On Saturday February 22nd, the Bronx Parks Speak Up Conference celebrated its 20th anniversary, and once again set out a bold agenda for addressing issues within the borough's parks. The 20/20 Vision Plan, the theme of this year's conference, brought speakers from the borough's twelve community boards to present on local park issues. Additionally, there were speakers on hand to talk about regional issues impacting Bronx parks, parkland preservation, and to provide a brief history on the origins of some of the borough's more famous parks and architecture.
As with every Bronx Parks Speak Up Conference, various local, state, and private parks advocacy groups were also on hand at the exhibit tables providing Bronxites with information about how residents can get involved in local preservation efforts.
The conference was kicked off by welcoming remarks from Dart Westphal, member and past president of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality (BCEQ). Mr. Westphal pointed out that the conference originated 20 years ago with the creation of a committee for the Bronx Greenway Plan, led by former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. The two activities that came out of that planning session, in addition to the 85 miles of greenways, were the Tour de Bronx bicycle tour and the Bronx Parks Speak Up Conference. Many groups have started since then and have become members of this conference, groups such as the Bronx River Alliance and various "Friends of..." park groups.
Joyce Hogi, the current president of BCEQ, spoke next on the presenters for each of the community boards and their respective "20/20 vision" for their parks, gardens, or river, and what they would like to see happen in the future. Presenters included Clint Robinson of the Friends of Pelham Bay Park, who spoke about coordinating a wide range of volunteer groups and events over the years to preserve the borough's largest park. Others included Nilka Martell of Community Board 9, the founder of G.I.V.E. or Getting Involved Virginia Avenue Efforts, whose organization's mission is to "create a new culture of environmentally conscious people through block beautification projects..." and other activities.
Karen Argenti, another former president of BCEQ, introduced the guest speaker for the conference Angel Hernandez, the educational coordinator of the Bronx County Historical Society, to discuss "Greening the Borough" and the Bronx Parks system created by John Mullaly. "Since the Bronx parks system was created 125 years ago, almost one quarter of the Bronx today is made up of public parkland, giving it one of the highest amounts of green space of the city's five boroughs." Mr. Hernandez's presentation focused on how the parks were developed over the years and the importance of not only preserving the green space, but also its rich history.
A unique perspective from one of the presenters is the preservation of green space for community gardens and urban farming. Karen Washington, an urban farmer who heads the "La Familia Verde" Community Garden in Tremont and the Black Urban Growers organization, touched on the history of community gardens and their struggles, particularly in the Bronx over the last 10 years. She also introduced the panelists from community boards 1 through 5 to discuss their organizations' vision for local parks.
To view additional pictures from the event, please visit the Bronx On The Go Official Facebook Page. If you would like more information about the Bronx Parks Speak Up conference, please visit their site at http://bronxspeakup.org/. For more information about the Bronx Council fro Environmental Quality, visit their page at http://www.bceq.org/.