Gentrification Is Giving the Boogie Down New Meaning & Not Everybody’s Feeling the Message
For decades, just the name “South Bronx” conjured up images of inner city turmoil, with all of its abandoned buildings, overcrowded schools, high crime rates, and a disproportionate level of poverty and its side effects – lack of access to healthy food, healthcare, and jobs. In fact, films like “80 Blocks from Tiffany’s” and “Rubble Kings” make mention of the area’s virtual invisibility to other New York City residents – for many, it just represented a concrete desert out of which nothing good could come, a dangerous place with nothing to offer culturally or otherwise. Of course, all of those assumptions downplayed what was the only home for thousands of people, many of whom would triumph, despite their neglected surroundings, to birth Hip-Hop, and it’s taken the several decades since then for the South Bronx to shed its unjustified reputation as being a dismal place. However, not all of the positive attention is good news for area residents, as the overwhelming grip of gentrification that has conquered nearly every borough fully is beginning to seep into what was once described as “urban wasteland.”
Port Morris is a neighborhood in the southwest region of the Bronx that has recently experienced a resurgence in attention from real estate developers, many of whom are hoping to make it the next Williamsburg, a Brooklyn nabe that serves as the stereotypical example of a hipster haven. According to the New York Daily News, a venue in the area served as the site for a concept-driven warehouse party last week that has many questioning the taste level, sensitivity, and implications of the event due in large part to its theme, attendees, and decorations. “Macabre Suite” was a Halloween extravaganza adorned with hollowed-out, bullet-ridden cars, trash can fires, and various other elements that, when occurring in real life, signal symptoms of a disenfranchised, systemically marginalized way of living that despite its negative connotations represent a very real way of life for many, many New Yorkers (and human beings, in general). Adding insult to injury was the event’s main objective – to “drum up support for two massive luxury towers along the South Bronx waterfront” and now “real estate developers Somerset Partners and The Chetrit Group are facing backlash from longtime residents over the tone deaf dance party – and for trying to re-brand the South Bronx as the ‘Piano District.'”
Compounding the party’s apparent lack of sensitivity was its guest list. A-List celebrities like Carmelo Anthony, Adrien Brody, Naomi Campbell, Kendall Jenner, Travi$ Scott (who performed) and others were seen in attendance. According to Welcome2TheBronx.com, “Disturbing as the event was, more so was reports of the appearance of our Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr (who according to an inside source was quite jovial) at this fête and the fact that Holly Block, Executive Director of The Bronx Museum, DJ Kool Herc, and Rosa Garcia owner of the popular Mott Haven Bar and Grill were listed as co-hosts of this event.” Since the news of the event broke, fans and critics of these celebrities and personalities have begun to call into question their motives. For example, these celebrities (and countless others like them) have rarely, if ever, been associated with events in the South Bronx, not because incredible events don’t exist, but because the narrative about the neighborhood was one of being unsafe and undeserving of patronage. But, now that the area has been given the apparent seal of approval from real estate developers, investors, and movie stars, the South Bronx is on the verge of becoming just the latest example of what happens when communities predominantly of color are forced out of their homes due to inflated rental rates, a trend that is occurring in cities all over the world but particularly noticeable in New York City, where people are quite literally stacked on one another without much room for spreading out. In fact, the recent buying up of lots in the South Bronx for future development of high-cost residential units has even gotten the attention of the New York Times, who in September published a sprawling report on the changing face of a community that for decades has remained relatively untouched as its surrounding neighborhoods fell victim to gentrification.
While most would agree that the South Bronx, the basis for Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s iconic “The Message” and namesake for Boogie Down Productions deserves to be a happy, vital, and safe place to live, at what cost should it become so? Check out this video for footage from “Macabre Suite.” Do you think the party organizers should donate proceeds to the development of low-income housing and other projects beneficial to the area, or are the developers simply doing what they gotta do to reach their American Dream?
Read More: “Developers, Celebrities Celebrate a Tale of Two Cities At a ‘Macabre’ Halloween Party in The South Bronx” at Welcome2TheBronx.com
Bonus Beat: Read “Bracing for Gentrification in the South Bronx” from the New York Times‘ Photojournalism series, “Lens.”