My Thoughts On South Bronx Gentrification
Those of us who have been living in the South Bronx knew what many are now finding out, that this is one of the best places to live in NYC.
That’s right. I have been bragging about the Bronx for as long as I can remember. As a long time resident here when my parents came straight from Puerto Rico in 1956, I have been a resident of the area never moving more than one square mile from 156th St. and Cauldwell Avenue.
I have moved more times that most due to poverty and greedy landlords burning buildings, but for the most part have stayed in the South Bronx vicinity. When I ventured into the business world in the 1980’s all my offices were in the 149th St area, what we call the HUB.
Finally, when I had the guts and resources to purchase a home, I chose to buy in the South Bronx to the dismay and criticism of family members and close friends who were giving me a litany of reasons as to why I should finally leave the South Bronx.
I argued against them all including my former wife and firmly stated what I had always been saying, that the South Bronx was the most convenient and best place to live. I had proven that to myself during the many years running my translation business where I had to sometimes run to do an emergency translation in Manhattan, Brooklyn, upstate New York and to New Jersey. They were all easy reach for me from my home in the South Bronx. By train I was in Grand Central in 20 minutes and in Borough Hall Brooklyn in 35. By car I was in Newark in 35-40 minutes and was 55 minutes from cases as far as Newburgh, NY.
When I wanted to visit my son attending Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut I was in the state in 20 minutes and Interstate 95 North was at my doorstep to visit my daughters in Massachusetts.
Besides I argued that the Bronx was the only borough connected to the mainland and if ever the case that I had to leave the city in an emergency (something like escape from NY) I was already a step ahead of most being on the mainland while everyone else was on an island and had to get to the mainland first.
I also argued that the Bronx was the only borough that was above sea level. Many people did not understand that argument back in the 80’s and thought I was adding nonsense to my argument. They thought that until hurricane Sandy hit New York and that category one storm created so much damage to the city, except the Bronx that proved my point. In fact, it was right after Hurricane Sandy that the real estate market for the South Bronx spiked a bit more than in previous years. Some people woke up and took notice. As a result of that spike, developers and investors were now looking at the Bronx and South Bronx in particular as the new investment capital and that was the beginning of the hyper gentrification we see today.
There are many more reasons that I have always loved my hood in the South Bronx besides location. The fact is that the Bronx has more parks than any other borough and Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in New York. Yes, bigger than Central Park.
I can argue that we have the world class, Bronx Zoo, The Bronx Botanical Gardens. For sports fans we have the New York Yankees and the New York City Soccer Club. We also have a large number of colleges and universities.
The Bronx still has many issues and poverty is one of the prime reasons for all of our boroughs other problems. We here in the South Bronx also suffer from one of the highest asthma rates in the country and that has a lot to do with city planning that has locked the South Bronx in a horseshoe of major highways that emit incredible amounts of fumes daily that linger in the atmosphere with little prevailing winds sweeping them away. You add to that the incinerators that were located in the area that burned all of the Bronx and a portion of Manhattan’s garbage. The South Bronx has always been the city’s dumping ground. Here is a present example. Why are Harlem Sanitation trucks stationed on Gerard Avenue and 150th Street and parked all along our residential streets (across from a Public special needs school) and one block from Hostos Community College? Every hot summer evening we residents have an unfair pollution problem crying for environmental justice.
Unfortunately, this issue of gentrification is one that has divided many residents and elected officials. Some want more jobs no matter the source and others argue that the health of the community is not expendable. That was the major issue with FreshDirect being given a sweetheart deal to move to the South Bronx with the promise of jobs, but at the expense of more trucks and additional traffic in an area that needs that like a cancer patient needing more cigarettes.
We have problems, but we will work these problems out because the problems do not weigh more than the benefits of living here. Many of us that live here will continue to address those problems because many like me are here to stay. My political godmother, Dr. Evelina Antonetty said it best when she said,
“We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us. We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here. We would fight back; there is nothing we would not do. They will never take us away from here. I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave. And, after me, my children will be here to carry on.”
Evelina was right, after she passed, her daughter, Lorraine stayed in the South Bronx. Unfortunately, she too is deceased, a victim of Hurricane Maria while vacationing in Puerto Rico. However, her children (Evelina’s grandchildren) still live here. As in my case, one of my two adult grandchildren has moved back to the South Bronx, thus as Evelina stated, we are here to stay!
However, now that the fears of the Bronx have subsided the new rezoning regulations have sparked another major wave of development that is a more serious problem, gentrification on steroids.
Personally I’m not afraid of gentrification that has brought in some new residents that like me are seriously interested in setting a community foundation and work to preserve and improve what we have. As president of the South Bronx Community Association (SBCA), an advocacy organization of home, co-op and residents I have seen gentrification first hand. These new residents escaping the high rents of Manhattan (and now Brooklyn) have found a paradise in the making here in the South Bronx.
Unfortunately, there is another breed of gentrification and that is developers scooping up any parcel of land in our community. They are not interested in living here. These are only interested in one thing, profit. They are looking at the South Bronx as the “new frontier,” the new gold rush and they want to cash in big. They are interested in a very high return on their investment and everything else (community already living here) is not their concern. This new development is causing the destruction of our community in many ways other than just un-affordable housing. It is ushering in a fast destruction of an economic base by eliminating many of the local businesses that can no longer afford to stay in a community that is being overrun with franchise stores that are popping up like flowers in spring all over the South Bronx.
What better example of the callous and disrespect these developers have for our community than the star-studded Bronx party hosted several years ago by real estate developers to promote their plans for two luxury towers along the South Bronx waterfront that came under severe criticism for being totally insensitive and disrespectful of the local community.
The party took place at a former piano factory under the Third Avenue Bridge in Port Morris under a huge billboard renaming the area “The Piano District.” The decorations of burnt out bullet-ridden cars and garbage cans lit on fire were all too reminiscing of a Bronx that has been forgotten decades ago. That has been an image that our community has been unfairly burdened with that still haunts us to the present.
In a way I am grateful for that party because it has shown the community exactly the wave of gentrification that some want to push into our community. It has also shown us the insensitivity that we residents will need to prepare for to address all future development in our community. Our message will be very clear, we are not against progress and growth, but it must involve us residents who are living here. If not, the worst thing to have is an angry neighbor.