The Riverdale Nature Preservancy continues a long legacy of environmental preservation in the northwest Bronx.
The Riverdale of today began as the earliest railroad suburb of New York City. Homes in what is now the Riverdale Historic District were designed to blend into the hilly landscape, according to principles of the picturesque landscape movement, popular in the mid-1800s. Early builders in Riverdale, and then Fieldston, valued the natural topography, woods, streams and rock outcrops and sought to build with, rather than in spite of, them.
The pace of change in Riverdale increased in the early twentieth century. In response to growth throughout the city, New York City adopted the nation’s first comprehensive zoning regulations in 1916. These regulations controlled both the mass and size of buildings and the uses allowed in individual zoning districts. Like many of New York City’s outlying areas, Riverdale found that its new zoning allowed mid-density development that was inconsistent with its existing development patterns.
Riverdale’s Park District Protective League organized to argue against designs and plans that it considered intrusive, and convinced landowners to contribute land along the river to what is now Riverdale Park.
In the mid-1950s, the League merged with a loose association of Riverdale’s homeowners to create the Riverdale Community Planning Association. The Association sought a more rational approach to the development that was surging northward from the newly-opened Henry Hudson Bridge. After a long and intense campaign, the Association won a comprehensive rezoning for Riverdale. Apartment houses along Riverdale Avenue would be balanced by a ribbon of single-family, detached homes and the existing institutions on the slopes above the river. There would be a gradual transition from single-family to high-rise apartment areas, and commercial development would be concentrated in areas where the traffic they generated would not infringe on residential streets. The Association’s vision still defines the community today.
Twenty years later, Riverdale’s tireless residents sought extra zoning protection for the trees, steep slopes, and other natural features of the area through the mapping of a Special Natural Area District (SNAD). Riverdale’s SNAD was adopted in 1975.
Following the approval of the SNAD regulations (locally known as the Greenbelt Law), a group of residents formed the Friends of the Greenbelt to monitor development under these protective zoning regulations.
Veterans of these actions and other concerned residents came together in 1986 under the banner of the Riverdale Nature Preservancy, with a mission to conserve, restore, and preserve the natural features, historic resources, and character of their neighborhoods.
Today, the Preservancy monitors development projects in and around the Riverdale Special Natural Area District and contributes to long-range planning efforts in our neighborhoods. Our aim is to ensure that trees, slopes, and other elements of the natural environment are preserved and to ensure that new developments and expansions will not overwhelm our public facilities and streets. We work with city officials and staff, neighborhood organizations, elected officials, and residents to ensure that zoning regulations and project plans respond to the needs of our residents and to the preservation of our Greenbelt.