Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Fires

The above photograph looks like a street in Belfast after the Provisional IRA started its car bombing campaign in 1971 or '72. The era is correct — 1970s — but instead of Belfast, it's the Bronx: another building burnt to the ground in one of what seemed like an decade-long epidemic of fires that killed over 2,000 people. 

Why this happened has been mulled over ever since, but there was no mistaking that "the Bronx is burning" (as Howard Cosell didn't say). 

And now, a new writer presents a controversial theory: "The Fires," by Bronx native Joe Flood, has a rather long subtitle which explains, or claims: "How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City — and Determined the Future of Cities."
The RAND Corporation had presented an alluring proposal to a city on the brink of economic collapse: Using RAND’S computer models, which had been successfully implemented in high-level military operations, the city could save millions of dollars by establishing more efficient public services.

Over the next decade — a time New York City firefighters would refer to as “The War Years” — a series of fires swept through the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Harlem, and Brooklyn, gutting whole neighborhoods, killing more that two thousand people and displacing hundreds of thousands. Conventional wisdom would blame arson, but these fires were the result of something altogether different: the intentional withdrawal of fire protection from the poorest neighborhoods — all based on RAND’s computer modeling systems.
Below, another grim shot of a building ablaze! Flood has stirred a still-simmering pot, for he has interviewed RAND people from the era, and his criticisms seem to have not been welcomed.

And finally, the book cover, in case any one wants to buy the book.

I've said it before: I love the Bronx, with all its sad history and surprising beauty; for all the energy that one feels on the busy streets of Manhattan, sometimes the streets of the Bronx are raw with an even more frenetic and animalistic, careless and carefree, spirit. As quickly as your heart is broken, a swelling hope comes... and cusses you and shoves you off the sidewalk.