Worlds apart – the neighborhoods that sum up a divided America


The Bronx News Network called attention to an interesting, but unoriginal article in the Observer section of the Guardian comparing the Upper East Side (UES) and the South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven.

The Guardian‘s Paul Harris describes “the contrasting fortunes of New York’s South Bronx and Upper East Side [which] highlight a growing gap between rich and poor.”

New York magazine printed similar drivel portraying UES residents as if they were all wealthy and privileged New Yorkers.

“… [S]ince 2007, the divide has been starker than ever, with the richest .01 percent taking home 6 percent of the nation’s income, a figure that has practically doubled in the past decade, and the top 10 percent now controlling two thirds of Americans’ net worth. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, New York City is home to one of the wealthiest—and the most impoverished—congressional districts in the country. Although NY 14, mostly Manhattan’s East Side, and NY 16, in the Bronx, are geographic neighbors, the two districts, in many other ways, couldn’t be farther apart.”

The Guardian and New York Magazine writers seem to have written their pieces in their sleep. No effort was made to humanize or explain the choices made by residents of either location or to explain possible reasons for the inequality.

In contrasting and comparing the two neighborhoods, Harris writes,

“… New Yorkers living in the city’s 14th and 16th congressional districts – electoral districts with populations of around 600,000 each – often occupy completely different worlds. Their lives provide a shocking example of growing inequality in America, where the rich are leaving a growing mass of the poor completely behind.

The numbers are stark enough. Last week a census report revealed that 46 million Americans live in poverty, the highest number ever recorded. At the same time, the richest 20% of Americans control 84% of the country’s wealth. Indeed, just 400 families have the same net worth as the total of the bottom 50%. America’s Gini coefficient – which measures inequality of income distribution – now nears that of Rwanda.

The Gini figure is just a number – but to walk the streets of the 14th and 16th districts is to see that story of growing inequality in terms of people living almost next to each other but separated by education, job prospects, health, race and class.

The 14th occupies a chunk of Manhattan and Queens. Not all of it is wealthy, but at its heart lies the Upper East Side, by Central Park, a neighbourhood that is home to New York‘s moneyed classes. It is here that the titans of finance, whose recklessness brought on the near collapse of the American economy, live and play. They raise their families in gigantic apartments, send their children to the best private schools and patronise the pricey bistros that dot the street corners. Old money New York has long considered the Upper East Side its natural home, viewing Central Park as its backyard and Manhattan as a private playground.

The same cannot be said of the 16th. That district spans the South Bronx. It has been occupied by waves of immigrants, now mainly Hispanics from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, plus black Americans heading out of the south or fleeing higher rents in gentrifying Harlem. It is rife with gangs, drugs and crime. Well-paid jobs are scarce.

To travel between the two districts is to go from a world of unimaginable luxury to one of fear and poverty. It takes about 10 minutes on the subway.”

Harris conveniently highlights an angry UES jeweler who rants against President Obama and the good Mott Haven denizens, though dismayed by the inequality, still retain their noble hearts. I recall the mythical time when the children of the UES scored their heroin and coke in the South Bronx and Harlem. I’m surprised Mr. Harris and his editor omitted that cliche.

It seems to annoy my wife when I tell her that the people who get featured in these articles about the South Bronx’s unfortunate poor.  But I really know Mother Martha Overall, her good work, her church, etc. I knew her predecessors. All good and caring Protestants. And as left-of-center as they come.

Mother Martha has dedicated herself to assisting both the promising and the troubled youth who have come her way. She has had her share of successes. And she has lost others to the draw of the streets. I know St. Ann’s Church as a warm, loving place of solace and assistance.

St. Ann’s Church was the family church of the famous Morris family. Gouverneur Morris penned the United States Constitution and he was a signer of the Articles of Confederation. His half-brother, Lewis Morris was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The landmark church is near both men’s final resting place. If the Guardian writer, Mr. Harris knew this history, I wonder why he chose to omit reference to the Morris family and the South Bronx’s roots of US Founding Fathers.

I have written of my disappointment in Congressman Jose Serrano‘s efforts on behalf of the district. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, in contrast, ably represents her district, protects their economic interests, and delivers for them. I neither fault nor begrudge UES residents for their socioeconomic success.

Unlike the Guardian, I’d be curious to examine the level of federal (state and city) transfer payments into each neighborhood. I’ll bet that the economic development aid is greater on the UES (e.g., Second Avenue subway construction, tax cuts, tax subsidies for S corporations, park maintenance, education aid, etc.) than in Mott Haven (i.e., food stamps, public assistance, medicaid, education aid, etc.).

Do I sound jaded? Or am I frustrated that Mott Haven and the other South Bronx neighborhoods in the 16th congressional district have remained in stasis for twenty-odd years?

Have your say! Leave a comment below.

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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2 Responses to Worlds apart – the neighborhoods that sum up a divided America

  1. Dale Benjamin Drakeford says:

    I am disappointed in all, especially the passive silent partners of the actions and inactions of poor leadership that corrupt and blight our existence. The Wall Street protestors are our champions and more of the voters from each of those neighborhoods should be there helping. Our elected should be there helping. No job means time to be there. Elected job means responsibility to be there. Something is amiss when more are not there. Peace.

    Like

  2. Cary Goodman says:

    Where are the religious leaders in this occupy Wall Street time? Their concern for the poor and commitment to justice should lead them and their congregations to the support of these change agents.

    Like

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