The Road to Ruin: Bronx Frontier and the Harvest of Rubble

April 2, 2021

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What’s in a road? This micro-exhibition considers the road as an object in its own right, mining the archive to ask what happens when it cracks and corrodes. The roads in question lined the South Bronx in the 1970s, during an era when governmental neglect and landlord abandonment left its physical infrastructure in a state of ruin. As the pavement breached, its dense layers of asphalt and concrete touched the air for the first time in decades, and the resulting debris collected in raw mounds pockmarking the Bronx.

In the wreckage, some spied opportunity. “One material in abundant supply in the South Bronx is rubble,” the Ford Foundation reported in 1980, championing an initiative to monetize the remains of abandoned buildings and byways. This micro-exhibition turns a spotlight on the forgotten organization, Bronx Frontier, which collected rubble from torched buildings and dilapidated roads and turned it into compost for gardens. The group’s call to “Green the Bronx” was controversial, evoking “planned shrinkage” policies that cut essential services in neighborhoods of color experiencing population loss. Featuring photographs and organizational ephemera, this exhibition offers an archival meditation on the politics of race in the nascent environmental movement. Visit the exhibition here.


Lee Friedlander Papers, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Peter E. Palmquist Women in Photography International Archive, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

James Weldon Johnson Collection of African American Arts and Lettersthe Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library 

Edward J. Logue Papers, Yale Manuscripts and Archives


Further Reading

Kim Phillips-Fein, Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics

Peter L’Official, Urban Legends: The South Bronx in Representation and Ruin

Evelyn Gonzales, The Bronx

Francesca Russello Ammon, Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape

Julie Sze, Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice​ 

Carolyn McLaughlin, South Bronx Battles: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Renewal 

Bench Ansfield, “The Broken Windows of the Bronx: Putting the Theory in Its Place,” American Quarterly 

Lana Povitch, Stirrings: How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice


Cover Image: Ray Mortenson, “2 May 1983,” from the Lee Friedlander Papers, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library