Daylighting the Saw Mill River

Efforts to bring back a natural Yonkers waterway are changing the city

It is not often that Yonkers can claim to be more innovative than New York City, but in its gritty downtown corridor, a unique project unlike anything in the five boroughs is currently unfolding.

Millions of dollars have been invested, dozens of buildings have been demolished, parking lots have been ripped up and removed from the center of town, and new habitats for muskrats, egrets, and American eels have been created. This is the daylighting of the Saw Mill River, one of the most daring river restoration projects on the East Coast.

As the last vestiges of the urban industrial waterfront are slowly erased from New York state’s post-industrial cities, many of its polluted rivers and waterways are finally being remediated and modernized, and in New York City, this has led to an impressive array of restoration projects. Wetlands are being replanted at Alley Creek, reforestation work is being completed along the Bronx River, Superfund cleanups have begun in the Newtown Creek and Gowanus Canal, marshes and parks are being created along the Harlem River, and new creeks are now being engineered in the Staten Island Bluebelt system. But the city has yet to daylight any of its buried rivers.

Daylighting is the practice of uncapping rivers that have been covered over by human development and returning them to some semblance of a natural waterway. Urban creeks have been daylighted in cities around the world, from the River Quaggy in London to the Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul. “There are rivers under every industrial city that exists, because when you build a city, people develop around a river,” says Caroline Bacle, the director of the 2012 documentary Lost Rivers, which examined several daylighting projects around the globe. “Now that a lot of industries are gone from cities, they have had to reinvent themselves,” she continues. “It’s near impossible to get rivers back to what they once were, so [daylighting is] having a new vision about rivers in the city.”

In Yonkers, the ongoing efforts to daylight the Saw Mill River have already radically altered the city’s physical landscape, and more change is still to come. The first major phase of this project was completed in 2012, opening up an airy new park in the heart of the city where a decades-old parking lot once stood. Flocks of ducks and schoolchildren now gather along the banks of this swiftly flowing stream, where hundreds of different species now live. “The Yonkers story is special, because it could have just been creating a fountain in the middle of a park,” says Bacle. “But it was about bringing back habitat for animals, which was incredible.”

This past summer, the latest phase of daylighting along the Saw Mill River was completed at the Mill Street Courtyard, an $8.3 million restoration project that has created a series of elevated walkways and small public plazas above the river, inside a city block that was once a weed-strewn empty lot. The project will soon expand into a fourth phase upriver, and this past week the city received a $2.5 million grant, which will help daylight a segment of the waterway buried underneath a desolate sea of concrete called Chicken Island.

New York City is definitely not Yonkers, and we probably won’t be tearing down buildings in Midtown anytime soon to unearth hidden rivers and create fish ladders. But the city does have several extensive buried waterways that could be brought back to the surface. The chief candidate among them is the lower section of Tibbetts Brook, which travels underground beneath the streets of the Bronx after flowing aboveground through Yonkers, just a mile away from the Saw Mill River.

Local parks and environmental groups are in agreement that Tibbetts Brook should be daylighted, and the NYC Parks Department has included the idea in their master plan for Van Cortlandt Park, suggesting that the brook be routed above ground to the Harlem River, after leaving Van Cortlandt Lake in the park. “Tibbetts Brook is really the lowest hanging fruit, for a few reasons, and the Parks Department has been looking at it more seriously over the last few years,” says Steve Duncan, a scholar of New York’s underground waterways who also appears in Lost Rivers. “Tibbetts Brook is far more feasible than anything else outside of Staten Island right now.”

And unlike the Saw Mill River project, daylighting Tibbetts Brook would also have a huge impact on the urban sewer system, according to Duncan. “The Saw Mill River in Yonkers is a daylighting project where we made this great environmental amenity, and it’s very educational and I think it’s awesome,” he explains, “but it doesn’t actually reduce combined sewer overflows in that area, because the Saw Mill River was never connected to the combined sewer system.” At Tibbetts Brook, Duncan believes that New York City can create an even more innovative daylighting project by separating the freshwater flow of the brook from the city’s antiquated sewer system. “We have a chance for something that really takes it to a higher level in New York.”

