The Cross Bronx Expressway and the Ruination of the Bronx

The Cross Bronx Expressway is known as one of the most congested roadways in all of the U.S. Some might not know, however, of the displacement and destruction it created. Study into the expressway raises more questions about how great of an impact it has had on the social and economic problems in the Bronx leading up to today (Ploschnitzki 2017).

When Robert Moses decided to build the Cross Bronx Expressway in the late ‘40s, he was trying to erase and deny the cultural significance and vibrancy of areas such as East Tremont that were to be demolished. The documentary series New York: A Documentary Film explores the disconnect between the actuality of Bronx neighborhoods and how Moses presented them. East Tremont, for instance, was a low-income area but was self-sustaining both culturally and materially (Burns 2001). Moses, however, presented the area as if little were going on and that he would have little trouble displacing residents (Burns 2001). Upon receiving criticism and protest from those in threat of displacement, Moses says in an interview, “New York has too many critics, we ought to get rid of some of them” (Burns 2001).

Quite literally, Moses got rid of his critics by displacing more than 1,500 families to build the 7-mile expressway (Sedensky 2001). The massive trench created during construction (Figure 1) is the result of the destruction of Bronx homes. Though Moses could have built along another route that would have displaced far fewer residents and cost much less money (Ploschnitzki 2017), his massive project was a showing of power in the face of displaced residents. The ruination of these homes created immense grief for displaced residents, who could now do nothing to stop Robert Moses.

Anthropologists and critics argue about how much affect the expressway had on the Bronx’s turmoil in the 1970s and ‘80’s, but it is significant to consider. The expressway acts as a boundary that solidifies the cultural and economic differences of the north and south Bronx. As a direct result of the expressway, those that could move out did, while living conditions were worsened and drugs and violence rose in the South Bronx. This likely accelerated the economic turmoil known as the burning of the Bronx (Figure 2), whereby landlords burned down South Bronx apartments for profit and left much of the Bronx in ruin. Vivian Vázquez, who grew up in South Bronx in the ‘70s, explains that “What people learn on the outside is that the people in the Bronx burnt it; that it was us who destroyed our community” (Ricciulli 2019). In this instance, corrupt politics hide from public blame, which can be framed on the community itself.

Study into the South Bronx shows a history of neglect of immigrant, Jewish, and African American residents. The Bronx is also an example of how immense political power (in the form of Robert Moses and otherwise) can use ruination to disenfranchise low-income residents.


Ploschnitzki, Patrick

    2017   Robert Moses, the Construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway and its impact on the    Bronx. University of Arizona. December 11, 2017.

   Accessed November 9, 2019.

Burns, Ric

    2001   New York: A Documentary Film. “The City and the World.” PBS. October 1, 2001.

Accessed November 10, 2019

Ricciulli, Valeria

2019   In the 1970s the Bronx was burning, but some residents were rebuilding. Curbed. May 3, 2019.

Accessed November 10, 2019.

Sedensky, Matt

2001   Decades Later, Doing the Cross Bronx Expressway Right. The New York TImes. October 7, 2001.

Accessed November 10, 2019.


Figure 1

Figure 2 

Further Reading

Fires in the Bronx and what caused them:

Why The Bronx Really Burned

A deeper dive into the South Bronx by the New York Times: 

Costs and benefits of the Expressway:

The Cross-Bronx Expressway: was it worth it?

2 thoughts on “The Cross Bronx Expressway and the Ruination of the Bronx

  1. Do you think NYC owes the people who were impacted by the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway restorations? If so, what form do you think these restorations should take?

  2. While monetary reparations for the individuals impacted by the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway sounds just, I would argue that this is unlikely to happen. Displacement and eviction for development projects such as the Cross-Bronx were very common, particularly under the reign of Robert Moses. Also, beyond the 60,000 individuals who were displaced by the expressway (Ryan 2018), many other people were negatively impacted in a number of ways. The city could maybe give money to tenants who were displaced by the construction of the Cross-Bronx, but this might be complicated to prove (do people still have their utility bills from 1948?). Besides, as construction happened in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, many people who lived there may now be deceased.

    However, I do believe that New York City is obligated to improve issues in the Bronx, many of which were caused by reckless projects such as the Cross-Bronx Expressway. One direct consequence of the expressway is that Bronx communities were literally split apart (Ryan 2018). This stifled interaction among the new separated sides of the roadway, which were once connected communities. A way to help remedy this is for the city to build more pedestrian walkways across the expressway. I would recommend the construction of perhaps less extravagant versions of Manhattan’s High Line. These combinations of parks and walkways would add green space and help to reconnect Bronx communities. This is just one example of many ways in which New York City can help (at least in part) solve issues that arose from the expressway.


    Ryan, Allyson
    2018 The Legacy of Robert Moses. Fordham Political Review. December 1, 2018.
    Accessed December 8, 2019.

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