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Finding Bronx Shore

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Bronx Shoreline Accessible Mainly in Dreams

By DAVID GONZALEZ | August 10, 2004

Bronx.jpg

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Harry Bubbins, at the Bronx Kill, and his supporters have identified five places for waterfront parks in the South Bronx. He is also the director of the Friends of Brook Park, a group that cares for a nearby city park.

The Bronx Kill is not an event, but a place. All the same, the slender, ankle-high creek does mark a fatality: the South Bronx waterfront, which has been blocked and buried by rail yards, highways, caravans of garbage trucks and warehouses.

As a result, the tip of the Bronx - the beginning (or end) of the city's link to the mainland - is graced not by a majestic sea wall, boulevard or park, but is hidden under a railroad bridge and bordered by tall weeds and rusting fences. There are no gentle zephyrs or rustling reeds, only the knockout stench of garbage and the dull rumble of passing trains.

The souls who inhabit the two communities packed into the tip of the Bronx - Port Morris and Mott Haven - must live with this peculiar albatross, where they have water, water everywhere, yet not a spot to glimpse it. More often than not, the closest they can get is the fenced-off wall of a dead-end street.

"I know there must be waterfront, because we got five bridges," said Joe Perez, counting the crossings that head toward Mott Haven, where he has lived for 25 years. "That's a lot of water. But we can't get to it."

This is no small, irksome thing, but a near obsession in a community that is among the city's most densely populated but has little open space to enjoy. It would be a wonder just to be able to focus on a distant shore.

"It is like meditation," Mr. Perez said, "like when you go to the beach and are really uptight. Watch the water. It calms you down. It's part of ourselves. We come from water. It calls us."

Harry Bubbins has heard its siren song for years. He is a crunchy, tree-friendly type who is active in the movement for gardens and waterfront. His efforts to get to water have been so persistent - and creative - that he even decided to go digging for it. His goal? To unearth the namesake of - what else - Brook Avenue.

Mr. Bubbins is the director of the Friends of Brook Park, a community group that cares for a city park at 141st Street and Brook Avenue. A patch of asphalt there is cracked and sinking right about where the brook should be, he said. This is not too farfetched an idea, considering that a historian of the area has given him maps supporting his hunch. More important, Councilman Philip Reed has set aside $760,000 to fix up the park, including the addition of a small bridge that would span the brook and lead to a labyrinthine garden.

He says the labyrinth, like the waterfront, would help ease people's minds.

"There has been a ghettoization of America, where people in the inner city are cloistered in these mammoth housing projects," he said. "Rather than invest in communities, we are encircled by highways and bridges which are meant to ferry people from the suburbs to Wall Street."

There are plans for Bronx waterfront access, though most deal with areas farther north, like Hunts Point. The Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carri

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