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Op-Ed | New York City must preserve, protect and promote our neighborhoods

Aerial photos of the Bronx New York
Photo via Getty Images

In the Belmont section of The Bronx, especially along bustling Arthur Avenue, going out to dinner is an art form, a sport, a passion. There are roughly 60 restaurants, skewing Italian and Albanian. And if that’s not enough, there are dozens of specialty stores selling fresh food and imports from Europe. Truly, it is a food lover’s paradise.

Have you tried the Vitello con Prosciutto Affumicatto at Zero Otto Nove? Spectacular.

Just a few blocks away on Fordham Road, there are only three restaurants, two of them chains. Instead, this is a shopper’s paradise. Fordham Road is all about the retail – for jewelry at Kings & Queens Jewelry, outerwear at Urban Classic, ladies’ attire at Danice, unique sneakers at City Styles NY, to name a few. The prices are the best in town and the stores are as diverse as the city itself.

Fordham Road curves up and away from the Harlem River and so too does its Select Bus Service (SBS) Bus Lane. The sidewalks are wide, the storefronts crammed together. Arthur Avenue runs straight and true, the sidewalks narrower.

For the clothing stores on Fordham Road, sidewalk loading zones are crucial especially as new businesses pursue our neighborhood and the SBS lane restricts access for deliveries. On Arthur Avenue, many of the restaurants are deep enough that they can be loaded from the side streets in the back. The problem there is parking – subways are a distant thought; folks drive here to eat and pick up their gallon tins of olive oil or enjoy incredible cannoli’s.

These two neighborhoods share a border, but little else, beyond the fact that they are filled with hardworking New York business owners and the people who work for them, and that they attract customers far and wide. And both these neighborhoods have BIDs – Business Improvement Districts, who advocate for, battle for, console and sometimes gently chastise their striving members.

As the chairpersons of these two BIDS – Belmont and Fordham Road – our priorities are different, but our mission is the same—to preserve, protect and promote our neighborhoods. And so, we’ve come together in this election year to share with the mayoral candidates, a message that must be taken to heart.

New York is a city of unique neighborhoods. It’s what makes our city so special, a true melting pot of communities. However, in recent years, City Hall has not listened to our needs. It has treated the city as a monolith of cookie-cutter street corners where all the needs are the same. Some neighborhoods want Citi Bike stands and bike lanes? Fine. Let’s jam them everywhere. Some neighborhoods with heavy commercial corridors have a proliferation of unauthorized vendors clogging up our sidewalks and calls for enforcement fall on deaf ears simply because there is no active enforcement citywide. And that’s only one example for each neighborhood.

The city has now proposed 10,000 street cleaners to supplement the sanitation department we all pay for with our taxes. The BIDs should be the conduit for that effort.

Future Mayors of the City – here us now: you must walk these streets, buy in these stores, eat in these restaurants and embrace the city’s different flavors and atmospheres. And make the BIDs the resources we were meant to be.

We are not here to be a thorn in your sides. We can be the crucial connective tissue between your policies and the people whose lives they affect the most, every day New Yorkers. We are here to be that voice, to support and complement city efforts to keep our neighborhoods clean, safe and thriving. We are also here to offer new, innovative ideas to make our neighborhoods and city even stronger.

Our ask is simple for when the winner assumes office on day one: listen to us, hear us and work with us.

Alonso and Madonia are executive director and chairman of the Fordham Road and Belmont Business Improvement Districts, respectively.

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