“Decade of Fire” shows how the people of the Bronx saved their neighborhood

Amy Scott and Bennett Purser Nov 28, 2019
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Robert Foster and a woman moving beams on Kelly Street. Foster is the former the executive director of Banana Kelly, which rehabilitated South Bronx apartment buildings into affordable and livable housing. Courtesy Eric Wingate

“Decade of Fire” shows how the people of the Bronx saved their neighborhood

Amy Scott and Bennett Purser Nov 28, 2019
Robert Foster and a woman moving beams on Kelly Street. Foster is the former the executive director of Banana Kelly, which rehabilitated South Bronx apartment buildings into affordable and livable housing. Courtesy Eric Wingate
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Fires consumed New York City’s South Bronx throughout the 1970s. One year alone saw more than 4,000 fires set to the area’s apartment buildings, leveling entire city blocks and displacing countless families.

The neighborhood had been ruled by discriminatory housing policies for decades, affecting the mostly black and Puerto Rican tenants who called the Bronx their home. While some of the fires were the result of property neglect by landlords, many residents suspected arson. A new film, “Decade of Fire,” asks who caused these fires and explores the economic conditions that caused the neighborhood to burn. 

Firefighters in the South Bronx. (Joey Conzo)

Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, who produced and co-directed the film, is herself a child of the South Bronx. She spent hours collecting interviews with survivors and examining city records and insurance claims by landlords. In the end, she uncovered the political and financial forces that set the Bronx ablaze, and in the film tells the story of how its residents banded together to save their homes. She spoke with Marketplace’s Amy Scott about her work.

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.

Vázquez Irizarry, her dad and siblings on Leggett Avenue, 1968. (Carmen Rosado)

“Decade of Fire” is streaming now on PBS.org

Official trailer for “Decade of Fire.”

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