counseling services to the youths ofRocking the Boat in Hunt’s Point.  Many were pleasantly surprised to encounter a mature Latina deeply aware of Bronx ecology issues and trends.  Anita continues to make her mark on the Bronx sustainability front in her long standing advocacy through community boards and beyond.

E 143rd Street/ St. Mary’s Street

Some of the people who lovingly care for a public park near our last stop, 52 Park, attended Samuel Gompers high school (across the street) over three generations.  52 People for Progress was founded in 1980.  This volunteer organization fuzes cultural affirmation, preservation and more with park stewardship.  See where they thrive on Kelly Street and Leggett Avenue.  There’s much more history at 52 People for Progress’ Facebook page too.


Cypress Avenue

Congressman Jose E. Serrano’s 2005 essay A Greater Sense of Pride says it all.  This ten page booklet expresses his environmental justice philosophy and details some of his legislative accomplishments with respect to air quality, parks and more.  His opening letter says it all:

“Dear Friends:

It is no secret that our government treats poor communities unequally, but environmental injustice poses a particularly sinister threat.  Environmental problems may not make headlines or grab our attention like a war, but persistent environmental hazards in the Bronx are taking the lives of our children just the same.

            Those of us in the Bronx don’t need statistics to convince us that a link exists between poverty and exposure to environmental harm.  Our neglected landscape—marred by sewage plants, waste transfer stations, scrap metal yards and power stations—provides ample evidence that the most economically vulnerable among us bear the brunt of our society’s environmental ills.

            Relief for our lungs is not the only thing at stake for the Bronx as we wrestle with these issues.  The often overlooked presence of noxious polluters and environmental eyesores in places where we live, work and play have taken a heavy toll on our economy, our ecosystems, and our physical and mental well-being.  Residents of low income communities not only are less able to ward off harmful activities that encroach upon their neighborhoods, but they often also lack the necessary resources to enforce what few protections they should receive under existing laws.

            Fortunately, more and more of us are coming to recognize that a clean and safe environment is not a luxury reserved for the privileged, but a right due to all Americans regardless of their wealth, income, race, or ethnicity.  This trend is promising as we continue to build on our community’s past successes.  Only through our continued vigilance will we finally achieve true environmental justice for ourselves and future generations.”   


Brook Avenue

Ray Figueroa is the longstanding Education Coordinator at Brook Park.  He is also a major mover and shaker in community garden advocacy and skill sharing circles city-wide!

Bernie Hernandez was a teen in the 1980s when this photo was taken in Bronx Park.  The location is the east bank of the Bronx River just south of Gun Hill Road. Bernie of Aspira has worked on Bronx environmental issues for over twenty years. He started as a teen-ager with the Bronx River Restoration, founded 1974, (precursor to the Bronx River Alliance, founded in 2001) and went on to run in-school recreation and educational programs after getting a degree in business administration. He has periodically brought school children to the Bronx River during his years as an after-school program administrator. He is now a Beacon program director in a school near Brook Park. In an early 2014 video, he discussed his current work. Andre Christopher Rivera, a college student and accomplished Bronx environmentalist, conducted the interview.   He recalls the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition (city-wide greening group), City Volunteer Corps (defunct model for national AmeriCorprs), the Bronx River Art Center and the Bronx River Restoration headed by its last executive director Nancy Wallace.

Aspira’s mission is to foster the social advancement of the Latino community by supporting its youth in the pursuit of educational excellence through leadership development activities and programs that emphasize community dedication.


3rd Avenue/ 138th Street

The women of La Finca Del Sur (community garden), co-founded by Nancy Ortiz-Surun, prides itself on being New York City’s first women run farm. Learn more through their blog and Facebookpage.


Thank you for reading this post completed on February 23, 2014.

