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East 139th Street, Bronx NY, Between Willis and Brook Avenue’s, facing east.

Over the last five years, Mott Haven in the South Bronx has gone through a resurgence with such speed that the new vitality of the neighborhood has caught many people off guard. Some welcomed the new developments and investments that are imbuing the neighborhood with new life. Others are against it so much they express their anger and fear through protests and boycotts.

But no one can deny the revitalized neighborhood has received more positive media attention over the years that it ever did before the new wave of development. Just a few years ago, unless there was a major crime, what else was there to talk about? Now the media focuses on the new housing, new restaurants, breweries, cafés and the local entrepreneurs who are making a name for themselves.

While community groups and bloggers focus their anger on the market-rate apartments under construction, they purposely ignore the affordable housing going up right beside it. In fact, no matter how many luxury towers are built in Mott Haven they will always be outnumbered by the low-income and supportive housing that is already in the area and the new units that are planned or under construction.

Along 138th street, four new buildings are in the works. Three of those buildings are affordable and low income, only one is market rate. This isn’t gentrification, this is revitalization. Through the social media of some of these activists groups, fear mongering is rampant and misinformation is constantly spread. When the news of Somerset’s seven luxury towers was announced, there were rumors that the residents of the massive public housing complex in Mott Haven were at risk of being bought out and their residents would be left homeless—none of which is true or even possible. The towers are going up on an industrial part of the neighborhood where no on lived. This is revitalization.

The Major Deegan Expressway separates the section of Mott Haven where most of this supposed gentrification is taking place. You can’t gentrify a neighborhood that was basically a blank slate. The Clock Tower was renovated less than 10 years ago, and most of the new housing along Bruckner Boulevard is less than five years old. These buildings were built on empty lots. No one was displaced.

Mott Haven is becoming a mixed-income neighborhood. This revitalization is bringing street furniture to the corner of 138th and Third Ave, along with more appealing places to eat for the current residents and the new ones on the way. No longer will they have to settle for bullet-proofed fast-food restaurants, shady 24-hour delis, and Dunkin Donuts. The new cafés didn’t push out any bodegas, and the new eateries didn’t push out the neighborhood’s long standing restaurants; had the area been gentrifying, that certainly would have been the case. Residents still have the option of buying a $1 coffee from their corner store or going to a café to sit and relax.

While community activists blame gentrification for the new bars and restaurants that have popped up in the last few years, they refuse to acknowledge that the majority of these new businesses are owned by Bronxites—Latino ones at that! Instead of supporting them, they call for boycotts. In gentrifying neighborhoods, new businesses are owned by transplants or big corporations. In gentrifying neighborhoods, developers buy or kick out small-business owners. The developers that are reshaping Mott Haven are instead investing in our local entrepreneurs. This keeps new local businesses organic.

Instead of congratulating and praising our entrepreneurs for remaining and doing business in the community, activists have called these entrepreneurs “sell-outs.” It is troubling that some of these community activists won’t complain about liquor stores opening up, but when a bagel shop comes into the neighborhood, it’s “We don’t want that!” In the revitalizing neighborhood of Mott Haven a bagel shop could open up next to a liquor store. Locals will patronize whichever one they want.

This is revitalization.

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Jonathan Marin is from The Bronx. He uses his social media presence to advocate for development and to support local businesses. You can follow him on twitter and instagram at @TheBronxPulse

22 thoughts on “CityViews: Revitalization, Not Gentrification, is What’s Coming to Mott Haven

  1. Valid points but I still have my doubts that market-rate can exist next door to low-income. We’ll know in a few years I guess. But it’s better to have builders interested in an area than having them avoid it at all costs. The east Bronx is filled with stable middle-class neighborhoods that were never abandoned as was the case in the south Bronx in the 1970s.

  2. It’s not gentrification they are worried about tho. It’s displacement and those two things are not the same, so regardless of wether it’s revitalization or gentrification, we need to stop displacement so current residents can enjoy the benefits of revitalization- the only way to do that is through jobs. Livable wage jobs that start at $40/hr and go up from there. Anything less is unsustainable.

