From the rooftop garden of the New Settlement Community Campus in the Mount Eden neighborhood, it’s hard to imagine the bad old days of the Bronx.
In the 1970s, the scene around West 172nd Street and Jerome Avenue was horrific. Soul-crushing blight. Charred skeletons of vacant and drug-infested buildings. Abandoned cars, stripped and torched, dotting the streets. Dogs roaming in packs. The nightly fires from arson or neglect gave rise to an infamous expression: “The Bronx is Burning.”
The scene today is one of progress and hope.
Across Jerome Avenue, where the No. 4 subway rumbles above ground, the New Settlement nonprofit has renovated a row of 14 derelict buildings into apartments for more than 800 low-income families.
On the avenue’s west side, children stream in and out of a new $100 million building. They take swimming lessons in a state-of-the-art pool; learn how to dance or how to cook healthy meals; or tend gardens with vegetables, herbs, flowers and even a pair of small apple trees. During the school year, more than 1,000 students attend three public schools that are attached to the campus. This one block epitomizes “The Bronx is Rising” reality that is taking hold.
“There’s lots of work that remains to be done on every front; criminal justice, education, health,” says Jack Doyle, executive director of New Settlement. “But I think there’s been great work that’s been done, (and) a lot of successes to build upon.”
With more than 40 percent of children living in poverty and a higher jobless rate (7.7%) than New York City (5.6%) the Bronx has many areas that are still recovering from decades of housing policies that intentionally segregated neighborhoods, separating black from white and the wealthy from those in poverty. This, coupled with many other social and economic forces, created health barriers that have been generations in the making. But several indicators of health in the borough have been improving—some recently and some over time—according to Amanda Parsons, vice president of community and population health for Montefiore Medical Center, the Bronx’s largest health care provider.
From 1985 to 2013, life expectancy at birth increased by 9.7 years and 6.5 years for Bronx men and women, respectively. Rates of smoking, teen births and AIDS are down. The obesity rate for Bronx adults has flattened in recent years while declining slightly among children. That particular marker, she says, is the “first sign for me that something is working.”