For the past 20 years, Heidi Neumark has been the pastor of the Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the South Bronx, a bilingual congregation of Hispanics and African Americans. She is also a founding member of South Bronx Churches, an ecumenical community organizing group that has trained local leaders, built hundreds of low-cost homes, and established a top-ranked public high school. She is also the founder of Transfiguration Community Life Center, Inc., an organization providing after-school and job-training programs for youth, HIV, and domestic violence education and support, among other services. Over the course of her ministry, she has kept a diary, called, "An inner life in the inner city." She has now published her story and reflections in a book, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx (Beacon Press).
You describe South Bronx as a ground zero of urban blight. I didn't realize the degree to which it was due to poor urban planning.
A lot of people have this idea that the Bronx is a place of all these problems. But a lot of it had to do with urban planning that was very destructive. Robert Moses was a New York state and city official who did a lot of public works in the city. One of the things he did was build the Cross Bronx Expressway. And in order to build it, there were 60,000 families that were displaced. It went through an area that was filled with homes and businesses that were all in good condition, and they were just ripped out.
At the same time that was going on, he wanted to build some new housing in an area of Manhattan where there were poor residents, and they were moved out in what he called a "slum clearance project." They were moved into the South Bronx. So as housing was being destroyed, ...1
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