1. Edge of Transformation: Van Cortlandt Park South

Yesterday, I positioned myself precisely where Tibbetts Brook is envisioned to emerge from Van Cortlandt Park, transitioning into the CSX rail line. Just the day before, this abandoned rail corridor had transformed into a raging river, a result of Ida’s torrential rains. Now, it lay calm—still damp, yet reclaimed from its brief life as a river.

This spot sits adjacent to an entrance of the Major Deegan Expressway. Just last Thursday, it was eerily silent, closed and submerged under floodwaters with about 80 stranded cars. Today, it’s a different scene entirely, with a ceaseless flow of traffic replacing the stormwater’s path into the highway.

The cars were constant and the traffic was thick.

I got a handful of thumbs up from drivers, a few shouting out the window “Hey that’s cool!” “nice painting!” “Looking good!”

It was a strange place to set up an easel, the corner feels a bit forgotten, scattered with litter.

I found a sleeping baby possum along the wall, underneath a plantain leaf. I was worried she might be hurt, but she just was getting some rest, tired, like I was, from the storm.

Some construction men were working on the retaining wall of the entrance to the highway. “Yeah it’s in danger of falling down.” But not to worry, it would fall into the rail corridor. I asked if it was because of the rains the day before, and he shrugged, “maybe.” I had just started at that point and he told me “I like the colors! Have fun painting!”

I spoke with another man who said he remembers when the rail line was active, lived here all his life and is now 66 years old.
He told me the building in the back right was built after the rail stopped running. I hadn’t noticed that previously but it was obvious after he pointed it out. I told him about the Daylighting Tibbetts Brook idea and he said with a laugh “Not in my lifetime, this is the Bronx!”

I was painting through a tight chain linked fence, which proved difficult in the changing light. It will take practice to train my eyes to see through it.

Another man walking by stopped and said “Let’s see what you’ve got here! Very nice – you should have been here yesterday with all the devastation!”

We talked about the incredible amounts of rain and how it all needs to go somewhere. We talked about how Central Park broke the 1 hour rainfall record twice in the past month. “And they say Climate Change isn’t real” he said with a laugh as he carried on walking.

A young woman walking by herself stopped and apologized, wide-eyed “I’m sorry, can I take a picture? This is so beautiful. How long did it take you? You are very talented.”

A kid on his bicycle road up and pointed saying “look mom! Look!” with a smile. His mom smiled as she passed and said “that looks very nice”

A woman walking with her family stopped to take a picture as well, as did a groups of 3 older women.

One woman thanked me for sharing the news about the Daylighting Tibbetts Brook idea, she had never heard of it and thought the idea was interesting. No men took a photo, and only older men stopped to talk. Younger men occasionally gave thumbs up, or a “looks good man” as they walked by not breaking stride.

This is a car dominated space but people still use it regularly on foot – 3 cars jumped the curb to make the turn behind me when I was there, as if to underline the non-pedestrian friendly vibe. It felt good to hold the space and paint there for several hours.

Interestingly, no one inquired about my choice of this particular spot for painting, an unexpected absence of curiosity.

Getting into details about the Daylighting concept with passersby is difficult unless they stop to chat. Many people are in the middle of going somewhere.

I’m working on the small handout for that purpose and this session gave me ideas on how to finalize that.