In the late 1980s, Bruckner Boulevard was a forbidding stretch of asphalt strung with disused factories, dim tattoo parlors and fast-food depots. The thoroughfare, blisteringly sketched by Tom Wolfe in his satirical novel "The Bonfire of the Vanities," was part of the wasteland that was the South Bronx — "entire blocks of the city," as he wrote, "without a building left standing."
Flash-forward three decades, and this once-shattered swath of New York's northernmost borough has undergone an image transplant. Neighborhoods like Mott Haven, Port Morris and Melrose are still poor and plagued by various urban ills. But no mistake: The South Bronx, the area that gave rise to hip-hop, is being celebrated — some would say appropriated — by a clutch of entrepreneurs, real estate developers and, inevitably, the fashion tribes.
Earlier this year, Gucci, wise to the borough's rich cultural heritage, cast its prefall 2017 ad campaign with black models vamping and break dancing at a 1970s-style "Soul Train" party.
"We've felt a little like outcasts," said Henry Obispo, an entrepreneur who recently opened a cold-pressed juice bar and green rooftop for yoga and meditation.
That has changed. Mr. Obispo ascribes the area's newfound self-respect in part to a spate of new building and speculation by outsiders — the South Bronx had the fastest rate of business growth in the borough from 2000 to 2011, according to the office of the state comptroller — a factor that has spurred locals to wrest back their community and reclaim it as a seat of urban cool.
Still, the prospect of gentrification rattles. Alarming to some is the seven-tower, $400 million residential and retail complex rising along the former industrial waterfront in the Port Morris section. Keith Rubenstein, a founder of the real estate investment company Somerset Partners, which is developing the property with the Chetrit Group, is predicting strong demand for some 1,300 units, mostly by young professionals in search of upscale amenities and sweeping waterfront views.