Although daylighting New York City’s underground rivers could help reduce the massive amounts of rain and freshwater that currently flow into the sewage system, finding a way to separate out household waste from underground creeks is something that has so far been prohibitively expensive. “It’s hard to daylight. It’s very expensive to daylight,” says Bacle. “It’s difficult in a big city, because a lot of the sewers are combined. I think the key is thinking organically about all these different elements, and that’s what makes the best projects. But it’s all a question of money as well.” For now, a walk up the Saw Mill River and down Tibbetts Brook offers up a fascinating chance to consider the future possibilities for New York’s historic rivers.

In downtown Yonkers, signage explains how the Saw Mill River was routed underground almost 100 years ago and covered over by a parking lot. “Everybody thought this was a lousy, stinky little river. So they put this cap on top of it in the 1920s,” according to an interview from Lost Rivers with Anne-Marie Mitroff of Groundwork Hudson Valley. “It was buried and we put a parking lot on it. We really mucked around with this city.”

This section of the Saw Mill River was daylighted in 2011, when its waters first flowed into a newly made riverbed. “We built a totally new river,” says Mitroff in the film. “It actually is a living river. It has living things in it, and they seem to be thriving.”

The industrial history of the Saw Mill River dates back to Adriaen van der Donck, a famed Dutch colonist, who built the first mill in the area at this site in the 1650s. The river still flows past Philipse Manor Hall, the former residence of a mill owner that dates back to 1682.

Today, this new section of the Saw Mill River flows through a public park with an outdoor classroom and stage, before passing underneath the Yonkers train station and emptying out into the Hudson River.

A fish ladder and an eel ladder have been built, allowing migrating species to travel upriver. The river is now home to hundreds of different species, including snapping turtles, egrets, and salamanders. “People are coming back to living in cities, and want to be closer to nature,” says Bacle. “It’s bringing back nature in the city so it’s a better place to live.”

Despite the city’s hopes that the daylighting project would rejuvenate the area, many of the older storefronts in downtown Yonkers remain vacant and boarded up. “It was a big manufacturing city, and now what is it? What fills the void? How do you bring people back, and reinvent it as a space where people want to live?” says Bacle.

A large section of historic buildings along the southern bank of the river is now being demolished, to make way for a 442-unit housing complex. “The project includes two 25- and 17-foot towers plus a 539-space parking garage,” according to the Journal News.

Upstream, at the Mill Creek Courtyard, phase three of the Saw Mill River daylighting has now been completed, opening up the interior of a downtown block.

An elevated walkway brings visitors into a mid-block courtyard, while passing above the previously hidden river.

Under the walkway, the river flows underneath two older warehouses, and past a small subterranean plaza planted with trees and shrubs.

Further into the new park, the river travels underneath a second walkway, where the sound of flowing water blocks out the nearby traffic of downtown Yonkers. The project here is modeled on “a type of vehicular-pedestrian street found in the Netherlands called a woonerf,” according to the Journal News.

A small amphitheater and a large mural have been completed here, providing a quiet respite in the center of town.

With three entry points, the central plaza of the Mill Creek Courtyard is now a busy interchange for pedestrians, joggers, and delivery trucks. Again, though, boarded up and empty buildings are a constant presence at the edge of the river.

Further up the river, Phase Two of daylighting helped create a park and overlook along this short segment, where a strip of buildings was demolished on the opposite banks to open up views of the river.

This is one of the few places in Yonkers where the waters of the Saw Mill River are easily accessible. From here, they flow underground, and then into Phase Three and Phase One, where the water is largely blocked off by railings and walls.

Upstream, the river goes underground once again, beneath the parking lot of Chicken Island. Phase Four of the daylighting process is scheduled to bring the river back into view here.

The river emerges once again beyond Chicken Island, flowing uncovered through much of Yonkers, although its waters are largely inaccessible and impassable, hidden behind warehouses and fences and blocked off by rocks and fallen trees.

