Thursday, April 16, 2015

Da' Bronx

Interesting article from NY Mag online about the only NYC borough grafted to the American mainland: the Bronx. Titled "What is the Bronx Anyway?", it's a meditation about the borough, by a native, about what makes the Bronx both fascinating and yet, at the same time, so elusive to New Yorkers who live outside it.

The author raises some interesting points, and the article is worth a read, but I think there's more to what makes the Bronx such a difficult place to describe and understandd. Three main points I'd include:

1. Other than Staten Island, the Bronx is very isolated from the rest of NYC. In fact, it's even more isolated: you can ferry it from Staten Island to lower Manhattan very easily or drive across the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn. The Bronx, on the other hand, is only attached to the city by a few bridges and subway lines to upper Manhattan. So, for the rest of the city, the Bronx might as well be Westchester. Out of easy reach, out of mind.

2. The Bronx is not, shockingly enough, geographically homogeneous. Yes, the South Bronx is popularly thought of as a Bonfire of the Vanities-like urban hell hole, and other parts of it are very citified too. But remember, the Bronx is also home to the super-suburban area of Riverdale. Also, huge swaths of it are covered by park land: Van Cortland Park, Pelham Bay Park, Ferry Point Park, not to mention all of the space that the Bronx Zoo takes up (it's huge!). So the Bronx is hard to define since it's a patchwork of urban landscapes, suburbs, parks, and islands (like City Island).

3. The Bronx has a very sad history. In the 1950s, wonderful middle class, largely Jewish, neighborhoods like Tremont were destroyed and blighted by the Cross Bronx Expressway. When Robert Moses rammed this enormous highway straight across the borough, the wonderful Marty-like ccommunities housed in the Bronx were wrecked and scattered. No one wanted to live next to a big noisy highway and neighborhoods were literallyy gashed apart. Abandoned buildings turned into drug dens. Filth and grime took root. People who could afford to live elsewhere did. Read the chapter "One Mile" from Robert Caro's The Power Broker to learn about how an entire borough of this great town was basically ruined by this evil highway. The Bronx has never fully recovered.

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