The five boroughs of New York City are, despite national and international economic troubles, actually not in the worst shape. But one borough is having a rougher go of it than the rest. The Bronx isn't burning anymore, but it isn't exactly so hot right now, either. For one example, it has had by far the slowest growth in average household incomes in the city since the 1970s. So how to improve the situation? A fun piece in the this week's Times Magazine argues that maybe the borough just needs to...try and emulate Pittsburgh?
The paper actually makes a pretty interesting argument, too. Because the truth of the matter is that, like Staten Island, the Bronx is just different from its siblings:
“It’s not an accident,” says Dart Westphal, a former community developer who has lived in the Bronx for decades. Brooklyn and Queens were once collections of independent towns whose homegrown economies were rooted in Long Island agriculture, not Manhattan mercantilism. Local elites built expensive town houses on tree-lined streets. These neighborhoods fell on hard times during the 1970s, but their expensive stock was perfectly positioned for revitalization as the Manhattan boom of the past few decades pushed young professionals across the river. The Bronx, however, never developed its own economic drivers. It became, by the late 19th century, a haven for immigrants attracted to (but unable to afford) Manhattan. The borough developed far fewer wealthy areas, and many neighborhoods became devoted to less-gentrifiable housing units.
As such the borough is really not going to one day become the home of the next Williamsburg or Long Island City (sorry SoBro!). At least not anytime soon. So instead, the borough needs to embrace what it does have: which is a whole lot of space and infrastructure, lots of labor, and a lot of people in the health and education fields.
"For economic inspiration, [Bruce Katz, director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution] suggests, the Bronx should look outside New York. Pittsburgh lost its steel industry, but the city — home to Carnegie Mellon, Pitt and other research institutions — redefined itself as a solid second-tier educational and research center." And in fact, per capita income in the Bronx has been growing much faster in the past decade than it has in cities like Pittsburgh. So why not hammer the victory home? Unlike the many struggling former industrial cities that the borough easily compares to, it already has a huge bonus on its side: It has the rest of the city just a quick subway ride away.
And you know one thing that would really help the borough? Maybe, in addition to that Fresh Direct freebie, giving it some of that sweet, sweet high tech campus cash the city keeps coming up with and throwing at Roosevelt Island and Brooklyn. NYU wants to expand so bad? Why not open the school's next satellite campus in the Bronx. It was there before!