What we can learn from the South Bronx; Parks, People & Power event draws a crowd

“Many people come to this work because they love the river, the earth, and that’s important. But it’s also important to come to this work because we love people.” - Alexie Torres-Fleming

On Wednesday, April 5, 2017 more than a hundred community members filled a lecture hall at Partners HealthCare at Assembly Row to hear from Alexie Torres-Fleming as part of the People, Parks and Power event hosted by the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA).

©David Mussina

©David Mussina

Alexie Torres-Fleming, an award winning speaker, activist, urban planner and Medford resident, was the keynote speaker. Torres-Fleming shared her story of creating a community-driven movement to revitalize parks along the Bronx River in New York, an urban waterway that shares many similarities with the Mystic River.

Torres-Fleming grew up in the South Bronx in the 60's and 70's and was an integral part of a community movement to reclaim the inaccessible and polluted Bronx River. As a child, she did not even know that there was a river just two blocks from where she lived. Over time, she began to understand the inequities and unfair distribution of industrial burdens along the Bronx River - home to both the poorest and wealthiest Congressional districts in the United States.  Alexie began this work as a youth minister, where she worked with young people at the intersection of faith and social justice and went on to found the Bronx River Alliance and the Southern Bronx Watershed Alliance.

She shared challenges, successes and lessons learned along the way. An abandoned concrete plant was slated to become a parking lot, but through community activism and education a strong opposition grew, ultimately resulting in site remediation and creation of a larger park. More than 20 years ago, she fought to tear down the Sheridan Expressway, an underutilized highway that blocked access to the river. Just a month ago, the state announced they were transforming it into a pedestrian boulevard.

The lasting legacy of this work is not in the parks that were built, but the dignity, voice and self-determination that the local community gained. A new generation found the power of their own voice – to bring beauty to their neighborhoods and to their river.

Throughout her presentation, she offered words of wisdom for the Mystic:

  • Affirming leadership and the voice of the most impacted – give leadership and a voice to those most impacted by the health and economic effects of intense industry.

  • Seeing what others do not see – make your vision visible to others, carry it in your heart.

  • Building solidarity and challenging traditional views of partnership – we need to build relationships that are transformational not transactional – and create connections despite our differences.

Torres-Fleming brought the message back to Mystic, urging our communities to be united by our shared river. What happens in Chelsea should matter to residents in Winchester – we need to stand up for one another as fellow human beings and as neighbors.

The event began with Mystic River Watershed Association Executive Director, Patrick Herron, welcoming the crowd and sharing the Association's vision of healthy waters and world-class parks along the Mystic. MyRWA launched the Mystic Greenways Initiative in 2016, led by Amber Christoffersen, to create 20 miles of contiguous linear parks and paths from the Mystic Lakes to Boston Harbor.

Alexie Torres-Fleming, Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director at GreenRoots, and Amber Christoffersen, Mystic Greenways Director at the Mystic River Watershed Association.

Alexie Torres-Fleming, Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director at GreenRoots, and Amber Christoffersen, Mystic Greenways Director at the Mystic River Watershed Association.

After Alexie's inspiring presentation she was joined by MyRWA's Amber Christoffersen and Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director at GreenRoots, to answer questions from the audience. Thank you to Charlie McCabe of The Nature Conservancy for moderating the panel.

Thank you Alexie Torres-Fleming and Roseann Bongiovanni for being part of this event!

The Mystic River Watershed Association would like to thank all who attended!