How Daylighting the Saw Mill River Helped Yonkers Become a Mixed-Use, Multimodal Hub

saw-mill-river-yonkers

The daylighted Saw Mill River in Yonkers. | Photo: communityprogress.net

Downtown Yonkers has undergone a dramatic change in the last decade thanks largely to the inspiring success story of the Saw Mill River Daylighting campaign, a project which was presented last week at GreenHomeNYC’s April Forum.

In the 1920s, the Army Corps of Engineers redirected a large portion of the Saw Mill River into underground flumes as part of a sanitation and flooding mitigation effort, where it lay hidden from sight for nearly a century. It wasn’t until the 1990s that anyone began to consider the potential for unburying the river, though the idea at the time seemed too massive an undertaking, especially given the hazardous pollution levels from illegal dumping in nearby industrial areas.

When Groundwork Hudson Valley was established in 2000, the non-profit organizations’s board of directors made daylighting the Saw Mill River one of its top priorities, as they felt strongly that it was “key to the city’s renewal.” And they were right. The newly daylighted river wasn’t simply a catalyst for revitalizing downtown; it became “the centerpiece of the city.”

The project, completed in September of 2012, took more than a decade of political lobbying, collaborative initiatives, and local, state and federally-funded environmental cleanup campaigns. The daylighting of the Saw Mill River not only unveiled 13,775 square feet of aquatic habitat, including a tidal pool and two freshwater pools beside the original underground flume, but it also became the centerpiece of a new public plaza where events and workshops are held throughout the year.

The daylighted river and plaza are just steps from the Getty Square intermodal transit hub — served by Metro-North, Amtrak and Westchester’s Bee-Line bus system — making this a prime location for transit-oriented development – and developers have certainly noticed. With former Governor George Pataki’s political and financial backing, the city began to be courted by investors who wanted to cash in on the added value of the open river to development opportunities. The daylighting project was included as part of a $3.1 billion revitalization proposal for downtown Yonkers proposed in 2006 that included a ballpark, aquarium and more mixed-use residential and commericial development.  These projects, according to the City of Yonkers, will have created over 900 jobs as a result of the daylighting, and are already attracting new residents to Yonkers.

In addition to the large-scale development, the Saw Mill River daylighting has also helped to draw more attention to the already pedestrian-friendly Getty Square neighborhood, catalyzing the planning of greenways to connect downtown to other areas of Yonkers and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

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6 comments to How Daylighting the Saw Mill River Helped Yonkers Become a Mixed-Use, Multimodal Hub

  • Rob

    Nice piece, and thanks for mentioning the Bee-Line Bus system! It seems to be forgotten that it has millions more Yonkers riders than MetroNorth.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getty_Square

  • Westchester Community Foundation is proud to be part of some of the early funding that let to this project.

    http://wcf-ny.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Restoring%20Urban%20Rivers,%20Revitalizing%20Older%20Cities.pdf

  • Rob

    It is amazing how many excellent projects were seeded by the Westchester Community Foundation. True visionaries!

  • John

    Riding the bus to downtown Yonkers is a disaster that needs to be fixed. Each bus starts and ends in a different spot, and it’s tremendously confusing to figure out where to stand to get which bus unless you are already in the know about where your bus goes. If Yonkers wants to leverage bus transit as part of this multi-modal hub, work needs to be done to sort this out. Putting Bee-Line bus stops on Google Transit would be a good first step. Everybody has a smart phone now, particularly the type of young people the City is trying to attract with their “Generation Yonkers” campaign. At least that way people could use their phones to figure out where to wait for the bus.

  • ajedrez

    I think it’s ridiculous that Bee Line isn’t already using Google Transit. You ask it how to get from Tarrytown to White Plains, and it tells you to go all the way down to 125th Street and come back up.

  • JamesR

    Sadly, the Bee-Line is allowed to be a mess – because in all reality, it is considered a system of last resort in car-centric Westchester. Those who use it have no other recourse. If affluent folks were riding the buses and holding Westchester DOT responsible for proving a quality service, it’d be a whole different situation.

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