I really like this story about The Bronx today. Read it and have a great December. Check out the original story with more pics.
Colorful New Bronx Mural Shows Gentrifiers Exterminating Locals
A new comic book-inspired mural on Walton Avenue in the Bronx depicts native bees driven from their hives by a so-called "crops developer." With an ominous tank of chemicals strapped to his back, nozzle in hand, the villain shouts, "Go my HIPSTER-MITES! Gentrify these honeycombs with your cultural appropriation and privilege!"
The mural, which runs the length of one warehouse's exterior wall, was conceived and executed by cartoon and mural artist Alberto Serrano, a.k.a. Tita Na Rua or "Tito on the Streets." Serrano collaborated with Bronx graffiti artist Alfredo Bennett a.k.a. Royal KingBeeover the course of nine days in mid-November.
Serrano says he was excited to work on the Walton block in Mount Hope—his home before moving to Rio fourteen years ago. "KingBee has been painting murals there for years and it had an impact on how I perceived graffiti art," he told us this afternoon. "When he suggested we do the art on that wall I freaked."
Bennet has been tagging his signature bees in the Bronx for more than two decades. In 2013, he became interested in the depletion in the bee population worldwide, and took on more politicized projects. The fleeing bees in his new mural are a literal depiction of a species in danger, but here they also represent the negative effects of rampant gentrification. "It's a double-edged thing for me," he said.
For Bennett, there's further significance in the wall's proximity to Jerome Avenue. The mural stands just one long block from a section of the Bronx slotted for rezoning as part of Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan. The plan has been met with neighborhood opposition from East New York to the Lower East Side, and has also been criticized in the South Bronx, as it would allow for the development of part-luxury, part-affordable high rises.
"The mural's literally in the heart of where the rezoning is going to be happening," Bennett told us. "People who have lived here for over 50 years, mechanics and auto body shops where I take my cars, are all going to be impacted. This is not something that's going to happen overnight, but in the next five years you're going to see that."
Serrano told the Times that two recent events inspired him to paint an anti-gentrification mural in his old neighborhood—an idea he's had brewing for some time.
In late-April an art show at the Old Bronx Courthouse—a building that had stood empty for nearly 40 years—attracted crowds from all over the city, prompting local activists to protest with the chant, "Don't use art to pimp us out.” A party for real estate brokers, intended both to promote the art show and "introduce" brokers to the neighborhood, was canceled in the face of community opposition.
The final straw for Serrano was news of a star-studded Halloween rave in a former piano factory in Port Morris, hosted in part by the developers of two forthcoming luxury towers on the Bronx waterfront. Organized around the theme "Bronx is burning" (an allusion to a tactic used by landlords in the 1970s) the party was decorated with burnt-out, bullet-riddled cars and flaming trash barrels.
Developers Somerset Partners and The Chetrit Group have also banded together to brand Port Morris along the waterfront as the Piano District, a sort of hopeful Williamsburg equivalent. The fear of gentrification and ensuing displacement has been alive in the South Bronx for severalyears, and a 2009 rezoning paved the way for residential, commercial, and green-space development in a formerly industrial area.
Serrano said that some of the change has been positive. "Where the mural is located seems to have taken a turn for the worst," he said. "But in the South Bronx, where I spent my early years playing in the abandoned lots of burnt out buildings, there are now very nice tree-lined streets."
Still, speech bubbles across Serrano's mural call out telltale signs of gentrification, with appropriate comic book excitement. "NO... NOT A WHOLEFOODS!" reads one panel followed by "YES... AND CROCHET STREET ART AS WELL." The latter refers to a wall-length yarn bomb installed, without permission, on a private home in Bushwick this summer. The home happened to be adjacent to the Bushwick Flea, and Flea organizer Rob Abner later justified his decision this way: "What we did with the crochet art, is we covered up nasty graffiti with nice graffiti."
"I have a couple friends who live in Brooklyn, and they've seen the rents go up," Bennet said. "My mother has been living on Burnside Avenue for almost 50 years now, and we see the rent climbing up, too. It's just a matter of time before we have to relocate as well."