South Bronx Rising by Jill Jonnes

South Bronx Rising

The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City

New updated third edition

South Bronx Rising

The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City

New Updated Third Edition

Thirty-five years after this landmark of urban history first captured the rise, fall, and rebirth of a once-thriving New York City borough, Jill Jonnes returns in this updated third edition to further chronicle the ongoing revival of the South Bronx, an area that remains America’s poorest urban congressional district. The Bronx would also be America’s 7th-largest city were it not part of New York City. In this new edition, we now read the entire sweep of Bronx history from the Indians and the Dutch up through the COVID-19 pandemic, and meet the current generation of activists transforming their communities with the arts and greening, while engaging in the ongoing struggle against longtime racism, oppression and the more recent perils of gentrification.




OCTOBER 23 – Bronx Documentary Center, South Bronx Rising, 3rd Edition Book Launch

Bronx Documentary Center Sunday, October 23, 2022, 6–9 pm Join the BDC for a book launch with author Jill Jonnes, as she presents the 3rd edition of South Bronx Rising. Jonnes will be accompanied by writer Nilka Martell as they discuss the book’s publication and the...

OCTOBER 24 – Book Talk at Bronx Library Center

Bronx Library Center Monday, October 24, 2022, 5–6 pm Book talk on the updated new 3rd edition of South Bronx Rising with author Jill Jonnes and Bronx activist Nilka Martell, who wrote the new forward. Thirty-five years after this landmark of urban history first...

OCTOBER 25 – Book Event at The Point

The Point Community Development Corporation Tuesday, October 25, 2022, 5–7 pm Book event with Q&A on the updated new 3rd edition of South Bronx Rising with author Jill Jonnes and Bronx activist Nilka Martell, who wrote the new forward. Thirty-five years after this...

OCTOBER 26 – Book Event at Fordham University

Fordham University, Rose Hill Campus, McShane Campus Center, Room 311 Wednesday, October 26, 2022, 3:30–5:30 pm Book event celebrating updated new 3rd edition of South Bronx Rising with author Jill Jonnes and Bronx activist Nilka Martell, who wrote the new forward. Q...

OCTOBER 27 – Book Event at Hostos Community College

Hostos Community College, Savoy Multi-Purpose Room Thursday, October 27, 2022, 2–3:30 pm Join us for a Q&A on the updated new 3rd edition of South Bronx Rising with author Jill Jonnes and Bronx activist Nilka Martell, who wrote the new forward. All entering Hostos...

OCTOBER 27 – Book Event at Huntington Free Library

Huntington Free Library Thursday, October 27, 2022, 7–9 pm Book talk on the updated new 3rd edition of South Bronx Rising with author Jill Jonnes and Bronx activist Nilka Martell, who wrote the new forward. Q & A format. Will sell and sign books. Huntington Free...

Cover Gallery

We're Still Here, 1986 cover image.

We're Still Here

First Edition, 1986

South Bronx Rising, Second Edition, 2002 cover image.

South Bronx Rising

Second Edition, 2002

South Bronx Rising, Third Edition, 2022 cover image.

South Bronx Rising

Third Edition, 2022

Third Edition

“This update, chronicling the past two decades of struggle and defiant hope, provides an essential addition to a seminal work.”

Eileen Markey

Assistant Professor of Journalism, Lehman College of the City University of New York

“This timely update on how we got here tells the story of the unsung heroes, the Bronx residents and activists who continue to defend and protect this corner of New York City and the world they call home.”

Ed García Conde

Founder and Editor of Welcome2TheBronx

“Jill Jonnes gives flesh and bone to ‘gentrification.’… This is an indispensable street-level narrative.”

DW Gibson

Author, The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century

Second Edition

“The definitive account… Jill Jonnes tells us how the epidemic was contained and the Bronx was in large measure rebuilt.”

Nathan Glazer

co-author of The Lonely Crowd and Beyond the Melting Pot

“Every place needs a chronicler, and Jill Jonnes is the chronicler par excellence of the South Bronx.”

