It is exciting that the Universal Hip-Hop Museum will finally become a reality for the Bronx.
The museum is a culmination of the many characteristics that make up our borough, and an excellent example of how well-planned initiatives can encourage economic development, and include community engagement and input.
The founders have demonstrated a commitment to making the museum an anchor institution, promoting opportunities for creativity, and cultivating the vigorous artistic talent of the Bronx.
The museum — a component of the Bronx Point development project — is an example of the type of inclusive planning that our borough needs to replace the dark corridors, hunks of brick, and imposing obstructions that resulted from misguided planning of the past, and proved hindrances to inclusive economic development.
It also is an example of how wise investments that allow free enterprise to experiment, build new products, and collaborate will pay back private and public sector capital through generated economic growth.
The locally innovative project recently broke ground after years of planning, engaging local stakeholders, and raising capital. The project has an entrepreneurial initiator — Bronx native Rocky Bucano — who envisioned the museum, worked hard to find the right location, and cultivated collaborations with private, public and non-profit sectors.
Co-founder and fellow Bronxite Kurtis Blow — the first solo rapper to be signed to a major label in 1979 — and Nana Ashhurst, the first and only woman president of Def Jam Recordings, are heading up the executive team that will direct the museum when it opens in 2023.
The Bronx Point development is located at 575 Exterior St., near the Harlem River, and is not far from hip-hop’s 1973 birthplace at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. However, the design that includes the museum, 542 units of affordable housing, commercial opportunities and community spaces, will differ significantly from the 199,919-square-foot structure in Morris Heights, completed in 1967.
It also will have educational spaces for youth programs run by CityScience and BronxWorks, shoreline access on the river, and an outdoor plaza along Exterior Street connecting it to adjacent commercial corridors.
The Bronx always has been a hotbed of artistic originality and innovation in music, art and dance, and hip-hop always has been at the fore of addressing social issues. In an effort to avoid the pernicious consequences of top-down planning of the past, partners involved have worked with local tenant associations, neighborhood organizations and community boards.
They wisely retained architect Mike Ford to be the design director for the museum. An accomplished architect, Ford also is an innovative urban planner who uses unique instructional techniques — including hip-hop — to teach architecture and urban design. For years, Ford has propagated his theory that many problems of poor communities, often reflected in hip-hop lyrics, can be addressed through architecture and inclusive planning.
Besides being a manifestation of our unique characteristics and attributes, it also has the potential to be a catalyst for economic opportunities and development. The museum’s inclusion in Bronx Point could have a transformational impact on the trajectory and type of growth in the years ahead.
Prominent urbanist Richard Florida asserts a verifiable connection between artistic culture, vibrant art, music scenes, and places that incubate innovation and economic growth. According to Florida, in “The Rise of the Creative Class,” it is no coincidence that superstar cities like San Francisco, London, Paris and New York reared alternative artistic movements that subsequently accompanied incredible inventions in technology, finance and business.
Florida’s research suggests that artistic and cultural creativity act alongside other industries to power economic development.
Although New York City’s prosperity over the last 20 years was not equitable, the Bronx is a cradle of artistic ingenuity. It could potentially be an incubator of a new wave of locally concentrated economic growth.
Growth and innovation lead to more opportunities, more creativity, more advances, and ultimately improve people’s lives.
Meanwhile, opportunities to explore creative ideas and pursue dreams embolden entrepreneurial aspirations and the drive to compete in the market.
According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, innovative cities experiencing above-average economic growth are far more likely to have children end up in higher-income categories than their parents.
Given Michael Ford’s involvement, the inclusivity of the project’s planning and the deliberate intent to cultivate the Bronx’s unique human capital, Bronx Point and the Universal Hip-Hop Museum exemplify a new way for traditional planners to approach urban livelihoods that kindle organic economic development.
Growing up in the 1980s during the pinnacle of hip-hop’s evolution — and a Kurtis Blow fan since I was 10 years old — I will try to be first in line to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop when it finally opens in 2023.
In the meantime, it is promising that the museum’s significance to the Bronx goes well beyond providing a nice local place to visit, and a few hours of fun.