Why the Bronx is Far From Average
Recently Twitter and the blogosphere circulated a City-Data.com forum post entitled, "Is the Bronx too average for it's own good?" The poster, JAASNYC, recognized the positives of his/her Pelham neighborhood, its potential, and also detailed its shortcomings. The poster quizzically expressed why Pelham wasn't more 'hip', why there wasn't a hotel with waterfront views, and why there weren't any cool bars to accommodate 20-30 something year old "non-immigrant professionals." The self-described granola-eating, single professional did not feel like the neighborhood was the right fit.
While it is important to recognize the pros and cons, as JAASNYC did, I think it's counterproductive to: 1) compare our "coolness" to other boroughs (looking at you, Brooklyn), and 2) generalize a neighborhood and equate that with the entire borough.
The Bronx, in our opinion, is far from average. Most people know our main attractions: the Bronx Zoo, which is the world's largest metropolitan zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, and the most storied franchise in sports history- the New York Yankees. We're all very proud to be the home to these world-class institutions, but there is more to us than that.
The Bronx- New York's Green Borough
The Bronx is the greenest borough in NYC; the largest park in NYC is not Central Park, but Pelham Bay Park. In fact, of the top ten largest parks in the city, the Bronx is home to three: the aforementioned Pelham Bay Park (2,765 acres), Van Cortlandt Park (1,146 acres), and the Bronx Park (718 acres). To give you some perspective as to how big Pelham Bay Park is, visualize Central Park (843 acres) and multiply that by three!
Not to mention, Pelham Bay Park also has a beach, yes a beach (Orchard), in a city park! And if you don't like beaches, Crotona Park has an Olympic-size pool which is the fourth largest in the city. Largest park, most park land in NYC, and fourth largest public swimming pool- is that average?!
Ok, how about we talk about a neighborhood that's associated with prostitutes and drug use- Hunts Point. Hunts Point Cooperative Market is the largest food distribution center in the world! Their annual revenue exceeds $2 billion, and they employ over 10,000 people. The Hunts Point Cooperative Market is the source of 60% of NYC produce, and they supply food to more than 22 million New Yorkers. The food comes from 55 countries and 49 states, by rail, tractor trailer, and air. At the end of each day, the cooperative market donates the remaining food to community organizations like City Harvest and the Food Bank of NYC.
Hunts Point also has the largest solar panel installation in NYC. Victory Foodservice employed Bronx-based company, OnForce Solar, to install 11,000 solar panels. Jetro Cash and Carry has over 4,700 panels and is expected to generate 1.8 million kilowatt hours of clean energy on an annual basis.
Largest food distribution center in the world, with annual revenues that exceed any other terminal and largest solar panel installation in NYC- is that average?!
School of Hard Knocks
How about our schools? We've all heard the stats- our kids are not college-ready when they graduate. We've also read the headlines of low test scores and low performing schools. These issues plague the entire city and are not unique to the Bronx. But what we don't usually hear or read about are the high-performing schools we do have in the borough. From public to private and parochial, the Bronx has some of the best schools in the nation:
Bronx High School of Science- ranked second in the US News and World Report for best High Schools in New York.
High School of American Studies at Lehman College - ranked sixth in the US News and World Report for best High Schools in New York. The school ranks higher than Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, both of which are specialized NYC public schools.
Aquinas High School (my alma mater) - recognized twice by the US Department of Education as an exemplary school and Blue Ribbon recipient. Named an outstanding High School and featured on the cover of US News and World Report.
Riverdale Country School - where student, Zachery Halem, created kinetic energy tiles that convert movement into energy. The school currently uses them to power cell phones but plans on expanding their use to power lighting at the school.
Fordham University is a tier 1 university, and it is also the top ranked college/university in the outer boroughs, following Columbia and NYU in Manhattan.
Nationally ranked schools and some of the top ranking schools in NYC- is that average?!
Seeking Medical Attention
Since we're talking about rankings, why not quickly discuss our hospitals. Sure, Columbia Presbyterian takes the cake, but Bronx hospitals are not far behind. Montefiore Medical Center is ranked seventh in New York State and seventh in New York City out of 147 hospitals. It is also the highest ranked hospital of the outer boroughs. St. Barnabas Hospital is also ranked among the top 50 hospitals, and it is the number one nationally ranked hospital in adult specialty.
Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder
Enough with the numbers; let's discuss the look of the Bronx. Our negative connotation precedes us, and very few people talk about the beautiful architecture in the Bronx. The Bronx has the most Art Deco buildings outside of Miami! The Grand Concourse, a 4 1/2 mile stretch, features some of the most beautiful Art Deco buildings, as well as Colonial Revival, Mediterranean, Neo-Renaissance, and Neo-Tudor styled buildings.
The Grand Concourse, officially named The Grand Boulevard and Concourse, was constructed by French engineer Louis Risse and was modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris. There are so many hidden gems (fish building!) within that 4 mile stretch, that we will dedicate an article solely to the architecture in the Grand Concourse.
Here's are some of my favorite architectural structures in the Bronx:
Church of the Mediator, also known as The Little Cathedral of the Bronx, designed by famed architect, Henry Vaughan. The Church features Tiffany windows and a 70 year old Skinner Organ (1 of 2 in the Bronx). The church was designed in a neo-gothic style.
Gould Memorial Library, designed by American architect Stanford White for NYU's Bronx campus, which was taken over by Bronx Community College in 1973. The library's beautiful columns are reminiscent of the Pantheon of Rome. The Library also features the Hall of Fame of Great Americans a New York Landmark.
