From the early 1970’s, when an arson and abandonment cycle destroyed almost a quarter of the Bronx’s housing stock, through the Crack Epidemic of the late 80’s and early 90’s, which caused the borough￼’s murder rates to soar, the Bronx served as a cautionary tale for everyone seeking to explain what went wrong in the nations cities. While scores of other cities in the Northeast and Midwest from Buffalo and Baltimore to Youngstown, Gary and East St Louis would experience the same cycle of abandonment and decay, the Bronx was the example etched in everyone’s minds.
Today, however, the Bronx immortalized as an landscape of urban decay in films like “Fort Apache” and novels like “ Bonfire of the Vanities” is nowhere to be found! Every stretch of abandoned land where apartments and factories once stood has been filled with town houses, shopping centers and apartment buildings, the murder rate has plummeted to a fifth of what is was during the crack years, and hundreds of new churches mosques and restaurants have opened up.
What has happened to turn the Bronx from a symbol of Urban Decay into the nations Great Urban Success Story. Some of this is a result of enlightened urban policy by New York’s state and city governments, some as a result of New York’s dramatic revival as a center of global commerce, but much of it is a result of the Bronx becoming a destination of choice for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many legal, many undocumented. As gentrification has raised rents in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, the Bronx has been the recipient of large immigrant streams from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and South Asia. The results can be observed by anyone walking through, driving through, or taking public transportation through the Bronx. New stores and restaurants reflecting diverse ethnic cultures popping up everywhere, people speaking Twi and Bengali as well as Spanish on streets and public conveyances; and women in hijabs walking and shipping in neighborhood as far apart as Highbridge and Parkchester. The immigrant presence has also revitalized Bronx schools- among 100 student visitors to Fordham from PS 140 in Morrisania- we counted families from 27 different countries.
If you want to know why policy makers in NY City and NY State support sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants, look no further than the Bronx and other once decayed and dangerous parts of the city that immigration has helped revive. Immigration may be the single most important engine spurring economic revival of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, if you think I am wrong compare what has happened to the Bronx to what has happened to decayed neighborhoods in cities which have NOT received mass immigration- cities like Buffalo, Youngstown, Baltimore and Gary. The most decayed areas still look like they did 25 years ago.
Intelligent policy makers and urban planners in New York know that any policy which destabilizes immigrant neighborhoods threatens the economic viability of the entire city. They will not only challenge the Trump Administrations narrative about immigration as a source of crime and danger, they will use every policy at their disposal to protect immigrants already here