Near Walsh Road and Nepperhan Avenue, the river flows through a graffiti-covered underpass, one of the only other areas where the water is easily accessed. Nepperhan was the original Native American name for the Saw Mill River.

From here, the Saw Mill River continues upstream for another 20 miles, running for much of its length alongside the Saw Mill River Parkway. Just a mile from here is Tibbetts Brook Park, where the waters of Tibbetts Brook flow downstream from a manmade pond.

Tibbetts Brook also flows next to the Saw Mill River Parkway in Yonkers, before entering the Bronx. From the constant traffic above, few drivers can see down into the sunken waterway.

The brook flows south into the overgrown wetlands of Van Cortlandt Park, where it crosses under the Henry Hudson Parkway. Tibbetts Brook was once called Moshulu by the Lenape Native Americans, a name now given to yet another parkway.

In Van Cortlandt Park, branches of Tibbetts Brook are rerouted around a public golf course and travel underneath various overpasses. This waterway helps drain a watershed of approximately 850 acres.

This shallow branch of the brook is a barrier to keep the public away from the golf course’s fairway. The river and golf course are also blocked off by a series of chain link fences.

Access to the brook throughout the park has been closed off by the golf course, which has even cut bridges in half, to give better access to golf carts.

The brook continues its manmade route down into Van Cortlandt Lake, and is home to a wide variety of animals, include coyotes, herons, owls, woodpeckers, rabbits, raccoons, muskrats, and skunks, according to the Parks Department.

At the end of the lake, Tibbetts Brook is routed underground, and into the sewer system. “That’s a case where you can say this water is not part of the city’s wastewater system up until this point, and daylighting would keep it from ever being part of that system,” says Steve Duncan.

Despite every effort to control its flow, a final section of water floods out from a marshland in Van Cortlandt Park, covering pathways and a barbecue area. From here, Duncan envisions the stream running down the center of Broadway and out to the Harlem River.

A car stuck in the marshy flood. “Daylighting doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition,” says Duncan. “What I think is really the key part about it is exposing more of the city’s workings to more people.”

Nathan Kensinger is a photographer, filmmaker, and curator who has been documenting New York City’s abandoned edges, endangered neighborhoods, and post-industrial waterfront for more than a decade. His Camera Obscura photo essays have appeared on Curbed since 2012. “Industrial Twilight,” an exhibit of Kensinger’s photographs of Brooklyn’s changing waterfront, is currently being exhibited at the Atlantic Avenue subway station in Brooklyn.


Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, along with other local elected officials, will pay tribute to former Yonkers Mayor Angelo R. Martinelli with the unveiling of a bronze plaque dedicated to him at Metro-North’s Yonkers Train Station, Friday, June 29 at 1PM in the train station’s Main Lobby.

In the late 1980s, Mayor Martinelli played a pivotal role in the renovation of the Yonkers train station and in the designation of Yonkers as an Amtrak stop, establishing Yonkers as the gateway to the Hudson Valley.

Hon. Angelo R. Martinelli stands as Yonkers’ Longest Serving Mayor (1974-1979, 1982-1987) 

***Interviews & Photo Opps***

Who:             Mayor Mike Spano

                        Hon. Angelo R. Martinelli, former Yonkers Mayor

                        Local elected officials                   

                        Martinelli Family

What:           Unveiling of bronze plaque dedicated to Hon. Angelo R. Martinelli

Where:        Metro-North’s Yonkers Train Station

                        5 Buena Vista Ave.

                        Yonkers, NY

When:          Friday, June 29, 1PM


“Yonkers Parks Day” Set for Saturday, July 14, at 4 Neighborhood City Parks

YONKERS, NY – June 20, 2018 – Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano today announced the City of Yonkers will celebrate Yonkers Parks Day in honor of National Parks and Recreation Month on Saturday, July 14th from 2 PM to 6 PM, at four of Yonkers’ City parks. 

“Our parks are the cornerstones of our City and the fabric our neighborhoods and communities,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. “It is only fitting we pay tribute to our parks during National Parks & Recreation Month by hosting a fun-filled day for all ages to enjoy. I encourage our residents to visit these four local parks to enjoy great music, food, games and the company of their neighbors.”

