South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of an American City

Jill Jonnes

This third edition updates through the Covid pandemic the classic and much-admired history of New York City’s South Bronx – still the nation’s poorest urban congressional district, infamous for abandonment and fires before its massive renewal. The book follows the borough’s development from colonial settlement in the 1600s, to urban subway boomtown, home to waves of upwardly mobile German, Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants, followed by new waves after WWII of aspiring emigrants from Puerto Rico and blacks displaced from Manhattan. But as these new groups arrived, the New York economy was de-industrializing, and government-instituted racist red-lining policies stopped normal housing re-investment. When neighborhoods spiralled downward and city officials failed to help, communities began to fall apart. By the mid-1970s, the Bronx was burning as predatory slumlords used arson to recoup losses. Yet, even as the worst destruction was levelling whole blocks, local activists and social justice Catholic priests were mobilizing to challenge the government’s shocking abandonment of its own citizens. The 2002 second edition described the triumph of the grass roots groups in rebuilding their neighborhoods. In the 2022 3rd edition, old and new activists continue to rebuild, creating new arts and cultural institutions, greening communities and restoring the Bronx River. Massive new housing developments – especially along the Harlem riverfront -- by outside developers generate fears of gentrification and displacement. The final chapter describes the catastrophe of Covid-19 in the South Bronx, and the prospects for the future.