Marshall Berman at Dissent:
I would like to begin with a little time travel: first, back to the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s—and particularly the South Bronx of the 1970s; then, back to the Bible, back to the sixth century BCE, back to the first destruction of Jerusalem, and the start of its renewal; then a final leap into a twenty-first-century Manhattan that is full of echoes of both. I’m not going to talk now about the horrors of 9/11, or of Boston, or about the vulnerability of New York Harbor. I pay homage to the people of those places. But I’m going to focus on a distinctive landscape of ruins, an amazing, dreadful landscape that came to define the South Bronx, and for many people to define New York, for the last decades of the twentieth century. Those ruins were one of New York’s great negatives. I want to try to do what Hegel says: look the negative in the face.
The ruin was a process. It began in the late 1950s and 1960s, when the center of the Bronx was blasted and bulldozed to build the Cross Bronx Expressway. But the ruin grew far beyond anything anyone could imagine. In the 1970s there were waves of fire; in a decade the Bronx lost more than 300,000 people. Life stabilized only at the century’s end. The Bronx is still New York’s poorest borough, but its vast empty spaces are full of people again. Its population has risen, close to its 1950 peak. We will focus on the years when it was down. I invented a word for this process: URBICIDE, the murder of a city. Did I really invent it? Once you said it, it seemed obvious enough. But how do people in a murdered city live?