Citizen Placemakers: Elizabeth Hamby & Hatuey Ramos Fermín Use Art to Bring People Together

By  for Project for Public Spaces

Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos Fermín are people connectors. As artists, activists, and Bronxites, their creative collaborations are all about gathering information from neighbors and presenting it in ways that allow communities to better understand themselves and the urban spaces they create. The two have worked in all kinds of public spaces, from major thoroughfares and street corners to laundromats, grocery stores, and vacant waterfronts.

Recently, they organized Boogie Down Rides: Bicycling is Art. The artists used the social act of biking as a springboard for talking with people about the creation of healthy, active urban environments. Throughout the month of May 2012, they set up many different formats for engaging the public: a temporary bike shop that simultaneously served as an education hub, group rides across the Bronx, and visioning workshops about biking and greenway initiatives in the city.

The project was organized as part of the public art exhibition, This Side of Paradise, by No Longer Empty at the Andrew Freedman Home. I recently sat down with Hatuey and Elizabeth to talk aboutBoogie Down Rides and the other urban projects they have in the works.


What was it about your community that inspired Boogie Down Rides? Was there a particular need that you were responding to or wanted to address?

Hatuey: Boogie Down Rides grew out of another project of mine, Transmit-Transit. It explored the idea of taxi drivers as a mode of transport in the the Bronx, and the need for cabs to move around. Public transit in the north-south direction works well but east-west not so much. No Longer Empty first approached me about that transportation project, which became a video installation at the Andrew Freedman Home that connected the gallery space to the outside world. Then we began thinking about how to physically and conceptually expand transportation within the community. Transportation was a major theme extending back to Mr. Freedman’s time, with Mr. Freedman being a major backer of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), New York City’s original underground subway. The IRT addressed the linking of open space from Central Park to Van Cortlandt Park. Extending the idea of Transmit-Transit beyond cabs, we wanted to look at bikes as another viable option to address mobility in the Bronx.

One of the great things about Boogie Down Rides is how it brings together many activities that people may not normally associate but which all contribute to healthy places. Your tagline, for example, is Bicycling is Art. Can you explain how biking, public art, and urban spaces are linked in your project?

Elizabeth: Instead of representing reality as a painting, we live it on a bike. The bike embodied action for this issue of transportation in the Bronx, where biking is a social act and a political act. Instead of designing a solution to a problem, we tried to figure out the questions that exist in real life through the experience of biking. We both live in the Bronx. It’s part of our day-to-day reality, and because we’re artists, we have a compulsion to make what we see public. We often talk to people about the role that artists play as citizens and neighbors in our communities. We hope our work as artists can help make our neighborhoods more safe, lively, and liveable in many ways.

The project also involved community visioning sessions for the Bronx’s longer-term development. What came out of these sessions?

Elizabeth: The visioning sessions were really spearheaded by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which was just launching an interactive toolkit to gather data and address threats to active transportation and public space. They were key in leading some of the concrete visioning work happening around the Sheridan Expressway, where dangerous connections make it unsafe to bike between the parks. Rather than focusing on cause and effect, the visioning sessions were about figuring out opportunities for improvement. Safety—specifically, feeling safe in public—was an ongoing theme in the conversations we had with our neighbors.

Throughout your various interactions with the public, did you come across questions or reactions that particularly surprised you?

Elizabeth: One of the most surprising things that we learned from Boogie Down Rides was the number of adults—particularly women—who had never learned how to ride a bike, and who were very excited to find out about opportunities for biking in the Bronx. In the instance of another project, Mind the Gap/La Brecha, we talked a lot with folks in our neighborhood about their ideas for the waterfront. One of the critical components to the waterfront that came up over and over again was the basic need for clean public restrooms!

Collaboration seems integral to your work. What other community partners were vested inBoogie Down Rides?

Hatuey: Conversations and collaborations were important from the start; we worked with Transportation AlternativesDepartment of Health and Mental HygieneBronx River AllianceBike the BronxBronx Health REACHPartnership for ParksVelo City

Elizabeth: We also had a meeting with City Planning and the Mayor’s Office where we were able to show our recommendations. It was perhaps an unusual case in that the Mayor’s Office and City Planning came to us. Our collaborations really grew organically, and our project was timely in terms of how they related to conversations already happening in New York about biking, complete streets, and the South Bronx Greenway Plan.

