DOI / VISTA Team Projects

Harlem River Working Group

Phoebe Mankiewicz

DOI / VISTA: Phoebe Mankiewicz
Supervisor: Gerald Willis
Address: 213 Fordham Street, Bronx, New York 10463-5411
County: Bronx County
Voice Telephone: 212-238-4364
Web site:
Web site 2:
Congressional District: 15
Bureau: National Park Service (NPS)


The Harlem River Working Group (HRWG) is a project that grew out of small planning meetings between park advocates, environmental organizations, community organizations, and the Bronx Borough President’s Office in late 2008.   HRWG secured funding through NOAA to hire a temporary coordinator, and through a technical assistance grant, has had the support of the National Park Service- Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program since 2009.  Its main focus is to reclaim the abused, neglected, and underutilized Harlem River waterfront as a cultural, educational, recreational, and economic resource for the community. The Harlem River Working Group is focused on improving access to and along the Harlem River-- an area stretching 9.3 miles from the Randall’s Island to the Hudson River in Bronx County, New York City.  The group’s goals are reclaiming the Harlem River; re-connecting the waterfront with the people; recreating the water’s edge; and reinvigorating on-water recreational and commercial activities. 

Harlem River Group works in coordination with Highbridge Community Life Center (HCLC), a nonprofit located in the Highbridge Neighborhood of Bronx County in New York City.  For over three decades, this group has focused its work on improving the lives of the residents of Highbridge community.  For the people of Highbridge, bringing about a better life means breaking the cycle of poverty and building assets for community change. Its mission is to empower the people of Highbridge through a rainbow of services: counseling for families and children, adult basic education, job training, after school activities for youth, community improvement, organizing, and many other services through a vast network of collaborative organizations spread across the Bronx. 

About the Surrounding Community

There is a tremendous need to re-establish community connections to the Harlem River waterfront.  More than a century of urbanization and development of the city’s infrastructure-- such as rail lines, highways, and combined sewer outfalls – has forced neighborhoods to turn their backs on the river. These are poor neighborhoods in dire need of safe, open green spaces where children and their families can spend time outdoors and increase their daily physical activity.  They are among the most underserved neighborhoods in the nation in terms of access to open green space, health care, quality schools, and high value nutritional foods. Bronx Community District 4 sits in one of the poorest Congressional Districts in the country – a distressed yet resilient area that struggles daily with deteriorating housing, domestic abuse, double digit illiteracy rates, the poorest performing schools, among the city’s highest obesity, asthma and diabetes, AIDS, cancer, violence, and heart disease rates which make it the least healthy community in New York City and all of NY State. It has the highest total population and density of youth under 18 in the Bronx and is the 3rd densest neighborhood in NYC.  These youth are also among the poorest in NYC with the 3rd lowest median household income and the 3rd highest rate of youth receiving cash assistance.

Project Overview

DOI/VISTA Phoebe Mankiewicz engages communities in the reclamation of open space and the revitalization of the Harlem River waterfront through many projects, projects that both directly and indirectly contribute to poverty reduction. Phoebe  will help the local community reduce the social cost related to devastatingly poor health outcomes by connecting the community to the underutilized, underappreciated Harlem River resource. Parks like Roberto Clemente State park, and Bridge Park (as well as the Highbridge opening in the Spring of 2015) are and will be valuable resources that the She will connect the community to through planned events and more reliable availability in the future. The DOI/VISTA will also be involved in the revitalization of neighborhoods through the planning and implementation of the Harlem River Greenway project, which aims to not only connect the Bronx communities to the Harlem River, but to reconnect the Harlem River waterfront and create continuous parkland along the entire Harlem River edge for the local communities’ use. A research project to characterize the Harlem River through local schools will not only strengthen educational opportunities for youth, increasing environmental literacy, but may lead to important research that can inform future policy makers on the true nature of the pollution and wellbeing of the river and ecosystem. Finally, the expansion of the annual “Canoeing the Harlem” event involving local Middle and Elementary schools (through the “Wilderness Inquiry”  program) will allow the Harlem River Working Group to continue contributing to community sustainability and well-being of younger generations by encouraging a new generation of environmental stewards.

Sponsors and Partners

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