South Bronx Saviors or Sellouts?

How do we continue to improve our borough without becoming part of the problem and spurring gentrification? That’s the basic question I answered as honestly and as best as I could in a recent interview in The Village Voice.

From the Gentrification Queen of the South Bronx, Majora Carter, to Bronxites like Michael Hamlett Jr. of The Bronx Brand who’s staunchly opposed to gentrification, several of us were interviewed on the subject so check out what we all have to say on the matter.

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Below is the snippet of what I said but be sure to read the full article over at The Village Voice.

101 Lincoln Avenue was recently demolished to make way for luxury market rate apartments…1,300 across to lots to be exact in 6 towers ranging as tall as 25 stories.

Ed García Conde

“It’s tone-deaf. It’s bullshit,” says Ed García Conde when I ask him about Carter’s term. “What the fuck is ‘self-gentrification’? People who are for gentrification somehow want to romanticize it and say, ‘Well, there are good things about gentrification.’ No. By definition, gentrification is displacement. That’s all it is.”

García Conde, 42, is a Bronx-born Puerto Rican journalist and activist with years of experience as a real estate appraiser. He founded and runs the blog Welcome2theBronx, which provides exhaustive coverage of the major forces and events in the borough. He expresses disappointment with pretty much every entrepreneur I’ve interviewed, viewing them as complicit, to varying degrees, in the South Bronx’s gentrification.

“I’m not anti-development. I’m not anti-progress,” he insists. But “any job that’s a small business — I don’t care how small it is, it could be a dollar discount store — it’s important. It’s no less important than putting in a bank, than putting in an office building. You’re destroying someone’s livelihood, a family, who are most likely homeowners.”

He does, however, find common ground with Carter on one key point. When I ask if gentrification is an accidental result of community organizing, he doesn’t blink. “Always,” he responds. “It is.”

García Conde points approvingly to hybrid buildings in Manhattan that feature ground-level business spaces that the business owners can buy as condominiums, with co-op living units above. He cites local businesses that he thinks are doing a good job of listening to and working with the community and giving back, such as Porto Salvo, an Italian restaurant on East 161st Street run by two business/life partners who also own two restaurants in Hamilton Heights. And he introduces me to his friend and fellow activist Mychal Johnson, a black Chicago transplant who has lived in the South Bronx with his family for the past fifteen years and also has a background in real estate. Johnson co-founded South Bronx Unite, which has created a list of ethical principles for private development that the group hopes to pressure real estate developers to pledge themselves to.

For a final community-based economic development model, García Conde brings me to the Third Avenue Holiday Market, a project of the local Business Improvement District, of which he has recently become a member. He sees the market as an example of businesses owners working together to serve the existing community, instead of just potential future investors. Located in a curtained-off front corner of a former Walgreens in the roiling center of Mott Haven, the small market features a handful of local vendors who have paid nominal rents to sell clothing, baked goods, and other gifts. Christmas carols play in the background. There’s a DIY feel and a true sense of community as García Conde greets friends and strangers in both English and Spanish. Like many of the businesses I’ve visited, there are some customers, but not many.

Head over to South Bronx Saviors or Sellouts via The Village Voice for the full story.

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