And did people express any misconceptions that you were able to address through these collaborations?

Elizabeth: I think that artists working in public the way that we do are often confused with non-profit or other community-based organizations. We often talk to people about the role that artists play as citizens and neighbors in our communities—and the ways that we hope that our work can help make our neighborhoods more safe, lively, and liveable.

Any advice you would give to communities who are trying to build healthier places?

Elizabeth: You have to remember the factor of critical mass. If you notice a problem, someone else probably has too, so it becomes about working together in a long-term way.

Hatuey: It’s realizing there are already resources within the community, and that becomes the main point of departure. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel. You want to create space to bring stakeholders together.

Elizabeth: Also humility and willingness to listen and genuinely collaborate—those are really important, in regard to attitude. There’s a lot of work that goes into working together.

Hatuey: Listening is the biggest thing, listening with a big ear.

Soundview Park Summer Festival 2012: City of Water Day in Your Neighborhood

Friends of Soundview Park annual celebration of the park and the Bronx waterfront!

All activities are FREE and open to the public. Performances for all ages, family friendly fun and educational activities, and fitness and recreational programming.

10:00 am – 6:00 pm – Street Cartography
This bicycle-based mobile exhibition of ideas about ways to make bicycling accessible, safe and sustainable in the Bronx. The artists Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín will share existing initiatives in the Bronx and generate new ideas with participants in the festival.


This Side of a Postmodern Paradise: No Longer Empty in the Andrew Freedman Home


The two-month run of This Side of Paradise, the much celebrated exhibit by No Longer Empty, is quickly coming to a close. Last minute viewers have until June 5th to see the works of 34 artists occupying the Andrew Freedman Home (1125 Grand Concourse) before it closes this Tuesday.

Since the opening on April 4th, the exhibit has received over 2500 visitors and significant press attention, making it by far the most successful show for the nascent arts organization No Longer Empty. Founded in the heart of the recession by the prominent curator Manon Slome, No Longer Empty transforms the vacant storefronts littering NYC into temporary art exhibits. Slome, former curator of the Guggenheim, stresses that No Longer Empty’s unique vision does not produce ‘pop-up’ shows; their mission is rather to dissolve the barriers between public and private art through curated, site-specific exhibits which are truly inspired by the empty spaces they occupy. In this way the group also revitalizes forlorn streetscapes; a key part of No Longer Empty’s mission is to provide neighborhood benefits by fostering activity in and around their show spaces.

This Side of Paradise, however, differs from most of No Longer Empty’s previous exhibits as it utilizes a historic site rather than a commercial space. Looming over the 167th street B / D stop, the Andrew Freedmen Home opened in 1924 as a retirement home for former millionaires to live their last days in the manner in which they had become accustomed. Freedman, who died in 1915, used his eponymous project as an extension of his interests in life. He was known as a great connector and developer critical in the growth of New York around the turn of the 20th century. Freedman was a member of the controversial Tammany Hall development machine and a key financier of the original IRT subway line. His substantial wealth funded the Home’s operations until the endowment dwindled in the early 1980s, making the living conditions for later residents considerably less luxurious than Freedman originally intended.

Justen Ladda, German-born artist featured in This Side of Paradise, first noticed the Andrew Freedman Home in this period of decline. Ladda began exploring the South Bronx in 1970s for spaces for his installation pieces. “Coming from Europe,” Ladda said, “I can only compare the state of the South Bronx in the 1970s to Pompeii. Whole streets were abandoned and vacant, like some European cities after World War II. I noticed the Andrew Freedman home then- it was already derelict. The place was dimly lit, and you could tell that the residents were heavily sedated. I was able to enter the grounds and building and look around with no questions asked.” Ladda’s piece, “like money like water” (2012) acknowledges the tension between wealth, death and relationships. “My piece is about pissing money,” said Ladda, “how dead these people are who are constantly buying stuff to fill the content of their lives. It does things on a personal level, and also on a wider societal level, this influences our interpersonal relationships.”