Each of the four park locations will include arts and crafts, music, refreshments, sports including; badminton, volleyball, relay races, along with so much more, FREE of cost for all Yonkers residents.

Yonkers Parks Day will be held on Saturday, July 14th from 2PM to 6PM at the following locations:

·        Kinsley Park –  Park & Chase Avenues

·        Cerrato Park – Riverdale Avenue at Vark Street

·        Annette Vizzini Park – Mile Square Road at Little John Place

·        Lt. Roy McLaughlin Park – Kneeland & Teresa Avenues


For further information regarding the day’s festivities, contact the City of Yonkers Parks, Recreation & Conservation Department offices at 914-377-6450.


YONKERS, NY – June 18, 2018 – Mayor Mike Spano announced today the City of Yonkers will designate several locations throughout the city as Cooling Centers as temperatures will reach 95+ degrees, combined with high levels of humidity.

“As we enter this first brief heat wave of the summer, we will make Cooling Centers available to all residents in need of a cool place to rest and stay hydrated,” said Mayor Spano. “I especially encourage our city’s older adults, residents with medical conditions and those working outside to please stay safe and utilize a Cooling Center located nearest to you if needed.”

Mayor Spano said each Cooling Center will be equipped with water, seating and air conditioning. The Mayor has released the following list of locations that will be open as Cooling Centers during specified hours for all residents:

Peter Chema Center

435 Riverdale Avenue



Charles Cola Community Center

945 North Broadway



Coyne Park Community Center

777 Mclean Avenue



Scotti Community Center

680 Bronx River Road



Nodine Hill Community Center

140 Fillmore Street

Yonkers Riverfront Library

1 Larkin Center



Grinton I. Will Library

1500 Central Park Avenue



Crestwood Library

16 Thompson Street



For more information on City Cooling Centers or for any additional assistance, please call the Mayor’s Help Line at 377-HELP.


Adopted Budget Contains Additional State Aid and No Cuts in Essential Services or Layoffs


City Increases Contribution to Yonkers Board of Education


Yonkers, NY – June 13, 2018 — Following weeks of budget hearings and public advocacy meetings, the City of Yonkers 2018-2019 Budget tonight was adopted with a 7-0 vote by the Yonkers City Council. The amended Adopted Budget submitted by Mayor Mike Spano includes $8.8 million in additional state aid, increased funding to the Yonkers School District and contains no cuts in services or layoffs and eliminates most vacant positions.

“After numerous discussions with our State leaders about the financial needs of our city, I was able to submit an amended budget to our City Council that contains additional funding to our schools and avoids layoffs. I thank Governor Andrew Cuomo and his staff for recognizing the discrepancies in funding to Yonkers and their help in restoring positions and services vital to our residents,” said Mayor Spano.

The City of Yonkers is increasing the Board of Education’s (BOE) operating budget to $582.6 million. On the municipal side, the Adopted 2018-2019 Budget maintains all departments and funds vital services. Tonight’s vote includes an increase in the property tax levy of 6.2%.  A typical one-to-three family home at the median assessed value of $11,200 would see their annual property tax bill increase by approximately $560, or $46 per month. The Municipal Operating Budget also includes a $5 million appropriation of specialized aid by the New York State Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments.

Mayor Spano commented, “We have reasonable expectations Yonkers will receive the maximum allowance granted under this program. We are most appreciative to the Board for considering Yonkers for the grant as it will help offset devastating cuts to city services.”

Mayor Spano added, “Clearly this year’s budget is a tough one, but by working together with our state and local leaders, we closed the gap avoiding any layoffs and cuts to the quality of life of our residents. Thank you again to the Governor, our State delegation and our City Council for investing in our city and recognizing the need to continue to move Yonkers forward.”  

Budget Snapshot:

        $1.19 billion total budget

        Eliminates most vacant positions; does not contain any municipal layoffs

        Contains 6.2% increase in property tax levy

        Contains $8.8 million in additional state aid


City of Yonkers Parks Department to Offer Family-Friendly Outdoor Movies & Music Every Week in July & August

YONKERS, NY – June 7, 2018 – Mayor Mike Spano today announced the schedule for the City’s 2018 Summer Film & Concert Series that will run during July and August at several Yonkers parks.  The family-friendly series is FREE of charge and open to children of all ages. 

