© 2017 by Shantel Sosa

Artist: Unkown

History of the Bronx 

The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City, within the U.S. state of New York. Of the five boroughs, the Bronx is the only one that has the majority of its area on the U.S. mainland and as of 2015, has the fourth-largest land area, the fourth-highest population, and the third-highest population density in the nation. 

 

 Why does it have a bad reputation? 

Look at the history! 

The Bronx is divided by the Bronx River into a hillier section in the west, closer to Manhattan, and a flatter eastern section, closer to Long Island. East and West street addresses are divided by Jerome Avenue—the continuation of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. The West Bronx was annexed to New York City in 1874, and the areas east of the Bronx River in 1895. Bronx County was separated from New York County in 1914. About a quarter of the Bronx's area is open space, including Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bronx Zoo in the borough's north and center. These open spaces are situated primarily on land deliberately reserved in the late 19th century as urban development progressed north and east from Manhattan.

 

The name "Bronx" originated with Jonas Bronck, who established the first settlement in the area as part of the New Netherland colony in 1639. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Bronx received many immigrant groups as it was transformed into an urban community, first from various European countries (particularly Ireland, Germany, and Italy) and later from the Caribbean region (particularly Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic), as well as African American migrants from the southern United States. This cultural mix has made the Bronx a wellspring of both Latin music and hip hop.

 

The Bronx contains one of the five poorest Congressional Districts in the United States, the 15th, but its wide diversity also includes affluent, upper-income and middle-income neighborhoods such as Riverdale, Fieldston, Spuyten Duyvil, Schuylerville, Pelham Bay, Pelham Gardens, and Morris Park.The Bronx, particularly the South Bronx, saw a sharp decline in population, livable housing, and the quality of life in the late 1960s and the 1970s, culminating in a wave of arson. Since then the communities have shown significant redevelopment starting in the late 1980s before picking up pace from the 1990s until today.

 

Growth & 20th-century history  

The Bronx was a mostly rural area for generations, small farms supplying the city markets, but it grew into a railroad suburb in the late 19th century. Faster transportation enabled rapid population growth in the late 19th century, involving the move from horse-drawn street cars to elevated railways and the subway system, which linked to Manhattan in 1904.

The South Bronx was a manufacturing center for many years and was noted as a center of piano manufacturing in the early part of the 20th century. In 1919, the Bronx was the site of 63 piano factories employing more than 5,000 workers.

 

The Bronx underwent rapid urban growth after World War I. Extensions of the New York City Subway contributed to the increase in population as thousands of immigrants came to the Bronx, resulting in a major boom in residential construction. Among these groups, many Irish Americans, Italian Americans, and especially Jewish Americans settled here. In addition, French, German, Polish, and other immigrants moved into the borough. The Jewish population also increased notably during this time. In 1937, 592,185 Jewsish people lived in The Bronx (43.9% of the borough's population), while only 54,000 Jews lived in the borough in 2011. Many synagogues still stand in the Bronx, but most have been converted to other uses.

 

Decline of Bronx Neighborhoods 

During Prohibition, bootleggers and gangs were active in the Bronx as a form of protest (1920–33). Many of whom were Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Polish gangs who smuggled in most of the illegal whiskey. Between 1930 and 1960, moderate and upper income Bronx natives (predominantly non-hispanic white people) began to move from the southwestern neighborhoods of the borough. This migration has since left a mostly poor African American and Hispanic population in the West Bronx. One significant factor that shifted the racial and economic demographics was the construction of Co-op City, built with the intent of housing middle-class residents in family-sized apartments. The high-rise complex played a significant role in draining middle-class residents from older tenement buildings in the borough's southern and western fringes. Most predominantly non-hispanic white communities today are located in the eastern and northwestern sections of the borough leaving some of the oldest sections of the borough became poverty-stricken.

From the early 1960s to the early 1980s, the quality of life declined sharply for many Bronx residents. Historians and social scientists have suggested many factors, including the development of the Cross Bronx Expressway, destroyed existing residential neighborhoods and created instant slums. Another factor in the Bronx's decline was the development of high-rise housing projects, particularly in the South Bronx. Yet another factor was the reduction in the real estate listings and property-related financial services offered in some areas of the Bronx, such as mortgage loans or insurance policies, in other words, redlining. There was also much debate as to whether rent control laws had made it less profitable (or more costly) for landlords to maintain existing buildings with their existing tenants than to abandon or destroy those buildings.

 

In the 1970s, the Bronx was plagued by a wave of arson. The burning of buildings was predominantly in the poorest communities, such as the South Bronx. One explanation of what occurred was that landlords became so desperate they decided to burn their low property-value buildings and take the insurance money, as it was more lucrative to get insurance money than to refurbish or sell a building in a severely distressed area. The Bronx became identified with a high rate of poverty and unemployment, which was mainly a persistent problem in the South Bronx. 

 

The Bronx Today & Connections to My Project

Through analyzing the history of the Bronx, it becomes apparent that yes, historically the Bronx had become an impoverished area with high rates of unemployment. However, something that is too often overlooked is the systemic ways in which laws and government policies contributed to the decline of certain neighborhoods, in particular, the South Bronx. The immense poverty is a direct result of institutional policies and the migration of middle class. Despite all this, there are still phenomenal people doing incredible things and achieving their goals. While we often hear of the success story of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor the goal of this project was to hi-light the many Bronx natives who do incredible work. Through hi-lighting the positive attributes of the Bronx and the successes of the community, Bronx natives continue to rebuild the Bronx and its various communities.