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From Graffiti to Celebrity, The Bronx's Struggle With Identity

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In an eloquent think piece, New York magazine's Benjamin Wallace-Wells mulls the identity of his native borough: the Bronx. His argument is that, in contrast to, say, Queens' ethnic diversity and Brooklyn's trend-tastic reputations, the last borough to get switched away from Manhattan's 212 area code hasn't quite figured out what it is yet, or what it wants to be.

Of all the places in Manhattan's general orbit, the Bronx is (and this is its enduring strangeness) both the poorest and the least alienated. That every other place is more distinguishable is true in part because every other place has taken greater pains to contrast itself with Manhattan. More than contested, impending demolitions, more than golf courses courtesy of The Donald, more than a new-development hotbed, The Bronx is still establishing itself as a place that carries more gravitas than simply being where celebrities first lived while they rose to fame because of its proximity to Manhattan and their own drive (e.g. J. Lo, graffiti artists, other musicians).

Everyone can agree that the general situation north of the Harlem River has improved since the Dinkins administration, that the Bronx is no longer simply a hellhole, but the hellhole has been replaced by a semiotic emptiness. Wallace-Wells describes recent events that have put the Bronx in the spotlight, from Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown episode to Derek Jete's Gatorade commercial to Baz Luhrmann's planned series for Netflix about hip-hop's roots there in the 1970s.

It has to do with the Bronx's comfort in its dependent status, its namelessness, and with its stubborn culture of aspiration. The whole piece is worth a read; even though it comes to no ironclad conclusions, it takes very symbolic steps towards tackling a big issue.
· What Is the Bronx, Anyway? [NY Mag]
· Mapping the Crucial Developments That Will Reshape the Bronx [Curbed]
· All Bronx coverage [Curbed]