Alexander Von Hoffman

Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University

“[A] superb recounting of what happened in what was once the most infamous area of New York City.”
Edward L. Koch

Former Mayor of New York City

From the Author

I have had the great good fortune to tell the story of the South Bronx at three stages of its recent history. When working in the early 1980s on what turned out to be the first edition of this book, few could imagine how this vast landscape of burned-out urban ruins could ever be fully revived — such was the scale of destruction. While the physical cityscape was pretty grim, the Bronx activists hanging on during those  years were a wonderful and exceptional group — lively, smart, savvy, tough, and absolutely determined to defend and then rebuild their communities.

After the first edition came out in 1986, I would not see the South Bronx again for fourteen years. It was a long time, but I had moved away from New York and was busy with subsequent books and projects. In those intervening years — contrary to all the nay-sayers — the South Bronx had roared back to life.

When I returned in 2000 to report for an updated 2nd edition, the size and scope of the renaissance was truly difficult to absorb. The Bronx is a vast place, something that is easy to forget when you’ve been away. But where once woebegone, half-ruined apartment houses and vacant wastelands had blighted mile after mile, gritty normalcy had returned. It had taken well over a billion dollars, money available thanks to Mayor Edward I. Koch and the tremendous work and devotion of local, city, and national activists. This resurrection was the story told in my 2nd updated edition, published in 2002. Renovated apartment houses and thousands of new two- and three-family row houses had transformed the streets, as had the colorful playgrounds, community gardens, and public schools. It was a thrilling, amazing, and inspiring.

Fast forward to 2017, when I returned again to the Bronx after a reader of that 2nd edition sent an email proposing a 3rd edition: because “there is so much new material and incredible progress.” Fordham University Press was enthused and I was more than happy to return for another installment about this always (to me) special and fascinating place.

It was wonderful once again to see the power of determined grass roots activists and the explosion of cultural institutions and activities nurturing the hearts and minds and bodies of the 21st century Bronx. A lot had happened: the Children’s Museum, the (soon-to-be) Hip-Hop Museum, art and photo galleries, music and book festivals and workshops, theater, dance, and video, new gathering places and shopping and breweries and markets — some virtual. Environmental justice had some major wins: Decades of grassroots work and major government money had finally revealed the long-hidden delights of the Bronx River, now to be enjoyed with new greenways, inventive riverside parks, and old-fashioned water fun. Tens of thousands of new street trees cast shade and green, while smaller parks and miles of bike lanes beckoned. Is it enough? Not nearly, but these are steps to letting these dense urban communities access nature and be outdoors.

Nor has the building stopped. Instead, in the past decade it has ramped up with a new set of players: big outside developers (sometimes in partnership with longtime local non-profits) building mega-projects — many along the Harlem waterfront on former industrial sites, featuring gleaming skyscrapers with planned commercial and retail space, gyms, grocery stores, daycare, and riverside parks and public greenspaces. Established Bronx organizations suddenly found powerful outsiders shaping their communities or creating new ones. Displacement and gentrification emerged as very real fears, spurring new and longtime activists to action – political and legislative.

On March 11, 2020, I was scheduled to make my last reporting trip to the Bronx. But COVID-19 had other plans for all of us. As I canceled my interviews, the whole of New York unimaginably began shutting down. Soon enough, we learned that Bronxites would be among those who paid the highest price in illness, death, and financial and educational loss. I followed the catastrophe of COVID in the Bronx as best I could, the heroism of its essential workers, as well as the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the nation’s reckoning with its poor treatment of its working-class and poor, so highlighted as the pandemic dragged on and on. I returned on two occasions to report all this.

This third edition thus includes all the original material of the first two editions, plus  two new additional chapters: the first still largely focuses — as did the first and second editions — on three particular sections of the Bronx and the activists and residents who strive to make their communities a better place. This new edition also includes an additional unanticipated chapter, the COVID Afterward. Here I aim to convey the calamity of COVID in the borough, and the amazing spirit of Bronxites faced with an unprecedented pandemic and entirely new kinds of struggles. But also there arose the possibility for meaningful change for the poor and people of color that the on-going pandemic reckonings may have made possible. Only time will fully tell. Until then, the story of rise, fall, and resurrection of the South Bronx remains an inspiring testament to the enduring power of grassroots activism.


More from Jill Jonnes

Urban Forests by Jill Jonnes

Urban Forests

A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape

Available Online and at Booksellers Everywhere