The Bronx journalist Bernard L. Stein had some answers to the question recently posed by the New York Times Magazine columnist Adam Davidson: “Why Can’t the Bronx Be More Like Brooklyn?” Davidson’s piece examined the Bronx’s “inability to catch up with the rest of the city’s phenomenal economic growth” and asserted that the borough has more in common with Rust Belt cities than with the other four boroughs.
Stein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and former editor of The Riverdale Press (and Voices of NY), argued in The Mott Haven Herald that the Bronx’s troubles can be traced to bad governance.
Davidson may not remember it, but in the early 1970s, when that income gap began to grow, the Bronx was on fire, and the fires were in no small measure the result of deliberate public policy.
Robert Moses pushed the poor out of Manhattan, building Lincoln Center in what had been a working-class neighborhood, for example. He pushed them into the towering Housing Authority complexes that are so plentiful in Mott Haven.
Then, first Washington turned its back on cities, and then City Hall turned its back on the Bronx. In 1973, Moses told The Times that the South Bronx was a slum, “beyond rebuilding, tinkering and restoring.” It must, he advocated, “be leveled to the ground.”
Stein takes issue with what he calls Davidson’s “circular reasoning” — “There’s an income gap because poor people live in our borough” — and with “the assumption that gentrification is the way to bridge the gap.”
Davidson and the many others in the city’s elites who share his point of view think the only way our borough will prosper is if many of us move out, to be replaced by people of greater wealth and more sophisticated taste.
Stein credits grassroots activism by the borough’s many community development and environmental groups for signs of improvement in the Bronx, but adds:
Much more is needed. Our school system short-changes poor children, and the Bloomberg and Obama formulas of more and more tests make things worse. Gangs and gun violence prey on our neighborhoods.
But when people come together to promote change, they can make a difference, as the successes of the past have shown. Those efforts provide another way of measuring the Bronx’s future — a better way than counting the borough’s money.
Davidson also appeared on today’s Leonard Lopate show on WNYC to discuss the Bronx and his article.