This isn’t really a neighborhood people visit.
West Farms is just a handful of blocks tucked up inside the South Bronx; housing projects and a couple churches, mostly. A scruffy supermarket, a nondescript “childrens’ center” in a bland brick building. Wikipedia’s article about the neighborhood has an entire section devoted to its “social problems”, such as a high poverty rate, high crime, and a high incarceration rate. For most New Yorkers, the only parts of West Farms they see are three blocks on Boston Avenue which they pass through at a quick march if they’ve taken the 5 train to get to the Bronx Zoo.
That’s exactly why I was there today. But it was a small enough neighborhood that I detoured a bit, ignoring what Wikipedia said about the “social problems”. And to be honest, they were pretty easy to ignore. Not that there’s much else to West Farms other than “the neighborhood you walk through to get to the Zoo”, honestly; but it’s also not a hotbed of danger either. It’s just people, living their lives. Sitting outside on a stoop and listening to the football game. Mothers pushing little kids in toy cars. Middle-aged men getting off their shift at work saying hello to their neighbors. Fathers scolding kids for whining about wanting a toy from the cheap five-and-dime. A cluster of men sitting on lawn chairs and trying to sell day-old flowers arranged into bouquets. Three teenagers walking together to the local deli, one of them sporting a glorious afro in a five-inch nimbus around his head. Two women perched on the bridge overlooking the Bronx River, watching the water and talking about an upcoming picnic.
And there’s a lot of green. The neighborhood is small enough that everyone could walk up to Bronx Park, home to both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanic Garden. But I also saw a small community garden tucked away beside a playground, an enormous dreamcatcher bobbing in a tree at its center. And just before the Bronx Zoo was the Bronx River Park, two blocks of green and benches along one bank of the Bronx River. I wandered to the promenade overlooking the water, startling two turtles into diving off a log and swimming away. Just at the park’s north edge, a waterfall drowned out any of the traffic noise around me. And every one of the windows in every one of the apartment buildings was filled with plants, most of them huge tropical-leafed things.
This isn’t a neighborhood people visit, but it’s a place people live, and that bit of Wikipedia’s article isn’t all there is to it.