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As Netflix’s The Get Down Celebrates The South Bronx’ Hip-Hop Past, Its Future Is At A Gentrification Cross Roads

By Jeff Vasishta August 11, 2016
Credit: Phillip Capper

According to a recent report from NYU’s Furman Center, a gentrifying neighborhood is defined as a low income area that’s seen a rapid increase in rent prices. The South Bronx neighborhoods of Mott Haven/Hunts Point which climbed 28 percent between 1990 and 2014, and Morrisania/Belmont which rose by 23.5 percent in the same period, fit the bill. Those numbers by themselves are not that alarming. It’s the arrival of more young, white, college-educated residents—and exodus of Black residents—that is.

Related: Gentrification is Changing the Complexion of New York City

With New Yorkers trading overheated Brooklyn for the Boogie Down Bronx (BDB), investors such as Related Companies, York Equities, Harbor Group International and Tahoe Development are rushing in and buying up apartment buildings and developing land like a DJ’s in a mid ‘70’s record store.

DJ legend and South Bronx native, Grandmaster Flash, The Get Down’s associate producer, reflected on the show and his neighborhoods’ musical legacy to AM New York. He said, “This little teeny place called the South Bronx, without realizing it, we created something that has become global.”

Now, forty years on, areas of the South Bronx are being rebranding to lure new buyers. When a billboard went up announcing the arrival of the “Piano District”, residents and neighborhood groups such as South Bronx Unite (SBU) saw it as a blatant attempt at gentrification despite published reports already attesting to the fact.

Siobhán Muldoon, an actor on the set of The Get Down said, “Pop culture is always a reflection of society—a reaction to political strife, social injustice, etc. There’s no way that a genre and the voices of hip hop would ever arise from a neighborhood that’s in the midst of gentrification.” So, the nostalgia for the past may be the very thing that kills it.

Related: Washington Heights Makes A Last Stand Against Gentrification

Mychal Johnson of the SBU told DNAinfo.com, “Most striking was the overall knowledge citywide that Mott Haven is being gentrified at such a large and alarming rate.”

“We have been here through all the bad elements that have reared their ugly head,” said resident Joseph Cepeda to NY 1.”The crime is not as bad as it used to be. It’s much better. They’re beautifying the neighborhoods.”

The Bronx remains the poorest county in the state—many struggling to afford even modest rents.

“A typical household in the Bronx will spend 52% of their annual household income on rent,” said Alan Lightfeldt, a Data Scientist at the website StreetEasy.com. “Residents who are currently living in the South Bronx face a really high rent burden, and in Melrose it’s an excess of 70%.”

A bell weather for gentrification is coffee. Not bodega, dollar coffee but artisanal, fair trade java like the newly opened Birch Coffee in Hunts Point and Filtered Coffee in Mott Haven that will cost close to three dollars a cup for the whole exposed brick and reclaimed wood experience.

The plot thickens when it turns out that one of the owners for Filtered Coffee, Keith Rubenstein of Somerset Partners, is also one of the developers behind the re-branding name of the Piano District. Rubenstein, though, dismissed talk of below-the-radar gentrification moves.

“I think every single restaurateur in New York should be looking around the area,” he told the New York Times. High rents may be killing restaurants in Manhattan, he said, but not in the South Bronx.

And if the advent of exposed brick walled coffee shops, yoga studios and SUV-style baby strollers has you mourning the loss the South Bronx’s soul, there’s always your old school record collection reminisce with. “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it’s makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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