Ladda’s piece transforms depending on the stance of the viewer. Similarly, the Andrew Freedman Home transforms depending upon the time and space in which the Home is seen. Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, the Executive Director of No Longer Empty, describes her first engagement with the Andrew Freedman Home much differently than Ladda: “My first impression of the home is the amazement that you don’t recognize it exists. It occupies an entire block and you don’t really notice it. The fence around the grounds still gives off its original air of exclusion; it remains a gated space.” Artist Frederico Uribe’s installation “The Fence” (2012) installed on the exterior gate, softens the Home’s disconnection from the Grand Concourse promenade. Similarly, show’s opening drew over 2,400 people thanks in part to the large blue flag flying in the front lawn with a simple word and message: “free.” According to Hersson-Ringskog, the show receives around 60 visitors each day, a record breaking average for a No Longer Empty show.

While the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council currently owns the property, it is no longer used as a retirement community. The Home is in a period of transition; the Council is renovating separate sections of the large building into a bed and breakfast and community arts and education center. This Side of Paradise acts as a bridge between the old and new uses for the space- the exhibit explores the Home’s captivating past and burgeoning future. Hersson-Ringskog describes the show as a celebration of “human ingenuity, the strength of the human spirit and the resilience needed to fashion beauty, hope and rejoicing.”


According to Hersson-Ringskog, Slome conducted over 60 studio visits to Bronx-based artists to ensure the show featured a cadre of local artists. Their pieces explore the different facets of the Home’s past, present and future. For example, Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin’s piece “IRT” (2012) indirectly alludes to Freedman’s impact on NYC’s subways while explicitly illustrating how Livery cabs fill in public transit service gaps in the Bronx. Bronx-based couple Hamby and Ramos-Fermin also collaborated with many existing community groups in the neighborhood to create Boogie Down Rides, a temporary bike shop near the Home. The shop was open throughout May and served the area with bike rentals and repairs. Boogie Down Rides also served as an outpost for residents to learn about the development of bike paths and greenways in the Bronx, as well as the new city-wide bike share. Hamby describes the couple’s work as a means of “bringing about meaningful change in the world. As citizens, neighbors and resident of this area, a better network of active transportation is something that {Ramos-Fermin and I} really want to see. It’s something that our neighbors value as well. Something that has a life beyond just a gallery.”

Boogie Down Rides is an extension of No Longer Empty’s Urban Initiative. An urban planner by training, Hersson-Ringskog described the Initiative as following the same site-specific model inspiring the exhibits: “We noticed that transportation was the issue in the Bronx, and so we formed our partnerships around this issue.” She continued to describe how “ No Longer Empty thrives on hybridity. We like the mixing of things- urban planning with professional art. We wanted to put the Andrew Freedman Home on people’s radars and foster visitors for its future programming.”

This Side of Paradise is open until June 5th.
1125 Grand Concourse
Thursday – Sunday
1 – 7 PM

This Side of Paradise: A Bronx Art and Culture Hub

by Christine Licata for Artlog

Through June 1, the once insular and exclusive Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx has been transformed by site-specific exhibition facilitatorsNo Longer Empty into This Side of Paradise, a progressive arts and culture tour de force of thirty-two emerging and established artists, local cultural institutions, and community collaborations. Offering a rare historical and contemporary overview of the Bronx and its eclectic neighborhoods, the project expands the traditional notion of a site-specific exhibition space into an inclusive borough-wide experience.