    • Then people should educate themselves so they can earn those wages. There are plenty of city jobs that pay more than $40 an hour. New York City needs teachers of color, the pay there starts at $55k. The Police Department, Fire Department, MTA all are always hiring.

  3. Photo shows 163rd St which is not in Mott Haven but in Melrose! Is the article referring to Mott Haven or Melrose…big difference!

  4. Good read, great opinions but fact is market rate and low income can NOT exist next door to each other and the current rent laws allow (20%vacancy bonus + preferential rent scams) landlords to move old tenants out very easily when neighborhoods become “hot!” Maybe once the current rent laws for NY improves then, I’ll believe our neighborhoods are being revitalized and not gentrified. I much prefer a locally owned cafe over a DD and I’m sure many other advocates and activist fighting for the rights of low income people do as well assuming everyone can afford a descent cup of Joe.

  5. Pingback: CityViews: The Activists and Residents of Mott Haven Aren’t Against its Revitalization. In Fact, They Caused it. – Mediasota

  6. Pingback: CityViews: Residents, Not Investors, Revitalized Mott Haven. Displacement, Not Progress, is What They Fear - Welcome2TheBronx™

  7. Pingback: South Bronx Development: Opposing Views - This Is The Bronx

  8. Great article. That area can be vital. I’m for anything that would rise the Bronx to some high standards. Restaurants similar to Porto Salvo, coffee bars, shops, fresh markets, market and affordable housing. BTW, I told my co-workers about the Mottley Kitchen. They went there for lunch and love the place.

  9. Good article, it does explain the revitalization aspect of this development…BUT how long do you think the area will be “balanced” before it sways towards Gentrification??? I personally accept gentrification as part of Urban Growth…but what I object to is: in order to “revitalize” and existing lower income area the comfortable poorer families are pushed out into other neighborhoods that have different needs and wants for their community. Different bars, different music, different foods. This makes for an uncomfortable fit. Sooo a peaceful low crime area pretty soon is just another expansion of what was in the South Bronx but is now just spread out…changing what is considered quality of life for different residents that have supported so much of their choice of community for generations.

  10. I am all for revitalization as long as it has included a plan to house those who do not fit into the “affordable” category. I believe in diversity in a community. Housing projects taught us a very grim lesson about what happens to a community without economic and ethnic diversity. The middle classes are attracted communities with good schools and have the option to find communities that have them. This is not the case for the economically challenged. The plan included two new schools. Safety is important to all, no matter the economic status. The plan addresses this by developing common areas.

  11. The entitlement of those who rent is pretty remarkable. It’s important for the city to allow housing to be built to ensure we don’t create a situation where there aren’t enough places for people to live (that’s the only thing that causes homelessness). That said, if you wish to remain somewhere forever and have a stake in the future of the block, you need to own that property. Everything else is ridiculous.

    • Bronxite, I think you make a fair point that we ought to check the validity of anyone’s claim to have a right to freeze the city as is: renters, owners, squatters, whoever. Tempting as it is, none of us have the prerogative or power to press pause on the city’s evolution. However, as a practical matter, if you live in a multi-unit rental building, in a neighborhood where that is the predominant residential setting, it simply isn’t possible to buy your way into a forever stake in that neighborhood.

      On a philosophical level, I think “entitlement” is an interesting concept when it comes to real estate. As a homeowner, I technically own this 100-ft-x-18-ft lot in which I am sitting from the legal maximum height of my building down to the core of the earth. I “earned” that rather extraordinary entitlement by buying it from someone who bought it from someone else, and so forth, back to when settlers first came to the area and starting treating parts of the Earth as property. I did the buying in part with money that my parents and in-laws could lend or give me because they’d worked hard, and because our people had enjoyed advantages (and avoided disadvantages) different from those presented to other peoples. The concept of private property is by now a time-honored and workable system, but it is not like the rights and privileges associated with it are based on anything more than someone deciding a long time ago that they were entitled to something that others might have thought belonged to us all.

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