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The Bronx

The Bronx

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    The Bronx
    Book Description:

    Home to the New York Yankees, the Bronx Zoo, and the Grand Concourse, the Bronx was at one time a haven for upwardly mobile second-generation immigrants eager to leave the crowded tenements of Manhattan in pursuit of the American dream. Once hailed as a "wonder borough" of beautiful homes, parks, and universities, the Bronx became -- during the 1960s and 1970s -- a national symbol of urban deterioration. Thriving neighborhoods that had long been home to generations of families dissolved under waves of arson, crime, and housing abandonment, turning blocks of apartment buildings into gutted, graffiti-covered shells and empty, trash-filled lots. In this revealing history of the Bronx, Evelyn Gonzalez describes how the once-infamous New York City borough underwent one of the most successful and inspiring community revivals in American history.

    From its earliest beginnings as a loose cluster of commuter villages to its current status as a densely populated home for New York's growing and increasingly more diverse African American and Hispanic populations, this book shows how the Bronx interacted with and was affected by the rest of New York City as it grew from a small colony on the tip of Manhattan into a sprawling metropolis. This is the story of the clattering of elevated subways and the cacophony of crowded neighborhoods, the heady optimism of industrial progress and the despair of economic recession, and the vibrancy of ethnic cultures and the resilience of local grassroots coalitions crucial to the borough's rejuvenation. In recounting the varied and extreme transformations this remarkable community has undergone, Evelyn Gonzalez argues that it was not racial discrimination, rampant crime, postwar liberalism, or big government that was to blame for the urban crisis that assailed the Bronx during the late 1960s. Rather, the decline was inextricably connected to the same kinds of social initiatives, economic transactions, political decisions, and simple human choices that had once been central to the development and vitality of the borough. Although the history of the Bronx is unquestionably a success story, crime, poverty, and substandard housing still afflict the community today. Yet the process of building and rebuilding carries on, and the revitalization of neighborhoods and a resurgence of economic growth continue to offer hope for the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50835-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-18)

    The home of the Yankees, the Bronx Zoo, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Bronx is New York City’s northernmost borough (see map 1.1). It was once known for Fort Apache—the police precinct immortalized on film—and Charlotte Street—the place where Presidents Carter and Reagan saw what urban decay really was. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Bronx became a national symbol of urban deterioration. Neighborhoods that had held generations of Bronx families disappeared under waves of arson, crime, and housing abandonment, with solid blocks of brick apartment buildings turning into rubble-filled empty acres. The Bronx is also known...

    (pp. 19-40)

    By the time of annexation, lower Westchester contained the communities from which the Bronx would grow. In the town of Morrisania, the core villages of Mott Haven, Melrose, and Morrisania would expand into larger neighborhoods. But in 1865, they were the ideal place for “the erection of small dwellings in the suburbs, where each family could have a house to itself, and thus realize something of the comforts and decencies of home.” The town of West Farms, meanwhile, “had the appearance of an unimproved farming district” but would later provide the vacant land for the future neighborhoods of Hunts Point...

    (pp. 41-58)

    The development of the Bronx depended upon the nature and timing of public improvements. To compete with suburbs in New Jersey and Brooklyn, the new wards needed streets, schools, parks, mass transit, and other urban services. If planned well, these amenities enhanced land values and generated positive growth. If not, they burdened neighborhoods with inadequate installations for years. In either case, local promoters expected to profit from New York City’s growth and did all they could to establish urban services in the newly annexed wards. This bias is markedly revealed in the struggle for street plans, parks, and rapid transit,...

    (pp. 59-79)

    During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the estates and villages of the early Bronx became urban neighborhoods. The basic, underlying factors that had permitted them to develop in the first place—the city’s economy, population, and transit systems—were shared by all areas. The timing, pace, and conditions under which they grew differed. But the primary agent for neighborhood creation and growth was “the real estate operator [who] . . . gets hold of tracts of land here and there which he can map and cut up into blocks and building lots and advertise and sell.” “He is...

    (pp. 80-93)

    Antebellum President John Tyler once said, “There is nothing like the elbow room of a new country.” To Bronx promoters, there was nothing like a new borough. For decades, they promoted their area with a booster spirit reminiscent of early frontier cities, claiming that “geography and topography have predestined the old county towns of Westchester as the business centre of the metropolis of the Western Hemisphere.”¹ Boosters expected monetary gain but believed progress and growth would benefit all. Thus they welcomed and encouraged the northward expansion of the city. As long as the city grew, progress would indeed be good...

    (pp. 94-108)

    During the twenties and thirties, the Bronx evolved into a collection of urban neighborhoods. By 1920, Mott Haven, Melrose, Morrisania, and Hunts Point–Crotona Park East had become the urban neighborhoods of the future South Bronx. Between 1920 and 1940, moreover, a host of newly built city neighborhoods increased the urbanized area of the borough. Mott Haven and Melrose were by this time often called the Lower or South Bronx, while Morrisania and Hunts Point–Crotona Park East were lumped together as the “East Bronx.” Apart from nomenclature, the most salient feature of these South Bronx neighborhoods was that they...

    (pp. 109-129)

    By the 1940s, the South Bronx no longer met middle-class expectations. It was too old, too crowded, and too inconvenient, and for the most part did not offer the option of individual home ownership. More than ever, families had to leave the neighborhood and often the entire borough to improve their standard of living. Although this outward flow of population had been going on for years, sharp demographic changes and pro-suburban government policies further motivated residents to leave and provided them with the means to do so.¹ Meanwhile, the continuance of wartime rent controls lessened the attraction of apartment house...

    (pp. 130-152)

    Just when it seemed that the South Bronx would overrun the entire borough, community groups began working to stem the devastation. A coalition of residents, neighborhood organizations, and clergymen came together in response to the increasing severity of conditions. Suddenly realizing what was going on, the newly politicized residents began to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, I live here.” Up through the sixties and seventies, most just moved away as the area deteriorated, but the continuing decay and the high cost of housing in the rest of the city made that more difficult. “There is no place left...

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 153-216)
    (pp. 217-248)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 249-264)