Van Cortlandt House, the oldest surviving building in the Bronx, declared a NYC Landmark in 1966 and a National Historic Landmark in 1975. This beautiful 9 room, recently-restored Georgian-Style House is also historically significant as both British forces and General George Washington (President Washington) are known to have stayed at the house during the Revolutionary War. The Van Cortlandt House was also the first NYC house museum.
Beauty surrounds us, we have some of the most architecturally beautiful structures with the most Art Deco buildings in New York- is that average?!
Fun in the Bronx
We may not have a huge beer garden like Queens does, but we certainly have our fair share of really cool spots.
The Bronx Beer Hall, which is right smack-dab in the middle of the Arthur Ave Market, offers craft beer by the borough's namesake beer company, Jonas Bronck's Beer Co. and tasty food. In this very vibrant atmosphere, the Beer Hall hosts trivia and karaoke nights.
Bronx Alehouse is the first craft beer bar in the Bronx, and it boasts 16 rotating craft beer lines! The food is great and the atmosphere is awesome; it is a great place to watch a game. They also have a "Beer Club"; drink 100 different types of beer, and you make it to their wall of fame!
The Bronx has also seen a resurgence of craft beer brewing companies, most significantly with the opening of the Gun Hill Brewing Company, which brews their beer in the Bronx. The last brewery to do this was Rheingold back in the 1960s. We also have the Bronx Brewery, City Island Beer Company, and as previously mentioned Jonas Bronck's Beer Co.
As most Bronxites know, the real Little Italy is in the Bronx on Arthur Ave! If you want authentic Italian food, or are looking to buy an Italian sausage, you should head uptown. As New York Magazine writer Sam Grobart put it,
"In general, the restaurants of Arthur Avenue make Mulberry Street's look like stepchildren of the Olive Garden."
Arthur Ave hosts Italian movie nights and puts on an annual Ferragosto festival with an average attendance of 20,000-25,000 guests!
Maybe Italian food isn't really your thing and seafood is. Well you're in luck because the Bronx has you covered there too! City Island is a beautiful seaside community that takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the city and imports you to a New England type fishing community. With over 30 restaurants to choose from, you'll be sure to find something to satisfy your palate. While going to City Island to eat is an event in and of itself, visitors can also check out the City Island Nautical Museum or take part in any of the many boating activities.
One with Nature:
Did you know that that the only fresh water river in NYC is in the Bronx? That's right, the Bronx River is one of one in NYC. And the Bronx River Alliance's Recreational Program allows visitors to kayak, bike, and/or canoe an 8 mile stretch of the 23 mile river.
The Urban Ranger Programs offer overnight survival and family camping at Van Cortlandt Park. Would you know what to do if you found yourself lost in the woods? If not, maybe you should sign up!
Other cool things:
- Salsa Nights at Orchard Beach
- First Fridays at the Bronx Museum- film screenings and/or live performances
- Full Moon Walks at Woodlawn Cemetery
- The Bronx Tennis Classic Tournament
- Events in Lehman Center for Performing Art
The New Bronx
With Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. coining the term "The New Bronx", our future looks very promising. Since Diaz, Jr. took office there has been a $5.7 Billion investment in development in the borough and $894 Million in new buildings for the 2013 fiscal year. We wrote an article about the construction boom in the borough and noted that there was an 80% increase in construction licenses, the largest increase in the city, and also featured a Wall Street Journal article about the retail oasis the Bronx will soon become.
Some of the new projects coming our way will propel us to the top. The Kingsbridge Armory is one of the those projects. The $320 Million redevelopment will turn the armory into the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, and will feature 9 outdoor and indoor skating rinks and 52,000 square feet of community space. The Kingsbridge National Ice Center will be the largest ice skating facility in the world and is set to open in 2017. Hip-Hop pioneers and Bronxites, Afrika Bambaataa and Melle Mel, are petitioning to house a Hip-Hop museum to be called the Universal Hip Hop Museum in the designated community space in the Armory. We hope they succeed!
As we noted earlier, the Wall Street Journal called the Bronx a "retail oasis". With 1.4 million square feet of retail space coming our way, outlet malls, the first indoor shopping mall in NYC in the last 40 years, and a waterfront shopping mall, maybe we should think of ourselves as a retail oasis. Interesting Bronx tidbit: women own 40.5% of the businesses in the Bronx!
Donald Trump is even investing in the Bronx! As polarizing as Donald Trump may be, he does attach his name to top notch projects- from buildings, hotels, and yes golf courses; like the one in Ferry Point, his developments are usually well respected and liked. Although some controversy surrounds the funding of the golf course, there is no denying that it's an improvement.
Although we see the merits in JAASNYC's criticism of the Bronx, we disagree with the premise of their argument; the Bronx is not too average for it's own good. One of the main issues with the borough, in our opinion, is that people don't explore it. The lack of exploration or apathy leads people within the borough and outside of the borough to think that there is nothing here or that what is here is not cool. Sure, there is room for improvement, and as JAASNYC's stated we should have hotels by some of our main attractions, and residents moving in that don't fit the mold of the community, should feel like they fit in. But those new residents should also make an effort to be involved in the community. Communities are not going to change to simply accommodate newcomers overnight.
We have a rich history and a unique sense of self. There's an authentic feel and rawness to the Bronx, and I think its potential is enormous. Those who don't see it are just unwilling to do so. Explore the Bronx and you'll see that it is far from average.