In the
South Bronx
Of America

Mel Rosenthal
(Curbstone Press)

Mel Rosenthal grew up in what was once called the East Bronx. His memories of it are of a lively and vital community. He left to study, and do international charity work, but he always returned to take photographs of the area he had lived in. Later, he participated in the South Bronx Portrait Project.

It had originally begun with photographs of Vietnamese refugees and then graduated with pictures of the destruction of what had once been a stable community of apartments, homes, churches, schools, factories and stores. He began to show the citizens living in the midst of this wreckage, and became known in the area as "the picture man." He dedicated himself to showing people surviving in what he now thinks of as another Third World country (in fact, some of the denizens had asked that Russia post a diplomat there, so they could ask for foreign aid).

In the South Bronx of America consists of over a hundred black-and-white photographs of people working to survive in the rubble of what is essentially a dust-bin, with commentary by the author and pertinent quotes from others who lived there, still live there, or are familiar with the area.

Rosenthal is convinced that his community fell apart because of political expediency:

    The burning of the South Bronx didn't just happen by accident, but was the result of decisions made by politicians, businessmen, government officials, and urban planners. The factors we have to examine to understand the burning of the South Bronx are the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway (which cut through the homes of tens of thousands of families), the building of Co-op City (a gigantic complex of affordable housing in the East Bronx which led to "white flight")...and the migration of poor people from places where there were no jobs and hopes...

He goes on to suggest that the destruction was promulgated as a policy of "planned shrinkage," by the New York City HUD and specifically, through the offices of one Roger Starr of the New York Times editorial board.***

    Planned shrinkage called for the systematic withdrawal of basic services --- including police, fire, health, sanitation, and transportation --- from poor neighborhoods to make them, unlivable and thus drive the poor out of the city.

On the last page of the book, there is a quote from the Bronx Marketing Project, New York City Dept. of General Services:

    Your business will have room to grow in the Bronx. You don't have to worry about the spiraling rents, lack of space, congested streets, parking shortages, and a host of other problems that plague expanding businesses elsewhere. The The Bronx has prime real estate that is affordable. No inflated prices like Westchester, New Jersey, or Long Island. The City of New York is planning to sell prime parcels of real estate for retail, light manufacturing, office and industrial development. These are properties which the city has held from sale until the market was right. Now the market is right. You can own real estate in thriving, busy commercial centers, industrial enclaves, and growing residential areas.

Rosenthal, with elegant irony, places this puff-piece under the picture below.

--- Ignacio Schwartz



***[But see Letter of Correction sent to RALPH by the author.]



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