Arthur Avenue in the Bronx was rated one of the greatest streets in America in 2016. The area has endured for more than a century and continues to prove its resilience. It's survived the Spanish flu, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Sept. 11 attacks, and, currently, the coronavirus pandemic. Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres believes that the staying power of this community shows that the country can function well under pressure. "Arthur Avenue demonstrates that America works," he said. "People from every walk of life can coexist and show that those on the ground are more unified than our divisive politics."
RITCHIE TORRES: 2016, this neighborhood was rated as one of the greatest streets in America. Arthur Avenue has endured for more than a century. We have a whole host of businesses that have been owned by the same family for more than 100 years that have survived the Spanish flu, two World Wars, the Great Depression, 9/11, the Great Recession, and are now struggling with COVID-19.
So I'm here with Frank Franz, who is a son of Arthur Avenue. There is no one here who has a more encyclopedic knowledge of or passion for Arthur Avenue than Frank Franz. And we're right across the street from a mural, which is a tribute to the staying power of Arthur Avenue.
FRANK FRANZ: Well, since we're standing in front of this mural, this was the first mural that was commissioned by the local merchants, the Business Improvement District. As Ritchie said, we did it to celebrate the National Association of Architects naming Arthur Avenue one of the five great streets of America. This community is one of the economic engines of the Bronx, as a matter of fact. In the community alone, we generate I believe it's 1,471 full time jobs or part time, full time equivalent in an area of a few square blocks in what is the poorest congressional district in the United States.
RITCHIE TORRES: You know, it's a tough time, because the city is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. We're facing multibillion dollar deficits over the next few years. We have depression level unemployment. The unemployment rate could be as high as 25% of the South Bronx, which is comparable to the joblessness of the Great Depression. The city has had to make severe cuts to sanitation services, park maintenance, and so the visible signs of decline has a demoralizing effect on the community. And we desperately need an infusion of federal funding, emergency funding, for our state and local governments, which are on the front lines of providing public services.
FRANK FRANZ: If anything, I think Author Avenue typifies the old adage the more things change, the more they remain the same. So like every place in the world, things have changed here. But there's a certain neighborhood mentality, comfort, culture which still exists here. This is a real neighborhood.
There's not just people living in a place. It's a place where people look out for their neighbors, know their neighbors, discuss problems, find common interests, and work together. And it's always been that way, regardless of who's lived here.
And even though we're known as Little Italy, because of the abundance of Italian history and culture here, that's not all that's here in the community either. It's one of the centers in the country of the Albanian community. And as Ritchie said, we've had an influx of Mexican immigrants over the years who have made a real home here also. And like I say, things change, but it's always been a neighborhood where people respect each other and work together, so that hasn't changed at all.
RITCHIE TORRES: I think Arthur Avenue demonstrates that America works, is that people from every walk of life can coexist and that the reality on the ground is more unified than our politics, than our divisive politics would lead people to believe, that there's more coexistence than the caricature that we see play out every day in Washington DC.