Even at seven a.m.

you could tell something was going on. The tiny park across the street on the Grand Concourse had been miraculously covered in clean mulch overnight, its tree pits and the ground all around and under the benches dark brown and shredded, all new.

The sign announcing the name of the park, the Bergen Triangle, is almost as large as the park itself.

Two Parks employees wielded leaf blowers to chase away stray shreds. Then blue tents marked NYPD went up along one side. A cop brought over a metal barricade to divert traffic from the Concourse side road. Cars parked inconveniently found themselves towed.

Sanitation vehicles, street sweepers, began to circle the triangle – three, four times. Someone wanted this area to be spic and span.

This park is usually distinguished not by cleanliness but by its canopy.

People settle in there to talk, play music, sometimes rap with a  speaker, and feed the pigeons – hence the thick coating of bird droppings on the sidewalk, something hard to avoid as I’m walking up the avenue to the work site. Some of the park sitters are lunatics, but most sit calmly enjoying the shade, which is what much of the Concourse lacks.

Recent studies have revealed the immense importance of shade on both health and mood.  When urban areas lack tree canopy people suffer.

I smelled a visit from a dignitary in all this tarting up activity. The Governor? the Mayor? Lady Gaga? I figured the action would be coming from the direction of the 94thPrecinct stationhouse a block away on 181 Street.

The Bergen Triangle originated when New York City acquired the land “for street purposes by condemnation” according to the web site of New York City Parks and Recreation. After Anthony Avenue was completed, the Department of Highways and Transportation turned the leftover lands to Parks in 1932. Parks created the bluestone-curbed, cement sidewalked, turn-of-the-century-style benches with shrubbery and pin oaks. These are the type of benches that Robert Moses favored.

Note: there are a few pin oaks still but honey locusts dominate as always in this neighborhood (the kind mercifully without thorns).

The park’s name came from William “Billy” C. Bergen (1862-1925), a one-time policeman known as the “millionaire cop” because he made a fortune developing empty lots in the Bronx at the beginning of the 20th century after starting a career as a beat cop. Walking his beat, Bergen couldn’t help  but notice large land lots as yet undisturbed by the new subway lines just coming through. When the Third Avenue El and the Jerome Avenue El opened, bringing people and industry, Bergen bought and sold with gusto, eventually becoming a developer and builder and finally a mover and shaker in Democratic politics. A small number of his houses still stand in the Bronx.

Millionaire Cop

Bergen Triangle is bounded by Anthony Avenue (the aforementioned street with the empty land — hard to imagine now), Grand Concourse and East 181 St.

Sirens start to sound. Is it starting? No, that’s just an ambulance wailing as usual.

Friendly cops congregate all around the park.

A temporary bandstand appears, hammered together by Parks workers.

At 4:00, “National Night Out Against Crime” will start – in over seventy locations!—with the purpose of improving police-community relations. One officer tells me the Mayor will indeed “stop by.” Stop by? “Alright, he’ll speak.” There are to be barbecue, face painting, musical acts. And, probably thinking there is clean mulch in the Bergen Triangle every day, the Mayor.

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