Watch ​Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vázquez Irizarry's “Defending Your Block,” and answer the following questions:

  • What does the narrator Vivian Vázquez Irizarry say happened to the South Bronx in the1970s?
  • What positive things did the community do to address it?
  • What is the new threat to neighborhoods of color today? What does the narrator suggest?
  • Expert Answers

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    This short film tells the story of what happened after The South Bronx was left devastated by disasters and by racist neglect, and it also shows how the community rebuilt it. In the 1970s, fires ripped through this neighborhood. They left entire blocks completely destroyed. The city made it clear that rebuilding this community was not a priority. Even before the fires, public resources in minority neighborhoods had been scarce. This policy was called red-lining.

    When residents went to the city to try to secure funds to rebuild, they found themselves held up by the bureaucracy of the system. They were told that it would be years before any money might come their way. The city wanted to relocate the residents rather than rebuild.

    To fight this, community members met weekly to maintain tenancy. This group effort fed into a shared cause that they all supported. They organized regular community gatherings, closing off streets so that children could play games there. A community center for children's afterschool programs was also started. Strong efforts like these fostered a sense of positive energy that helped to galvanize community action.

    According to the film, the newest threat to the South Bronx, and many other minority communities around the country, comes in the form of gentrification. New luxury buildings are being constructed daily. This threatens to displace low-income residents who have been there for decades. While some affordable housing units will be included as a part of these projects, it will drive up prices to the point that most will be forced to leave.

    Hetty Fox advocated the use of what she called "block defense." Fox uses this to mean taking "responsibility for any misbehavior that is going on within your block that [is] deemed a threat to anything on your block." This means staying vigilant, engaging with your neighbors, and creating a shared vision. It also requires knowing how the official system works. People using this strategy need to occupy their space so that their presence is well established.

    Today, some communities are working to become owners of their property. By becoming direct owners, they no longer have to fear eviction by their landlords or unwanted development. To make these steps, they have to forge alliances with the local government and investors. Banding together and forming community coalitions makes residents more powerful in their own communities.

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