Last week, oblivious real estate developers Somerset Partners and Chetrit Group threw a celebrity-filled “Bronx is Burning”-themed party called “Macabre Suite” in a warehouse in the South Bronx. The party – which included big names like Gigi Hadid, Naomi Campbell, Baz Luhrmann, Carmelo Anthony, and Kendall Jenner as guests – was part of an ambitious attempt to rebrand the Port Morris neighborhood into the Piano District, a “Williamsburg meets Dumbo” luxury waterfront development.
Our eyes were already rolling deeply into the back of our heads at this news, but then it got worse. According to Gothamist (and many many Instagram posts tagged with #bronxisburning), the warehouse was decorated with burning garbage cans and bullet-riddled cars, a clear allusion to the borough’s darker days in the 70s, when seven different census tracts in The Bronx lost more than 97% of their buildings to fire and abandonment. So basically they thought it was cute to bring a bunch of wealthy white people to a party decorated to mimic the poverty and crime.
In addition to the party, Somerset Partners and The Chetrit Group have been promoting their Harlem River-adjacent luxury buildings with a billboard, which boasts “world-class dining, fashion, art + architecture,” along with their plans to try to rename the area “The Piano District”.
“We’re developing about 2,000 apartments along the waterfront in the South Bronx,” Keith Rubenstein of Somerset Partners told Women’s Wear Daily. “Tonight is an amazing opportunity to introduce a whole new world to the South Bronx, and celebrate its heritage.”
Except, it’s really a way to erase the culture and identities of the people who already live there. Bronx residents have been using social media to speak out against the developers who are trying to gentrify the borough with a #WhatPianoDistrict hashtag campaign created by Bronx artist Karen Pedrosa.