Urban requalification is changing the Bronx

High rises and public parks aim to change the lifestyle of residents in the New York City borough

It was once New York City’s most run-down borough, the northern gateway to Manhattan, a place where the dream of the Big Apple had failed amid gang warfare, street crime, widespread poverty. Then the Bronx changed. Some areas have been redeveloped, others have remained on the margins, but the borough has even managed to find a spot on the tourist maps — at least since the Highbridge staircase became a magnet for selfie-takers from around the world after Joachin Phoenix’s dancing descent in “The Joker.”

Today the Bronx is at the center of an urban revolution that aims to redevelop the neighbourhood. Its centre of gravity is Mott Haven, a stone’s throw from the Harlem River and the bridges that connect the area to Manhattan. There, 20 building projects are changing the skyline of the area: partly completed, partly in progress, partly ready to be inaugurated. A total of 5,000 new apartments that aim to change the face of one of the poorest neighbourhoods in New York City.

Sustainable redevelopment

Since the 1990s, New York City planners have been working on building projects that could offer new modern homes while still ensuring the presence of parks, riverfront walks and places to gather. Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani, Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio have all shared that goal through re-zoning efforts.

This is the philosophy that guides the new building projects of Mott Haven, where an average of 70% of the area used for market rate rentals and the remaining 30% for affordable units.

Once again, the theme of redevelopment is fundamental. This is an area once full of factories; some produced iron, others produced pianos, and still others made textiles. These former industrial sites are being replaced with the towers of new residential complexes.

One of first buildings has already been inaugurated. Called The Arches, these two high-rises with 430 rental apartments opened in October 2020 on 135th Street. Of these units, 129 apartments are reserved for less affluent families residing in New York City.

George Washington Bridge

The new towers on the Harlem River

New towers are springing up like mushrooms on the skyline of the Harlem River that divides the Bronx from Harlem. These innovative buildings meet the most modern energy standards and are redesigning the profile of the neighbourhood, as well as its living habits.

Bankside is the perfect example. The largest urban redevelopment project in the neighbourhood is scheduled to open in December. The complex will consist of three towers, ranging from 17 to 25 stories, and look out over the Third Avenue Bridge, reflecting on the river. The inauguration of the first three towers will be just the beginning of the project, because by 2023 four more are expected to be completed on the opposite side of the river. Moreover, a riverside promenade is modelled on the one in Brooklyn — a work truly capable of changing the face of the Bronx in terms of livability and quality of life.

The dream of relaunching the Bronx's economy

These new urban projects are the result of large private investments, and are also motivated in part to support the economic revival of the neighbourhood.

According to data compiled by the Furman Center, a research group at New York University, the Bronx is still today the poorest borough of the city: 37% of the population lives below the poverty line with income for a family of three of under $22,000. Mott Haven is the city’s second-poorest area, with 2019 average monthly rents around $1,000, the lowest rate of the entire city.

The new real estate development may help reverse this trend. On one hand, by creating jobs; and on the other, attracting tourists to the Bronx as well as a new middle class, with higher spending power, able to reactivate the local economy. Some fear that the redevelopment project will create a new group of marginalised people in the neighbourhood, while others are convinced that this gentrification is essential to improve the area’s economic prospects and promote integration similar to nearby Harlem. The answer will come with time, when the new towers on the river will be completed and the Bronx will be able to show the world its new skyline.