In 1924 investor Andrew Freedman bequeathed much of his fortune to build and sustain a retirement home for the less fortunate—relatively speaking. These needy were defined as aging, wealthy individuals who had lost their capital worth. Known as the “poor house for rich people,” the Andrew Freedman Home was a free-of-charge, elite sanctuary where the once well-to-do could live out their lives without sacrificing their opulent quality of life. Located on the Bronx Grand Concourse and occupying a full city block complete with gardens, ballrooms, library, dining hall, industrial kitchen, and three floors of accommodations, the home maintained the illusion of wealth and status for its residents.

This sequestered reprieve came to an end in the early ‘80s when the Freedman Foundation depleted its funds. The Mid Bronx Senior Citizen’s Council then bought the building and currently uses parts of the space for Head Start youth programming and party rentals. The rest of the real estate has fallen into disuse, and despite the visible signs of dilapidation, its former affluence is still apparent.

Now, through the initiative of the art nonprofit No Longer Empty, the Andrew Freedman Home once again offers a wealth of opportunity, this time revitalized as public place for local and international contemporary art, as well as a participatory cultural hub for Bronx neighborhood projects, awareness, and education. For No Longer Empty’s President and Chief Curator Manon Slome and Executive Director Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, This Side of Paradise is an impressive testament to the organization’s mission to utilize “the history of spaces to unite communities and act as a springboard for artists.”

What remains of the Andrew Freedman Home embodies the paradoxical nature inherent within the concept of any “ruin.” Within the abandoned site, the crumbling failures of the past confront the aspirational possibilities of the future. As such, this fragmented, complex place echoes nostalgia while whispering the potential of becoming and renewal. The participating artists inThis Side of Paradise not only engage in this dialogue but also extend the discussion beyond the specific location to encompass the Bronx’s diversity, politics, and socio-economic issues.

Some of the artists focus on the phenomenology of architecture, combining the Andrew Freedman Home with experiences of its long-gone tenants, investigating their circumstances and environment with both poignant insight and ironic humor. Federico Uribe’s hypnoticPersian Carpet, on closer examination, reveals that the interwoven patterns of the 22 × 12’ floor rug are made from quotidian materials including hairpins, dominos, golf balls, cutlery, and crutches. These remnants of the independent life the seniors once had are seamlessly merged with tokens of their interdependent existence in the retirement home.

In contrast stands Linda Cunningham’s haunting, ten-foot-long installation of deteriorated drywall, peeling canvas, and broken windowpanes in Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival that incorporates photo transfers of excavated ephemera and personal documents that were left behind by the residents. The work powerfully manifests the sentimentality and loss embedded in the Andrew Freedman Home while alluding to the overall perseverance and tenacity of the Bronx.

Other artists employ The Andrew Freedman Home and its founder as a reference point in investigating the present day Bronx and interacting with local Bronxites. Freedman’s pivotal role in developing The Interborough Rapid Transit, NYC’s first subway and the Bronx’s main line, is alluded to in IRT, a collaboration between Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín. A complex psychogeographic project that ingeniously explores alternative modes of transportation, IRT contains a documentary of local Dominican livery cab drivers discussing their professional challenges accompanied by an installation of the roof of an authentic taxi cab that broadcasts real-time local dispatch radio transmissions. The other component is Boogie Down Rides, an interactive map with video interviews that survey neighborhood cycling experiences, as well as an offsite temporary bike shop for the community with rentals, tours, and educational workshops.

Influenced by the Andrew Freedman Home’s custom of appointing coordinators for leisure activities, Laura Napier and Carmen Julia Hernández have formed the congenially educationalActivity Committee. Throughout the duration of the show, all are welcome to discover the Bronx with organized social clubs like the Bird, Plant & Fish Committee and the Eating Committee, or even to start new clubs.

Artists also activate the Freedman Home by creating archetypical spaces that exist in their own spatio-temporal reality, somewhere between the past, present, and future. These works unite viewers in the experience of universal states of humanity. Gian Maria Tosatti’s Spazio #05contemplates the ephemeral nature of memory, the fleeting physicality of life, and the stark loneliness often experienced in communal spaces and crowded city dwellings. Erased by sunlight and the passage of time, the room is bare except for sterile metal furnishings and broken glass covering the entire floor.

