A child of the South Bronx born to Puerto Rican parents, 50-year-old Vivian Vazquez leads an archival-rich, personal investigation into how her once vibrant community, which she considered “the best place to grow up,” became a burned-out ruin.
Like many other neighborhoods that were decimated in the 1970s, the South Bronx before the fires was a haven; full of opportunity for new migrants and immigrants, economically viable, culturally vibrant, with some of the most diverse and integrated neighborhoods in the nation.
But by the end of the 1970s, miles of crowded neighborhoods across the South Bronx had burned down. Forty fires a night for ten years had destroyed 80% of the housing stock. Over half a million people fled for their lives. As Vivian searches to understand why, she unearths the historical foundations of the American ghetto.
Razing so-called slums in NYC, redlining integrated neighborhoods, suburbanization and white flight all set the stage for the burning. When financial crisis hit in the ’70s, City government looked to austerity measures, invoking philosophies of “benign neglect” and “planned shrinkage”: official policies to abandon poor neighborhoods of color.
As this painful history of discrimination and abandonment emerges, Vivian also uncovers a story of resilience and strength. As the world turned its back, the people of the Bronx rose up to save their community and laid the foundations for its rebirth.
DECADE OF FIRE arms audiences with accessible, moving insights exposing the underpinnings of race and class that have allowed planners, developers and government policies to carve up our cities, and continue these practices today. DECADE OF FIRE lifts up the voices of the people who lived through the fire, and offers us a roadmap for building the communities we want and truly deserve.