Bernell: University Heights, the Bronx

As a resident of the University Heights section of the Bronx, NY, I was amazed to learn about the ethnic diversity within our community. Surrounded by three other sections of the Bronx, Fordham Road, known mostly for hits shopping district, Morris Heights, and Mount Hope, our neighborhood is host to a thriving Hispanic and African American population which, based upon  the 2010 census, was 42 percent respectively for each nationality. The remaining 16 percent was comprised of Korean, Chinese and Asian influx of Americans that are comprised of mostly second generation families, as reported by the Community Board 5 local demographic survey of 2012.

Economically, 76 percent of the residents within the University Heights section of the browns participates in some form of state aide, either TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Family’s) or SNAP (food stamp program), as reported by New York City HRA office in 2012. University Heights has been fortunate to have in its borders Bronx Community College, a CUNY school that performs many outreach functions for youth and other Adult Literacy needs. Bronx Community College houses the area’s largest General Education Diploma preparation program and consistently trains 23 percent of University Heights residents in some form of work based training imitative. According to Ms. Ann Reynolds, Assistant Director of the colleges COPE program that works with students who are currently on Public Assistance, ” Many of our students that attend Bronx Community College are either on Public Assistance or utilizing some sort of workforce based grant. In either case our program tries to enable the students to have economic stability as they pursue their career and educational goals.”

University Heights is also a community under revision with the NY Parks department restoration of Aqueduct Park. Aqueduct Park is a located 1 block east of University Avenue and runs along Aqueduct Avenue from Kingsbridge road to Burnside Avenue. Many locals use this park as a quick picnic area or biking trail that’s grants them a quick getaway from the bustling crowds of Fordham Road. By June 2014, the last leg of the park from Fordham Road to 183rd Street will be completed and reopened in time for the local shuffleboard and handball tournaments that have taken place every year in the park since 1980. The park also offers a great walking path to the Kingsbridge Armory located on Kingsbridge Road. It was rumored that Aqueduct Park used to be a water aqueduct that provided water to the neighboring sections of the Bronx before it was closed down and replaced by the water reservoir located on 190th Street and Reservoir Avenue across the street from Lehman College concert hall.

While doing this report, I was fortunate to speak with a few residents that lived in the area for some time. One thing they all had in common was they had no idea what sustainability was. I had to explain it to them before I could proceed with the questioning. However, Vicky C a 30 year resident, said this: “With the reforming of the park (Aqueduct) we are not getting a composting area. I had no idea what composting was until I looked it up. Then I learned it was a good thing for the environment and even better for our many surrounding community gardens”

Most of the residents that I interviewed all agreed on the following;

Small Business Ownership was up in our area and continuing to grow. Many of our small business owners are residents as well so it feels great to see a local person invest in the community where they live.

Crime is unfortunately up with the influx of small local gangs that hang out in the park area as it is getting restored.  James H., a resident of 5 years, said, “These same 10 young men just sit on the fence of the park doing nothing everyday all day. I leave for work and they are there. I come back home they are there. This has got to stop.” The group of guys call themselves the “New Crew.” They say they are an offshoot of the old 12 O’clock crew that use to be in the park many years ago. However, unlike the 12’Oclock crew who were famous for their community work, these guys just sit there like Mr. James H stated. I witnessed them in the two weeks that I prepared this story just sitting in the park. When I tried to approach them as an older male, the youths were not belligerent, but declined to comment.

The last thing they agreed that our community lacked is more community based programs for youth and seniors. Currently, Good Shepherd services has a host of programs in our community but there is a waiting list for service. Mary K., a young mother of 2 children and 7 year community resident, states, “ I think it’s sad that I live in this community, but my kids in order to get after-school services must travel to Mount Hope every day for after school program.” Years ago in my youth, going back at least 20 years, there were many programs in this area. However, with budget cuts and a lack of political support those programs have dissipated. As member of our community board I know firsthand that many program proposal come across the desk of our local leadership yet get pushed back because of lack of space or other additional requirements that are required to implement the program in our community.

In conclusion, University Heights is a community that has been hit by the current economic situation that our country has been facing for the past 5 years. The latest statistics of male unemployed that I received from the New York State Bureau of statistics showed that as of November 2013, 47 percent of males in our community were unemployed. Women were at 38 percent. Even with the influx of jobs created from small business in our area many of those jobs are awarded to families of the business owners. Carl Zanta, the owner of Zanta Boutique on West 183rd Street in University Heights, said, “I can only afford to hire family. With my profits being unsteady for the past 3 years I don’t want to bring in somebody else and promise them a paycheck that may not really be there.” As a resident of close to 30 years I have seen my community change its face many times. However, in these modern times I can only wonder what vehicle can be used to lower my neighbor’s reliance on state aide and open the door for many of them to educational opportunities that can lead to career building jobs in the future.

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One thought on “Bernell: University Heights, the Bronx

  1. violetvague

    Bernell,

    Thanks for sharing about your community. The unemployment rate is definitely a troubling statistic, it certainly seems to be part of the dynamic that would contribute to young people feeling that they have no future and participating in gangs. I truly respect your effort to speak with these young men. I would hope you are not at risk of being unsafe, but it might be interesting to attempt to interview them again. I would be very interested in hearing their voices.

    I also find the fact that you are seeing an increase in small, local businesses. This is a promising trend, although I certainly understand the uncertainty these business owners face.
    Thanks again for sharing and it was fun working with you at the residency.

    Lisa Kosek

    Reply

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