This Side of Paradise presents an appreciation of the Bronx that challenges pervasive negative stereotypes and preconceived notions of violence and urban blight. For its size, the borough contains a greater percentage of parks and historical landmarks than any other urban area in the country and is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse counties in the nation. The Bronx has also long been an incubator for revolutionary, vibrant art and music scenes that are supported by historically important alternative and institutional organizations, many of which are collaborating with No Longer Empty, including the Bronx Documentary Center, Casita Maria, Lehman College Art Gallery, Longwood Art Gallery, The Bronx Children’s Museum, The Bronx Council of the Arts, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Bronx River Art Center, and The Point.

The exhibition opens the doors to all who wish to experience a broad cross section of the eclectic arts in the Bronx, either for the first time or perhaps to rediscover it anew. That sentiment, underscored by Nicky Enright’s vivid blue and green The Free Flag on the main lawn of the residence, declares the site a territory for all “global citizens” without borders. The Andrew Freedman Home now has a future enriched through artists and art education, cooperation, and outreach, once again demonstrating that cultural currency is the most enduring sign of prosperity.

Cyclists Plan a Month-Long Celebration of Bronx Biking for May

by Patrick Wall for DNAinfo


GRAND CONCOURSE — Waves of helmeted cyclists could come rolling down the Grand Concourse next month as part of a project meant to draw attention to the Bronx’s fleet of riders, while also highlighting the work that remains to make The Bronx a true bikers’ borough.

A pair of Mott Haven-based artists enlisted some of the borough’s most committed cyclists to help power the project, called “Boogie Down Rides,” that will include a series of free bike tours, workshops and town hall meetings throughout May, which is national bike month.

“There’s tons of people who ride in The Bronx,” said artist Elizabeth Hamby, who hatched the cycling series idea with her creative partner, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, as an extension of their transportation-themed installation in the Bronx art show, “This Side of Paradise.”

Boogie Down Rides, added Hamby, is designed “to take what’s already happening and ramp it up a few notches.”

The series is set to kick off May 6 with a pedal-powered “history ride” past landmarks along the Grand Concourse.

Other events include a free fix-a-flat-tire training, a Mother’s Day ride to the New York Botanical Garden and a brainstorming session about the Sheridan Expressway, a stretch of South Bronx freeway that one community group would like to close to automobile traffic on summer weekends.

Meetings are also planned to discuss reviving car-free Sundays along the Grand Concourse, the Bronx version of Manhattan’s Summer Streets, an annual event in the early 1990s that reserved several miles of the avenue for walkers and cyclists on summer Sundays. The event was discontinued in 1996, then reinstated on a trial basis a few years ago, but has since fizzled out.

Mel Rodriguez, a Bronx cyclist who in 2010 formed an advocacy group called Bike the Bronx, said he joined the Boogie Down Rides planning committee because he believes the month-long series could lead to longer-lasting changes.

“They’re bringing together leaders not only to discuss the event,” Rodriguez said, “but also how the event can be a catalyst for bigger things.”

Rodriguez and other Bronx bikers say cycling conditions in the borough have improved in recent years, but that more quality bike lanes are needed to make local riding safe and convenient.

Since 2006, the city has added 56.5 miles of new bike lanes in The Bronx — far fewer than the 102.8 miles added in Brooklyn, but more than the amount established in Manhattan or Staten Island during that period, according to the Transportation Department.

Several major Bronx roadways, including the Grand Concourse, Park Avenue and Lafayette Avenue, now feature dedicated bike lanes — though most of the so-called protected bike lanes, which are physically separated from vehicular traffic, are located in the north and east Bronx.

The Bronx also boasts 6.75 miles of Bronx River greenways, which are paved trails running through riverside parks such as Concrete Plant Park and Soundview Park.

