“The Yuppies Are Coming? How To Know When the Bronx is Being Gentrified”
by Mark Naison
During the last month, I have had the opportunity to lead walking tours and bus tours of Bronx neighborhoods for at least 6 different groups. I always enjoy these tours, not only because it gives me the opportunity to play some of my favorite music, eat my favorite foods, and talk about the rich history of the communities were are in, but because there is so much new construction taking place in neighborhoods which were once written off by most of the world.
However, one of the concerns that I have, along with many of the people I have led on these tours, is whether the Bronx neighborhoods undergoing redevelopment are going to remain affordable for their residents. Are neighborhoods, like Morrisania, Hunts Point, Melrose, Mott Haven, Tremont and Morris Heights going to eventually go the way of Harlem, Williamsburgh and the Lower East Side and experience spiraling rents and an influx of wealthy newcomers who will ultimately push out working families and people living on fixed incomes?
While I do not rule out some gentrification occurring in the Lower Concourse area or the neighborhoods adjoining Yankee Stadium, I would say, based on what I observed, that much of the Bronx will remain immigrant and working class for the foreseeable future.
As someone who lives in a neighborhood- Park Slope Brooklyn- which has been dramatically transformed from a multiracial lower middle class community into a wealthy white enclave in the last twenty years, I have learned to identify certain visual markers of gentrification. I am going to share these markers with you and then ask you to make your own judgment of whether Gentrification is transforming the Bronx
1. Yellow cabs. When I moved to Park Slope in 1977, you could see almost no yellow cabs in the neighborhood. Now, thirty years later, they are a regular presence at all hours of the day and night, taking people to and from work, and to and from Manhattan theaters and restaurants. During my six tours of the Bronx, lasting approximately 15 hours and encompassing almost every Bronx neighborhood South of the Cross Bronx Expressway and west of the Bronx Rive, I DID NOT SEE ONE YELLOW CAB!
2. Outdoor cafes. When you go to Park Slope, or for that matter Harlem, Williamsbugh, Fort Greene and the Lower East Side on a summer evening, you will see hundreds of people sitting in outdoor cafes eating dinner or socializing over drinks. These range from small places with three or four tables with larger restaurants with 50 to 100 people sitting outdoors. There may be some outdoor cafes in Mott Haven, but I did not see a single one in Morrisania, Tremont, or Morris Heights.
3. “Designer Dogs.” Neighborhoods like Park Slope, or Dumbo, where my daughter lives are filled with obscure and expensive dogs that you once only saw in the Westminster Kennell Club Dog Show- Bichon Frisees, English Bulldogs, Greyhounds, Weimeraners, Portuguese Water Dogs and the like. I have nothing against these dogs personally, but you will never see them in working class communities because they are incredibly expensive and make terrible watchdogs. When you have a critical mass of these dogs, the next step is the creation of dog parks where these dogs can socialize under the doting eyes of their owners. Are there any dog parks in the Bronx? Please tell me because I love to see Bichon Frisees and Chihuahuas play with pit bulls!
4. Sushi Bars” When I moved to Park Slope, the only bars we had were for drinking. Now, there are four sushi bars within ten blocks of my house. My dear friend and colleague Dr Natasha Lightfoot told me that a sushi bar just opened two blocks from her apartment in Harlem. Perhaps that is why she and her husband just bought a co-op in the Yankee Stadium area. Will the sushi will follow her to the Bronx. It hasn’t yet!.
5. Health Food Stores and Restaurants. I am all for healthy eating ( though I must say I like BBQ-especially Johnson’s BBQ- better than Tofu!), but there is no question that the opening of health food stores and restaurants is one of the markers of gentrification- they are all over Williamsburgh, the Lower East Side and Park Slope. As an intellectual exercise, I asked one of my tour groups to count the number of health food stores and our bus drove on Tremont Avenue from Southern Boulevard to Sedgwick Avenue, a distance of over three miles. The total-ZERO
6. Starbucks: No self respecting up and coming neighborhood is complete without its Starbucks. The coffee bar is a fixture of life for the young professional class, many of whom can’t imagine a day without their Latte. Needless to say, I did not see a single Starbucks in any of the Bronx neighborhoods I walked or drove through. Six years ago, Starbucks opened a store on Fordham Road four blocks from Fordham. Within a year, it closed.
Now that I’ve given you these markers of gentrification ( and perhaps you can give me others) make up your own mind. Is the Bronx gentrifying? Are its longtime residents- and new arrivals- being pushed out?
My own journeys have left me hopeful that our borough, even as it develops will remain a place that welcomes immigrants and striving families priced out of other sections of New York. The Bronx may not have Starbucks and Sushi bars, but it is full of mosques and churches, bodegas and ethnic groceries, hair braiding salons and travel agencies, and restaurants and take out spots where working class people can eat inexpensively. If we protect the borough’s supply of affordable housing, it may remain that way for the foreseeable future