A Continued Sense of Place in the South Bronx

Community development in the South Bronx
Photo courtesy of WHEDCo

Last year, Shelterforce featured an article about preserving a sense of history in the South Bronx amid years of demolition and redevelopment. The article, written by Nancy Biberman, director of the Women’s Housing & Economic Development Corporation, or WHEDCo, featured one of her organization’s housing developments, Intervale Green, which sets to increase community “pride and activism,” with WHEDCo sponsoring monthly community planning meetings to address crime and safety and to assist local businesses.

Intervale posed a particular challenge:

[It was] located in one of the few remaining urban renewal sites left in New York City, in the heart of the “burning Bronx” that President Jimmy Carter visited in 1977. Buildings in this area were not simply abandoned; they were demolished block by block. Photos of the area became icons of urban decay.

But when WHEDCo began working on Intervale roughly six years ago, subsequent development that had occurred in the last 30 years reflected little of the area’s history:

By the time we began working on this project . . . the rubble was gone. The surrounding blocks were filled with single-family homes, and two- and three-family low-rise buildings. All of this had been built within the past 25 years. It bore little resemblance to anything that stood before.

The neighborhood reflected a complete inattention to planning. While designing the new building, WHEDCo and the development team struggled to find nearby structures that might serve as architectural touchstones. We located some archival photographs of a building that stood on the site in 1915, and found it looked exactly like scores of other buildings that had escaped demolition and were restored in other neighborhoods.

We’re happy to report that a recently released report, the Intervale Green Report, finds that, according to WHEDCo’s Facebook page, of the “127 families that moved into Intervale Green in 2009, 94 percent state that they are happy with the move.”

Those families will now contribute to building and rebuilding the South Bronx’s living history.

Matthew Brian Hersh served as senior editor at Shelterforce from March 2008 to October 2012. He studied English at Rutgers University and has spent his professional career in journalism, policy, and politics.


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