But large gaps divide much of the greenway into a patchwork of disconnected trails, and plans for a similar greenway along the Bronx-bank of the Harlem River are still in their infancy, said Maggie Greenfield, spokeswoman for the Bronx River Alliance.

“The current infrastructure in The Bronx is not very bike-friendly,” said Greenfield. “There’s not as much connectivity as you might want.”

joint study by several city agencies of bike accident data from 1996 to 2005 found that Hunts Point was one of three locations citywide where a cluster of fatal bike crashes had occurred in close proximity, while the Central Bronx made the list of top three areas with a concentration of cyclist injuries.

(Since the study was published in 2006, the city has added hundreds of miles of bike lanes in an effort to improve cyclist safety.)

Though biking conditions may not be ideal in the Bronx, advocates say, many residents choose to pedal to school or work, as well as ride for fun and fitness.

Karen Rojas began cycling in college when she realized it was cheaper and faster to bike the few miles north from her home on 167th Street near the Grand Concourse to Lehman College than it was to take a train or bus.

Just a few years later, Rojas now interns with the bicycling nonprofit Velo-City, attends Bike the Bronx events, changes her own tires and leads long weekend rides with her family on her vintage cruiser, which she calls “The Transporter.”

“Before, you could count [Bronx cyclists] on one hand,” said Rojas, 23. “Now, you see them everywhere: families, ladies, people commuting to work in the morning.”

Still, some advocates say that the borough’s many bikers have set to form a cohesive community, which means that, for now, they are often overlooked by citywide cycling groups.

“A lot of people in The Bronx bike, but I feel like the mainstream biking culture doesn’t see them as part of their culture,” said Samelys Lopez, co-founder of Velo-City, which uses bike tours to teach students about urban planning.

Lopez said The Bronx teems with “biking subgenres,” micro-cyclist communities such as professionals who commute to jobs in Manhattan by bike, families who leisurely cruise together or young people who roll around skate parks on BMX bikes.

Boogie Down Rides presents an opportunity to unite the borough’s riders, which is a necessary first step, Lopez said, before they can push for more cycling resources, such as bike share stations, which the city is in the process of locating based on local demand.

“The people want it to happen,” Lopez said of the bike share and other Bronx cycling programs. “It’s just a matter of galvanizing the forces.”

Works by 32 artists show borough’s many sides at Freedman Home

By Amora McDaniel for the Hunts Point Express

Once known as the “home for poor millionaires,” an elegant mansion on the Grand Concourse has burst to glittering life as the home of a new art exhibit featuring 32 artists whose work meditates on the Bronx’s past and future.

Connoisseurs and artists mixed with hundreds of ordinary Bronxites at the April 4 packed-house opening of “No Longer Empty/This Side of Paradise,” which will run through June 5. Work, transportation, immigration, aging and the tension between reality and fantasy are some of the exhibit’s driving themes, all with local flavor as the common denominator.

“Art is about the community it is serving, and it’s very much a celebration of the Bronx’s culture,” said Manon Slome, the exhibition’s chief curator.

The show re-imagines the public rooms and bedrooms of the Andrew Freedman Home, built in 1924 as a haven for rich people who had lost their fortunes. Artists use broken glass and falling plaster, along with images of the burnt-out Bronx to symbolize the destructive years, and use cast-offs, including silverware and crockery, along with murals, videos, paintings, sculpture and photographs to create images of hope.

In a bedroom taken over by The Point Community Development Corporation, a video of “Village of murals,” the mural-lined route leading from residential Hunts Point to the South Bronx Greenway, plays on walls stenciled with flowers and foliage. As the video plays over the stenciled image of an African American girl, she appears to be walking down the industrial streets.

The brainchild of Carey Clark, the Mott Haven-based artists who heads The Point’s arts program, working with Lady K Fever, Alejandra Delfin, Sharon De La Cruz, Chen Carrasco, David Yearwood, Danny R. Peralta and the House of Spoof Artists Collective, the installation combines the pastoral with the political.The little girl is derived from the famous Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old who integrated the New Orleans public schools. Amid the flowers are stencils denouncing the deal to give FreshDirect a huge subsidy to relocate to Port Morris and demanding an end to violence against women.

