The second post in our three part series on Cass Gallagher. Matthew Melore shares with us some of Cass Galllagher’s thoughts on the Bronx of her times and how many of the issues are still relevant today.
The Bronx has changed a great deal since the day Cass Gallagher helped found the first Friends of Van Cortlandt Park in 1978. We, the citizens, have survived urban plight, a few recessions and through it all, managed to build a better safer Bronx for everyone that chooses to live here. Unfortunately the Bronx, as well as Van Cortlandt Park still has many of the same problems that Cass Gallagher pointed out during her interview with the Bronx Historical Society in 1983. Cass Gallagher and the citizens of the Bronx today know how much of a gem their borough is, and know the only thing stopping their rich community from greatness is the stigma that the Bronx is a second-class borough, propagated by underhanded funding and hypercritical policies, stagnating it’s people. Cass knew how it was, and still is. Today we won’t be discussing her role as a park advocate; instead we will discuss the Bronx she knew in the 1980’s.
Cass’ first complaint, which is still prevalent today, is how Bronx land is used to transport all the goods from upstate and elsewhere, “in the minds of the engineers it was decided that this was the route to take and to get goods and people from upstate New York into New York and to go out from New York going North…. Terrible,” she says. Our very own Van Cortlandt Park has multiple highways running through it, “New York Parks Commissioner decided to contribute your park land to highways and parkways in those days, so the City of New York has become a place for automobiles much more than it has for people.” People need to reclaim the Bronx, demanding more contiguous communities and parks, reclaiming what was lost to Robert Moses and the age of building.
Cass Gallagher also didn’t like how things were done in terms of so-called repairs and projects, especially when it affected Van Cortlandt Park. She was upset when she learned some groups were requesting money and influencing the park’s budget for their own gain stating, “I saw roads ripped up that were the least damaged roads in the whole park, and resurfaced. I saw… new benches installed all on the south end of this park. Now these benches, some of them weren’t even broken…” Upset by the influence of private entities on city government and how they would allocate funds that wouldn’t necessarily go to the most reasonable projects, she fought for projects that were more pressing.
“If you’ve got something that needs maintaining, if you’ve got something that needs repairing, fix that, but don’t fix something that is not in need of it, especially when you are constantly going before the televisions cameras and the newspapers, the press… All these governments are constantly screaming about how strapped they are financially, yet they’ve got money to fix all kinds of things…” We hear you Cass, most of the most pressing projects in this city are often put aside to then hand the money to serve the interests of outspoken groups with more connections and money, allowing them to influence the system in ways that benefit them, but leave the rest of the city and the Bronx with subpar funding and unfair policies. Its up to the community and the advocates, like Cass Gallagher, who strive for equity, to stand up for a borough that is anything but second class.