"There hasn't been this much building in the Bronx since the 1920s," says Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión. "At my inauguration, I said, 'The Bronx is open for business.' People are working here, they're building here and, best of all, people are moving here."
You can read the section here, here, and here.
All of which got me thinking about urban development, gentrification, and problem-solving justice. Read More...
Problem solving projects like Bronx Community Solutions are about seeing beyond the basic facts of a simple court case to the life a person and the community. We try to understand each person's story, and we're proud of our successful clients. Invariably, however, our projects are also conceived of, supported, and funded by government and community stakeholders to deal with larger social issues. The connection between a focus on quality of life crime - petty crime, illegal economic activity, disorder and the breakdown of enforcement of social norms - and the pressures of gentrification is undeniable. Among other things, addressing quality of life crime helps make a neighborhood more attractive to business and real estate investment, and the placement and operation of community justice projects in New York City has always coincided with such trends.
Thinking about gentrification often means asking the question, "gentrification for whom?" In the case of the Midtown Community Court, the transformation of the Times Square area has involved offering people who's lives were a part of the old Times Square the opportunity to participate in a "New" Times Square through job training, vendor education, life skills, drug treatment, and counseling.
In the Bronx, an initiative like ours isn't happening here by accident. Our project dovetails with a long term plan for a Bronx Center revival and a constellation of large development projects: a new Yankee Stadium, the Gateway Center at the Bronx Terminal Market, rehabilitation of the subway station, 161st Street, the Grand Concourse, and Lou Gehrig Plaza, a new Metro North station, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a new Housing Court building, and a long delayed, over budget, possibly unsound, but nonetheless still impressive Bronx County Hall of Justice (left).
Many who work in the field of problem-solving justice are motivated by a pure social justice perspective: government and civil society have a moral imperative not to keep doing more of the same, but to instead attempt daring solutions to our most onerous societal injustices.
However, our work has other implications for the city, as well. I'm ambivalent about the effects of gentrification on New York City. However, I do think that great cities must enforce shared social norms in public space - it's what allows such a mind-boggling array of human diversity to peacefully co-exist and thrive together, side by side. And further, it seems patronizing to take a picturesque or romanticized view of deprivation, poverty, and crime.
In the end, I guess I care about whether people feel safe, whether streets and parks are clean, whether people treat their neighborhood and each other with care, and that society reaches out to assist those in need. Governments are fairly good at executing major projects (like new stadiums) but I'm excited about taking a finer grain approach that's meaningful for individuals and day-to-day neighborhood concerns.
This morning, like many mornings over the past two years, I wind my way through a small maze of construction barriers as I walk up 161st Street from the subway station at Yankee Stadium to the Grand Concourse, past the old neo-classical Bronx County Courthouse and then down the hill to the looming concrete hulk (left) that contains Family Court and Criminal Court (built during the 70s in the "Brutalist" style, it seems deserving of the name).
I don't live in the Bronx (and I've only lived in New York City for about five years), but some recent changes are obvious - it's impossible to miss the large construction projects going on in the neighborhood around the courthouse, as well as the high-rise condos that seem to be sprouting all around downtown Brooklyn and on the section of Atlantic Avenue where I live. But many changes in the daily flow of the city that are only a few years old quickly acquire the patina of heavy use and appear to me, a relative newcomer, as if they've always been that way.
Along a corridor of 161st Street, from Yankee Stadium to 3rd Avenue, a constellation of construction projects is nearing completion. In Macombs Dam Park, right next to the existing Yankee Stadium, the enormous foundation for a new stadium is taking shape. Avant-garde new structures for a Housing Court and the Bronx Museum of Art line the Concourse a few blocks north. In front of the Bronx County Courthouse, the Department of Transportation is tearing up a big chunk of the street to rebuild Lou Gehrig Plaza. The Bronx County Hall of Justice (rendering below), a soaring glass and steel courthouse spanning two blocks and ten stories next to the existing building, is nearly completed after lengthy delays. A large shopping mall development for the Bronx Terminal Market, a new Metro North stop and other big developments are in various stages of planning. One thing I hear over and over again in the Bronx and in places all over the city is some version of "you should have seen this place ten years ago (or five years ago, or two years ago). This place used to be crazy (or dangerous or scary)."
The formula for success at projects like Midtown and Red Hook has included an eye to architecture. Where possible they have tried, through layout and design of their courtrooms, holding areas, lobbies, and offices to convey a spirit of dignity, efficiency, and openness to the community. I wonder what effect the new courthouse, which seems to aspire to similar aims on a much larger scale, will have on the delivery of justice in the Bronx.
Here is long article on the history of development plans for a "Downtown Bronx" or Bronx Center.
Here is more information on the new courthouse.
And here is an article from [April 22, 2007] in the Times recounting some of the construction delays that have mired the new courthouse.
It seems like these kinds of large projects, together with attention to zoning and efforts to attract business investment, really have the power to reshape the city and its neighborhoods.
However, for the average citizen, I think small scale things make a much bigger difference: whether their garbage is collected on time, whether their parks are accessible and clean, whether they have access to local amenities and community resources, and whether their neighborhood is friendly and safe.
As New York goes through an historic era of building and growth I'm heartened by a lot of the trends: new local parks like this one in Hunt's Point; less glamorous and more mundane improvements to streets and mass transit like this; construction on new affordable housing like this, the Bronx's wealth of smart, savvy community groups, local development corporations, and aggressive, forward thinking social service providers; new schools like the Bronx School for Law, Government, and Justice; and components of PlaNYC that would residents of the Bronx including more city-maintained trees and access to neighborhood parks in all parts of the city, not just the places that are attractive to tourists and major corporations; capital improvements to major regional destination parks in the Bronx like the High Bridge and Soundview Park; and aggressive strategies for addressing traffic congestion, air pollution and solid waste management that could have environmental justice dividends for Bronx residents suffering from asthma, obesity, and more than their fare share of noxious and polluting properties.
Here's a excellent feature article from L Magazine, a weekly arts, culture, and event guide, bemoaning the effects of gentrification. It's conveys a good sense of why we should be ambivalent when it comes to gentrification, although it also provides an example of the potential pitfall of romanticizing drug addiction and deprivation.
And, here's a report from the New York Times in 1990 about construction of the Concourse Plaza Shopping Center.
Will all the new parking at Yankee Stadium become a park and ride, asks City Limits in this article. I found a link to the article on West Bronx Blog.
Here's a link to a map that shows where all the new parking facilities are located.