If there are those who have yet to figure this out, I will start by saying, I love History. My wife had to institute a rule in the house that if she says “veto” that means I must change the television channel off History or PBS.

If there are those who have yet to figure this out, I will start by saying, I love History. My wife had to institute a rule in the house that if she says “veto” that means I must change the television channel off History or PBS. Last night however the stars aligned for me as she was tired from a weekend trip and retired early, thus leaving me the choice to watch anything. I am glad this happened as I found a short documentary that looked at the Bronx in New York during the 1970’s titled, Decade of Fire.

It would be impossible to cover the entirety of what happened during that decade in this article. So many actions motivated by political strategy, policy, greed, and blatant race issues with gentrification were to blame for what happened during that decade.

Going back to the 1950’s and 60’s, many middle-class white families were moving out of the city into the suburbs. The cities began to see decline so they in turn began trying to bring renewal to their areas. This usually incorporated pushing the poor and impoverished out to allow them to attract a higher class of tenants. By the 1970’s some 150,000 were pushed from Manhattan to the South Bronx.

With policies going back to FDR and the National Housing act of 1934, neighborhoods with a population of 5-10% Black or Puerto Rican were defined as a declining neighborhood. Housing agencies, Insurance Agencies, and Banks literally produced maps with red lines around these areas, warning them that the investment in these areas were risky.

There were several causes for these fires, and not all arson related. With buildings that had been built prior to the war most of the electrical systems were old. The large influx due to the gentrification put an overload on these systems causing fires. However, many fires were arson, in fact at the peak of the decline in 1976 there were 13,752 fires in New York determined to be caused from arson. (in comparison in 2013 there were 1,800)

Seeing a better payoff on their investments, landlords that had insurance would hire neighborhood children to set fires in buildings they owned. At one point in the South Bronx they were averaging 40 fires a day in these housing apartments. Families would sleep with their shoes on and bags packed as fire was that common and by the closing of the decade nearly 80% of all housing had burnt in the South Bronx.

Where was the Fire Department? The city commissioned a report named the Rand Report; this report along with actions put in place by the City Housing Director Roger Starr basically cut city services. It was stated that if arson was the main cause of these fires why should the city step in a stop them, and many services including fire were drastically cut. For example, in Staten Island they staffed an engine company for every 17,000 residents whereby the late 1970’s the Bronx had an engine company for every 44,000.

For history buffs this is a good watch.