Kingsbridge Armory a Form of Gentrification or a Beneficial Addition to the Community?

In Anthony Bourdain’s television series “Parts Unknown”, he recently did an exposé on the Bronx, and its origin. In this particular episode, he starts off by commenting on how “the Bronx is a magical place with its own energy, food, and rhythm”.  (cnn.com). He even goes on to further mention in his episode that the Bronx is the last taste of the “original” NYC. This “original” NYC that he talks about can also be viewed as a claim for the fact that the Bronx is the only “authentic” part of NYC left.

This authenticity claim asserts that the Bronx has not yet been hit with “Manhattanization”, a term that is used by Sarah Zukin in her book Naked City. Zukin’s use of “Manhattanization” refers to everything in a city that is thought to not be a part of the original culture, etc. (Zukin, 2). Zukin expands on this concept by explaining how in the early years of the twenty-first century, NYC lost its soul by “shedding its past, tearing down old neighborhoods, and erecting new ones in their place” (Zukin, 1).

However, as seen in Bourdain’s episode, as of now the Bronx still holds on to its community culture, and NYC’s “originality”, with the hodgepodge of different groups of people who embrace their heritage through food, music, and dance. The Bronx has had the ability to hold on to its authenticity through the many groups of people who put down roots here, and the charm of family owned “mom and pop” shops, restaurants and record stores. In addition to these stores, the Bronx has held on to it’s authenticity through a NYC landmark: The Kingsbridge Armory.

Kingsbridge Armory photo by Jamie Toto

When first walking up West Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx, it seems like an ordinary section of the borough. However, as one ventures further they are surprised by the Kingsbridge Armory, which spans over a total of 5 acres. This Romanesque building, which is covered in bricks, towers over bystanders— giving a person the feeling that they are in the presence of a castle. This dome shaped building captures everyone’s attention by it’s sheer immensity. Kingsbridge, which opened in 1917, has had a numerous amount of military functions, along with being a temporary space for boxing matches.

Towers of Kingsbridge Armory Photo by Jamie Toto

The Kingsbridge Armory is a staple in this Bronx community. The street view would not be the same without it. However, for the last eighteen years, this building has stood empty. Ideas such as turning it into a mall and making it the home of a rave have been pitched. However, more recently plans to turn this once famous armory into the world’s largest skating rink have been approved. With this renovation of the Armory, it will change its identity and draw a wide variety of people from different places. Meanwhile this change will also be challenging the “authenticity” of this part of the city— threatening the title that has been given to it by Bourdain.

Robert Moses Source: Wikipedia

When thinking about gentrification, one thinks about kicking out a community and replacing it with a new one. With gentrification, it essentially takes away the “authenticity”, by replacing the original community with one that is completely revamped. Especially in the Bronx, there has been a negative outlook on gentrification because of the borough’s history with Robert Moses. Moses was the architect who built the Cross Bronx Expressway— displacing the millions of people who lived in the homes that were destroyed in order to make the bridge possible.

With the Kingsbridge Armory, there is no denying that converting it into an ice rink will change the original purpose of the structure. This renovation will thus also be challenging the validity of naming the Bronx as being the “original” NYC. However, is this change really a bad thing? Would it be better to keep it empty rather than to make use out of it? Would this even really be considered gentrification then?

There is no way to know what will happen when the “world’s largest ice rink” opens. However, the community is hopeful rather than worried. Contrary to what would happen if authenticity was taken away, there is a greater chance that this will be adding to the prosperity of the original community—making the shops around prosper even more. It has been commented by members of the community that they are in fact all looking forward to this change, because it will bring millions of dollars to the surrounding community, and open up a multitude of jobs (yesmagazine.com).

Surrounding shops and restaurants Photo by Jamie Toto

Although there may be a threat of “Manhattanization”, this change may not be as threatening to its authenticity as many may think. Authenticity is thought to be lost when this “continuity” is broken (Zukin, 6). By continuity it is referring to the mom and pop shops, and the individuality of the communities diverse cultures. This loss of continuity would be the replacement of these shops, the loss of this diversity, and the opening of more “main stream” stores. However, for now, in the case of the Kingsbridge Armory, the surrounding mom and pop shops will remain alongside the family owned bodegas and restaurants.

There is much debate as to whether this renovation of this Armory will bring in a new community, and thus be considered a form of gentrification. Whether one considers it gentrification depends on what they think will happen once this rink opens, and what they think “authenticity” means.

 

Book Sources:

Zukin, Sharon. Naked City the Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

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