A shared vision: an op-ed by Keith Rubenstein

BY KEITH RUBENSTEIN

For decades, the story of the south Bronx has been one of strength and resilience.

Against all odds, residents of Mott Haven and Port Morris banded together to push for positive change that could bring jobs and justice to their neighborhoods. It is an incredible story, but it is far from over.

At Somerset Partners, we want to be part of that transition. It is time to build on the foundation laid by local leaders and help realize the long-standing goals this community has fought to achieve. Families in the south Bronx should not be fearful that their children will leave to seek opportunities elsewhere. Those opportunities should be available right here at home.

While we do have corporate objectives, our core values are not based on our bottom line. If that were our only motivation, we know we would fail. In everything we do in the south Bronx, the community must succeed as well.

That is our part in this story. It starts with an inclusive process. We are committed to engaging in an open dialogue and incorporating the voices and vision of local residents, community groups and elected officials. That engagement has already begun, and we look forward to continuing the discussion and receiving feedback to help shape our work.

As we build that dialogue, it is vital to acknowledge how our interests align with those of the community. That is why we are identifying key areas in which we can provide resources to help turn longtime advocacy into tangible, positive change.

As South Bronx Unite and other advocates have stated, this community still struggles with one of the city’s highest unemployment rates. We intend to be part of the solution to that problem. We are committed to local hiring and job training through our construction work and forthcoming retail tenants, which will create a path to the middle-class for thousands of hardworking residents who have not received equal opportunities in the past.

We also recognize the longstanding lack of health equity and environmental justice in the south Bronx. We want to begin tackling these problems by creating new green space and a public esplanade along the waterfront, while also working with advocates on smart planning principles that help to reduce the community’s high rate of asthma. We can make those broader changes with a collaborative effort that serves all of our interests.

Another key issue raised by local advocates has been a focus on empowering local artists, rather than silencing them. We could not agree more. We will be working with local artists and arts collectives on programming that gives them a real voice and reflects their ideas. These artists play a vital role in sustaining the unique culture and heritage of the south Bronx, and with their assistance we intend to create a cultural haven that will benefit the community for generations to come.

Development does not take place overnight — and neither will these efforts. They will take time, hard work, and close collaboration between our team and the local residents who have already committed so much of themselves to improving the south Bronx.

We understand that new changes bring new questions, and we want to hear them and provide answers. That is part of our responsibility, and we respect this community too much to ever back away from it.

The fact is, every step we take here is just another page in the story of the south Bronx. We can’t write it ourselves, because it didn’t start with us. It started with the resilience of those who put down roots and stayed, and who have struggled to build a vibrant and enriching community for their families.

We want to work with the community to build on that foundation and be a part of the effort to move the south Bronx forward in a positive way. We look forward to speaking with and working with anyone who shares those goals.

Rubenstein is a founder of Somerset Partners.

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