“Our Summer Film & Concert Series in Yonkers has been a hit with residents and back by popular demand, we’re excited that it’s returning again this summer,” said Mayor Spano.  “With more than 75 dynamic parks and playgrounds in Yonkers, there is no better way to spend your summer nights than to enjoy an outdoor movie or concert with family and friends at your local neighborhood park.”

Music begins promptly at 7PM on Wednesday nights throughout the summer and the genres range from Jazz to Salsa, Rock, Swing, R & B and much more.

Movies will be screened on Thursday evenings in July and August and begin at dusk at various locations throughout the City.   All movies are family-friendly and rated PG.

Music and movie performances are subject to change and City residents are strongly encouraged to bring their own seating.  In case of rain, residents should call the City of Yonkers Department of Parks, Recreation & Conservation at 914-377-6450 or visit @CityofYonkers on Facebook and Twitter to confirm cancellations.

The complete 2018 Summer Film & Concert Series schedule is as follows:


YONKERS, NY – May 23, 2018 – Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano today announced his appointment of Senior Associate Corporation Counsel, Matthew Gallagher, to the position of Corporation Counsel for the City of Yonkers. Gallagher will replace the recently departed Michael Curti, who  served as Corporation Counsel for the City since 2012.

“I am very proud today to appoint Matthew Gallagher as Corporation Counsel for the City of Yonkers,” said Mayor Spano. “Matt brings years of legal experience and professionalism at both the City and County level to our Cabinet.  His experience and understanding of New York State laws and policy are exemplary and he’s beyond deserving of this appointment.  I thank Michael Curti for his outstanding service to the City of Yonkers the past six years and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Gallagher, the Senior Associate Corporation Counsel under Michael Curti since April 2014, has been vital to the City’s eight collective bargaining agreements under Mayor Spano’s tenure, along with the handling of litigation and contract negotiations involving the City of Yonkers.  He previously served as Legislative Counsel to the Westchester County Board of Legislators, as well an Assistant County Attorney in the Westchester County Attorney’s Office.  Gallagher began his career at the Law Firm of Grunert, Stout & Bruch after graduating from St. Francis College and Pace University School of Law.

Matthew Gallagher stated, “I would like thank Mayor Spano for affording me this wonderful opportunity to further serve the administration, the City Council and the residents of the great City of Yonkers.  I am grateful to Michael Curti, as well as First and Second Deputies Karen Ramos and Helen Aggrey – their expertise, wisdom and encouragement have been invaluable to me.  I look forward to continuing the fine work of Mayor Spano and his administration.”

Mayor Spano’s appointment of Matthew Gallagher as Corporation Counsel will be presented to the Yonkers City Council for final confirmation in the coming weeks.


Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and Yonkers City Council will re-name the corner of Stockbridge Road and Middleboro Drive in the City of Yonkers “Michael Nolan Way “on Thursday, May 24 at 1:15 PM, in honor of Yonkers resident Michael Nolan.

Yonkers resident Michael Nolan was tragically killed by gunfire in Yonkers in 2015.  James Nolan Jr., brother of the late Michael Nolan, as well as parents Donna and Jimmy, have been strong advocates at the city, county and state level of Anti-Drag Racing legislation, along with Organ Donor awareness in memory of Michael Nolan.

***Interviews & Photo Opps*** 

Who:      Mike Spano, City of Yonkers Mayor

                  Yonkers City Council

                  The Nolan Family

                  LiveON NY Representative

What:     “Michael Nolan Way” Street Naming 

Where:  Corner of Stockbridge Road & Middleboro Drive

                  Yonkers, NY

When:   Thursday, May 24, 1:15 PM


Mayor Spano joins Lime Bike representative Gil Kazimirov, Yonkers Council Member Shanae Williams, Yonkers Sustainability Director Jason Baker and members of the Yonkers Bike Club and Yonkers Creating Healthy Schools & Communities for the Official Launch of Lime
(Photo Credit: Maurice Mercado)


YONKERS, NY – May 21, 2018 – Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and Lime today launched the New York City area’s first dock-free bikeshare program at a kick-off event with local transportation advocates and community leaders. Mayor Spano and Lime officially “unlocked” the bikes and demonstrated how Yonkers residents will now be able to enjoy an affordable, reliable and fun way to get around the city.

