Everyone loves to alliterate on the Bronx. “Bronx is burning,” “Bronx is Building,” “Booming Bronx” but no one ever mutters, the “Bronx is Beautiful.” Recently, I set out to draw my own conclusion.
I had heard about the excitement in the Bronx, read countless articles on the rebuilding effort and felt compelled to get my own boots on the ground to feel it and determine what was happening up there.
I didn’t choose the optimal day to explore as it was 100% rain and cold in the forecast but I had marked my calendar and committed to seeing what this hidden gem had to offer.
I woke up early, having forgone the battle cries of the night before indulgences, grabbed a rain coat, a book bag (commonly referred to as my survival bag), a DSL camera and a cold brew and headed uptown on the 6 train to the fifth borough.
I stepped out into the South Bronx at Cypress Ave in Mott Haven and proceeded to walk East towards Port Morris, an industrial zoned portion of the South Bronx.
Port Morris is an area that is mostly dominated by warehouses, factories and other storage facilities. It has very few residential options but you can feel the potential of a soon-to-be Bushwick as the neighborhood teases you with artisan craft shops, Bronx Brewery and other unique and rich in flavor retail options. You can feel the “made in the Bronx” pride, the industrial backbone of an area that is feeling the pressure of a rezoning effort and a new neighborhood makeup.
The grittiness of Port Morris has an attractive feel for urban revitalization fanatics. I arrived at the very edge of the eastern portion of the island, a dead end street where the industrial hums of trucks and machinery finally meet the east river. For a moment, between beeps and buzzes, you could (almost) feel at peace in the destitute as you peer out and see Rikers Island and the Bowery Bay Wastewater treatment center.
Following along Bruckner Avenue, a main artery of the South Bronx, you come to the area’s newest amenity, the connector and access point to Randall’s island.
A local culture of arts and diversity is apparent as you walk down Bruckner Avenue. You see a considerable amount of decorated brick facade buildings that house mostly auto shops and other manufacturing uses.
As you get closer to the west side of town, and closer to the connection over the river to Manhattan, you start to see the arrival of the early signs of gentrification of the neighborhood. While there is no Whole Foods to stake it’s claim in the effort, money is pouring in to fix up areas that are ripe for development. Groups like Somerset partners, JCAL Development, Altmark, Hudson Companies and more are all pouring money into the Southwestern portion of the South Bronx as the institutional money like Related Companies are rebuilding further up the western riverfront. The redevelopment efforts have been well documented to this point (NYTimes — 3/4/17) but you almost feel like you’re in Williamsburg with a new age coffee shop that serves $4 coffees at the base of a co-working building (Bruckner Building).
While the South Bronx was touted as the next hot spot for development years before the ’08 downturn, the rumblings have roared up again. The proximity to Manhattan, the plethora of transit lines and the ease of access to retail corridors like the Grand Concourse have proven to be an attractive reason for developers to move in, plop money down and start building. Bruckner Ave is already moving in the right direction due to rezoning efforts and members of Somerset, JCAL and the others have gone on record to be “all in” on the neighborhood, committing to hire residents of the Bronx in the effort to revitalize the neighborhood.
I will be curious to see what comes of the Port Morris effort as the area is currently desolate of housing but rich with plots of undeveloped land. There is a good chance that the older warehousing stock buildings comes to life in a new way, a residential enclave like other areas of NYC have in the past (Dumbo, Bushwick, etc.).
After a fantastic morning of exploring the South Bronx that included lunch with a real estate developer at the newest pizza joint, La Grata, and a history lesson from a native Bronx art designer, Jerome Lamaar, I had a chance to see the beauty of a neighborhood (and borough) that has been shunned by a distorted and ugly past and reputation. I took the 4 train back from the Grand Concourse and 18 minutes later I arrived at Union Square in Manhattan with one thought permeating my consciousness — the Bronx is secretly beautiful.