How the South Bronx Was Saved

It used to be one of the worst neighborhoods in America. Now the Bronx is a model for 'sustainable low-income' communities

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New York City's South Bronx is making an astounding comeback. Not that long ago, the neighborhood was perhaps the country's most villified, a setting for all that had gone wrong in urban America: abandonment, decay, arson, street gangs, violent crime, slumlords, drug dealers, and hopelessness. 

Today, the neighborhood has turned around. Ford Foundation president and former South Bronx resident Luis Ubinas spoke last year:

 Last month, I walked with a friend from 138th Street in Mott Haven to Yankee Stadium. It's about two miles. There were no burned out buildings or vacant lots strewn with trash. No syringes on the sidewalk. No acrid smell from the previous night's fires. What we saw was a place where hard working people send their kids to decent local schools, shop at neighborhood stores, and even tend their gardens. Today the South Bronx is everything it wasn't in 1980—a sustainable, low-income community.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a profile of Via Verde, an ambitious and very green affordable housing and garden development in the South Bronx. Two years ago, I profiled a large, neighboring green project, Melrose Commons, covering some 30 city blocks and led by a Bronx-based citizens'-organization-turned-community-developer, Nos Quedamos. Translated as "we stay" in Spanish, Nos Quedamos has from the beginning followed the principle that revitalization should transform the community for the benefit of the community, with no resident involuntarily displaced by rebuilding. It's an inspiring story.

Both projects, and many others, make an appearance in this highly informative video produced by The New York Times and featuring New York City planning director Amanda Burden, accompanied by Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. It shows an amazing display of accomplishment in transforming one of America's worst neighborhoods into one of its most exciting and hopeful.  Watch and learn:

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

About the Author

  • Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More
    Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.