As a former resident of the Bronx — albeit on idyllic City Island, which is more like a New England fishing village than a big-city neighborhood — I recommend this piece in today’s New York Times about the challenges of “fighting the image of the ‘burning’ borough,” as the Times headline puts it.
Not surprisingly, considering its history, the Bronx has a branding problem when it comes to attracting visitors and their cash. Those of us of baby boomer age most likely have three key associations if we hear the words “the Bronx”: “the Bronx Bombers” (the Yankees and Yankee Stadium); the Bronx Zoo; and “Fort Apache, The Bronx” — the 1970s film depicting a scary, crime-and-grime-ridden borough that probably scared off more tourists than King Kong.
And yet, the Bronx does have its share of attractions, something that I wrote about in a feature story for an airline magazine back in the late 1990s. There are the aforementioned Yankee Stadium and Bronx Zoo; the botanical gardens and peaceful Wave Hill, an estate overlooking the Hudson; City Island, my former digs, where sailboats almost outnumber residents, and where summer evenings see streams of “mainland” Bronx denizens driving in for outdoor seafood dinners; and Arthur Avenue, known for its authentic Italian delis and restaurants.
At the time I wrote the piece, the Bronx was dumping its long time official flower — an ugly plant called a corpse flower that emitted a rotten odor when it bloomed (I kid you not) — in favor of a more fragrant flower. They even had an official ceremony to mark the switch.
But it’s a long haul back from the branding problems of the past. The Times quotes a Manhattan image consultant about how hard it is to change a bad first impression, and the Bronx certainly made that on those of us coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s. “I don’t hear that [negative stuff about crime, etc] about Brooklyn,” said the image consultant. (Brooklyn, of course, is now the hip place to reside in New York City — but it’s attracted so many young professionals and ex-Manhattanites that it risks pricing itself out of the “hip” market.)
The Times piece makes the point that young people don’t have the same “Fort Apache” associations with the Bronx as older folks do. And maybe eventually the northernmost borough will become the “new Brooklyn” for artists and such looking for cheap new places to live.
As for attracting baby boomer visitors, however, the Bronx may have to depend on things like its new tourism Website, ilovethebronx.com, which, the Times points out, lists various tours you can take of the Borough that don’t focus on its sketchy past. One goes to City Island, a great place to start. The problem is, most people might have the same reaction as I did when I first saw it: “I can’t believe this is the Bronx!”
Truly, this is the kind of re-branding challenge you can sink your teeth into. And I don’t mean to imply the Bronx is beset with vampires…