“Yonkers is pleased to join the growing list of progressive cities that make dockless bike sharing available to residents and visitors,” said Yonkers Mayor Spano. “Partnering with Lime will provide us the opportunity to travel our city with ease and convenience all while being healthier, more sustainable and economical – and once again proving Yonkers is a great city to live, work and play.”

“We are excited to offer the residents of Yonkers a mobility solution that’s affordable, reliable, convenient, and fun,” said Gil Kazimirov, Lime New York General Manager. “As we work together, we look forward to the community-wide benefits in Yonkers of getting more residents on bikes, and we hope this partnership is just the beginning of expanding access to equitable transportation in the region. 

Lime’s sustainable system not only provides affordable first and last-mile transportation solutions; increased bike use could greatly enhance quality of life in Yonkers due to decreased car emissions and a healthier form of travel. 

Yonkers’ commitment to helping residents live healthier and more environmentally friendly lives is what drew Lime to partner with the city. Lime will join Yonkers at a time when they are also teaming up with 511NYRideshare in becoming a Clean Air NY Community Partner—linking residents to a free ridematch program and offering resources and information for residents to go ‘green’ on their daily commute.

Mayor Spano and representatives of Lime were joined by members of 511NYRideshare, Yonkers Bike Club and Yonkers Creating Healthy Schools & Communities at the launch.

Currently available in more than 60 markets, Lime is the leading American smart mobility company in the nation. All its bikes are GPS and 3G-enabled, making it simple for riders to find, unlock and pick up a nearby vehicle using their smartphone. When the ride is finished, riders simply end the ride with the Lime mobile app and responsibly park by the street curb, or at a bike rack.

About Lime

Lime is revolutionizing mobility in cities and campuses by empowering residents with a greener, more efficient, and affordable transportation option that also improves urban sustainability. By partnering with local key stakeholders and systematically deploying a fleet of smart-bikes and scooters that are enabled with GPS, wireless technology, and self-activating locks, Lime will dramatically improve urban mobility by making the first and last mile faster, cheaper, and healthier for riders. Since launching in June 2017, the company has logged over 3 million trips, expanded internationally to Europe, and deployed electric scooters, electric-assist bikes, and multiple models of their standard pedal bike. Funded by Silicon Valley’s leading VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, Lime is based in San Mateo, CA. Learn more at


Mayor Spano to present WWII & Korean War Veterans with Distinguished Service Medals and Certificates

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano will welcome a group of three War Veterans to Yonkers City Hall on Wednesday, May 16 at 11:00 AM to present Distinguished Service medals and certificates honoring their service, sacrifice and bravery. 

The group will be participating in the Hudson Valley Honor Flight, an all-expense paid day-long trip to the Washington, D.C. memorials, departing from Westchester County Airport on Saturday, May 19 at 6:30 AM.  There will be a Welcome Home Rally for the Veterans at 7:45 PM that evening when they return. 

The Hudson Valley Honor Flight occurs several times a year from Westchester County Airport and is a local hub of the National Honor Flight Network.  Hudson Valley Honor Flight (HVHF) is a 501c3 non-profit organization that transports Veterans to visit their Washington, D.C. memorials at no cost to them. 

***Interviews & Photo Opps***

Who:            Mike Spano, Mayor of the City of Yonkers

                       Lou Navarro, Office of Veteran Services, Yonkers

                       World War II & Korean War Veterans

What:          Presentation of Distinguished Service medals and certificates

Where:       Yonkers City Hall

                       Mayor’s Reception Room, 2nd Floor

                       40 South Broadway

When:         Wednesday, May 16, 11:00 AM