On the Front Lines of Gentrification
If the Bronx is burning today it is a sign of war between community and developers
If you take a walk down Jerome Avenue, between Kingsbridge Road and 161st Street in the Bronx, you take a step back in time to New York’s industrial past. The area is dominated by the auto industry; hundreds of flat-fix, repair, and car stereo installment shops line the street. For almost the entire length of the avenue, the elevated tracks of the 4 train curve above like a metallic forest canopy, light falling through in bars that slice the street. The occasional rumble of a train above is just loud enough to drown out the dembow and merengue pumping from cars getting tuned up at the shops or cruising down the avenue. Sidewalks are lined with shops displaying rims for sale and three-man, generator-powered car washes with water hosed from the back of a van. This is the side of New York tourists never see: gritty industry run by immigrant laborers.
Why is this more-or-less unknown area important? This 73-block stretch of road is currently zoned for industry. However, it is about to be rezoned for mixed residential development, the process that usually ignites gentrification and displacement; the big box mall development of 125th Street and the Barclays Center were both made possible by rezoning.
The Department of City Planning’s original name for the redevelopment project was the “Cromwell-Jerome Neighborhood Study Area.” On October 25, 2015, the city planning department held a walking tour of the proposed Cromwell-Jerome development area for prospective developers. Cromwell-Jerome has been proposed as a site for building affordable housing under Mayor de Blasio’s 200,000 unit housing plan. However, housing under this plan defines a “low income family” as a three-member family earning $46,620 per year, while the Area Median Income in the “Cromwell-Jerome” area is $27,000 (in Community Board 4) and $21,000 (in Community Board 5). Housing built under de Blasio’s affordable housing program would not be affordable to current residents. Rezoning would likely displace thousands. It would also immediately eliminate over 300 auto industry businesses rendered illegal under residential zoning regulations, which provide crucial jobs to residents and maintain the city’s air quality by ensuring that cars and trucks meet pollution emissions standards.