In “Trades/Oficios/Metiers,” undertaken in collaboration with The Point, French photographer Martine Fougeron uses photographs to underscore the city’s reliance on the industrial waterfront of Hunts Point and Port Morris. Her photographs are mounted on baking sheets to emphasize their connection with artisanal trades like baking and canvas stretching. They portray a worker in a recycling plant walking toward his crane, a fish handler slicing open a huge fish, a baker posing with one of her cakes.

“Through art I believe you can aim to bridge a knowledge gap,” Fougeron said. “Show what are inside the trades, how they work, to the residents—first by the photos, and I hope soon with a large scale installation of the photos outside the industries.”

The multi-media piece “IRT,” by Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin of Mott Haven examines transportation in the borough, with a spotlight on commuters and the workers who shuttle them from Point A to Point B.

“IRT” encompasses a video installation focusing on livery cabs, maps visitors can fill in with specific routes to see how to get around and interviews with passengers and the drivers and motormen who get them to where they’re going.

Other artists focused on the younger crowd.

The well-known sculptor John Ahearn collaborated with children from a Head Start program housed in the Andrew Freeman House to create plaster casts of their hands as a way of introducing the kids to their creative capabilities early on.

“From a very early age, it boosts their confidence and lets them know that they can,” said Marcia Fingal of the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens council, which owns the Andrew Freedman Home.

Not only artists and connoisseurs were welcomed to take in the exhibition. Passers-by were encouraged to see the show, and many did so, joining the standing-room-only gathering.

“The lady said ‘Come, come in! Bring your girls! So I did,” said Maria Bibar, a mother of two. “We liked everything inside.”

Built to house elderly people who had been wealth but had lost their fortunes, the Andrew Freedman Home closed in 1983, and has since served as a community center. Across the Grand Concourse from the Bronx Museum of the Arts, it is now being recast as an arts and cultural space, and will also include a Bed and Breakfast.

“We want an inclusive and interactive relationship with the community,” said Fingal. “We want to make art and culture more inviting.”

The “This Side of Paradise” exhibit is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays between 1 and 7 p.m. For more information on Andrew Freeman House events, visit

ArtistS of the Week: Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin

By Cathleen Cueto for Swings and Arrows

My dear friends Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, two Bronx-based multimedia artists, are gearing up for a couple of fantastic projects this month. First, they’re going to be a part of a group exhibition at the Andrew Freeman Home, a former retirement home for the formerly well-to-do ladies and gentlemen of old New York. This Side of Paradise will consist of site-specific work that will reference the space, sometimes using objects that were left behind by residents of yore. It is produced by No Longer Empty, an organization that uses vacant spaces around the city for exhibitions, it opens TONIGHT!, and I can’t wait to poke around and see what everyone’s done with the place. Liz and Hatuey will be presenting IRT, a multi-model installation that explores transportation issues in the Bronx, including a video installation about livery cabs, maps, and interviews. You can read more about it here and here, but if you’re in the NYC area, you should definitely come check it out in person at 1125 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY. The opening is from 6pm to 8pm, with regular exhibition hours Thursday to Sunday, 1pm to 7pm, until June 5th.

In conjunction with their piece at the Andrew Freeman House, Liz and Hatuey will also soon be launching Boogie Down Rides, a temporary bike shop and public education hub on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. It will be open throughout the month of May hosting educational events, something they call “community visioning sessions,” and group rides, as well as providing information on ongoing cycling projects in the Bronx that include the development of greenways, bike paths, and bike shares. for more details.

It’s more than just art—these two crazy kids are deeply involved and in love with their community, working hard to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives by teaching them that there is more to their neighborhood and history than they might realize; more out there that connects us all. I really admire them as artists and people and friends! And I can’t wait to see what they do to the world next.

– Cathleen