For much of the 1980s and 1990s the South Bronx was literally burning. Abondoned apartment buildings in the neighborhood were burned to the ground, as landlords collected insurance money.
Crime was rampant. The murder rate was high. In the ‘90s, Mott Haven alone was deemed as the least ideal place to live in, an area rife with drugs, crimes and despair, with the NYPD tallying a total of 7,232 crime complaints in 1990.
Fast forward to 26 years, and the crime rate in neighborhoods surrounding the 40th precinct have dropped significantly. Now, real estate developers are seeing the South Bronx as an area ripe for development.
The looming prospect of gentrification is met with mixed emotions. Many residents welcome the greater sense of safety, but expressed concerns about other changes they will bring to the community.
And it’s not just about rising rent. Community residents such as A. Mychal Johnson are worried that gentrification will worsen the neighborhoods dangerous levels of asthma causing pollution and compromise their health. Johnson believes that building and fostering green spaces is the best solution for this.
Another timely issue is keeping the neighborhood’s diverse culture intact. Many of the local residents are part of a cultural and ethnic group called the Garifuna. Originally from Africa, many Garifunas now are dedicated to preserving their roots and culture in a Westernized environment.
Some locals are embrancing a new future. In a neighborhood with high rates of drug addiction, people are given opportunities for drug rehabilitation and harm reduction.
New forms of education are also part of the neighborhood landscape. At Mott Haven Community High School, some at-risk students have found creative expression through a unqiue hip-hop therapy program that is having a positive imapct on young lives.
Look closely… beyond the statistics are meaningful lives and a changing future for those living in the 4-0.