A vacant space in the South Bronx is nothing new. Up until recently, these wide, empty spaces had been left abandoned. It reflects the South Bronx--neglected. For years, not only the South Bronx, but the borough in general has been neglected. All of this is changing because of new developments and residents coming into the neighborhoods. Open areas like this, especially ones with views of Manhattan, are being sold for millions of dollars and will soon be filled with new homes for out-of-town, new residents to occupy; perhaps even to be made into secluded neighborhoods, depending on who is purchasing them.
One of the most distinctive and iconic landmarks of the South Bronx is the Clock Tower, located in Port Morris. It's one of the first buildings that attracted new developers to this borough, which started a lot of changes in the neighborhood. This can ultimately lead to new structures being built, especially along the waterfront between Manhattan and The Bronx. Yet, these new structures will have to stand against historic buildings, which can't be taken down.
Many developers are attempting to rebrand the area as the "Piano District" since the South Bronx produced many pianos in the past. According to their website, Beethoven Pianos was established in the 1970s and it's the oldest family-owned piano store in New York City. Nevertheless, The Bronx's historical locations are not recognized, such as its three historical districts, all within walking distance from each other: Mott Haven, Mott Haven East and the Bertine Block.
Townhouses like the one pictured above, built in 1889, are continuously being renovated in order to be sold for more money. Two years ago, this same house would have been sold for $120,000. However, with all the influx of new residents, the asking price has been raised to almost $1.4 million.
Bronx native, Alexandra Maruri, creator of Bronx Historic Tours, began her business on sustainable tourism after losing her corporate job in 2008. Maruri would later work in customer service, where many of the clientele had a negative perception of The Bronx. The idea of doing tours in The Bronx came to her after a woman said to her, "I would visit, if I go with you." This is when Maruri invested everything she had into this new venture, providing historical and cultural tours of The Bronx.
In regards to the changes taking place, she hopes that it will positively impact the job market for those that live in the area. "We need more corporate office jobs. The most recent numbers from the labor department: 585.3 working, excluding part-time, seniors, disabled, veterans and children," says Maruri. Through the new developments, Maruri hopes the borough will attract corporations that will create jobs for residents. She is also participating in stimulating the job market in the South Bronx by "promoting a new industry and creating jobs...through tourism in the business sector."
Samuel Brooks, President of the Mott Haven Historic Districts Association, is also an advocate of preservation of the South Bronx like Alexandra Maruri. Originally from Honduras, Brooks arrived in Mott Haven in 1975, and has been in this area for most of his life. His work focuses on longtime residents, like himself, to work on preservation. By preservation, Brooks is not just talking about the old buildings, but also the "preservation of the people who live here, to try to have them understand that there is no need for them to move."
With regards to gentrification, Brooks believes there is nothing wrong with developers acquiring vacant lands to create new buildings and businesses, but wants them to keep the community in mind. The issue begins when new residents, or even tourists, don't help stimulate the economy of the South Bronx. Brooks hopes to build incentives to bring newcomers to support local businesses, informing them of what The Bronx has to offer.
Drastic changes are occuring in the area, right beneath the residents' feet. This is just one example of how new developments are like ones that the South Bronx has not seen. In progress is the SoBro Park Hotel, a luxury hotel located in a considerably desolate area, with close access to Manhattan through the Madison Bridge, Third Avenue Bridge, and Willis Avenue Bridge.
A few of these changes are already knocking on the neighborhood residents' doors. As seen, the building, 337 East 138 Street, is practically empty. It is not noticeable when walking on that side of the street, but across from it everything is clear: residents are being removed. Just from looking at the windows, there is only one set of curtains up in the entire building, which can mean that the owners of the buildings are waiting for the resident's leases to finish up in order to kick them out. This is just the beginning of the gentrification process.
Ideas of the South Bronx being gentrified occurred a few years ago and JCAL Development Group LLC has contributed to this by creating infrastructures that are changing the skyline of The Bronx. Founder of JCAL Development, Josh Weissman, has created four new developments in Mott Haven according to an article by The Real Deal, and "The Bridgeline," pictured above, is the company's largest project to date. Companies like these see the potential in The Bronx and are taking advantage. As mentioned on JCAL's website, the company "focus[es] on urban development opportunities in emerging neighborhoods," and Mott Haven is no exception; it is viewed as one of these up-and-coming neighborhoods.
The South Bronx is not the first place to be gentrified and it won't be the last. This wave is coming and it's coming rapidly. Soon, the neighborhood will be filled with hundreds of more people walking in the streets. The view and the skyline along The Bronx will forever change. Residents and businesses need to be prepared for what is to come. The Bronx isn't "burning" anymore--it's being gentrified.
Footnotes: https://www.bronxhistoricaltours.com/, http://www.mhhda.org/
Adilene Diaz - South Bronx, Bronx, NY, USA