Standing at the corner of 125th Street and 2nd Avenue, no one would ever guess that this was the gateway to one of East Harlem’s greatest open space assets. Even on a warm fall day, with the sun shining on the intersection, it is an inhospitable place for man or beast. Sedans, delivery trucks, minivans, gypsy cabs, 18-wheelers, what seems like half the vehicles in Manhattan rush by, honking and screeching, onto the Triborough Bridge. There is no signage, no walkways, no foliage directing—certainly not inviting—pedestrians across the bridge and onto Randalls Island.
The 265-acre landmass nestled between the South Bronx, East Harlem and Astoria is a wonderland of ball fields, tennis courts, venues, picnic areas and rolling lawns. It is, after the just-as-close, just-as-far northern end of Central Park, about the best parkland available to residents of East Harlem. Yet geographic and, more importantly, infrastructural impediments have made Randalls Island all but inaccessible for a low-income community desperately in need of open space.
“Just look at this tangle of roads,” Alyson Beha, director of research planning and policy for New Yorkers for Parks, said during a recent tour of East Harlem’s open space. “There are these large recreational facilities that border East Harlem, but it can be very difficult in terms of people being able to access them. We’ve got some real wayfinding issues.”