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.
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