Up and Out of New York’s Projects like Sotomayor

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WHEN Sonia Sotomayor first set foot in the Bronxdale Houses along Bruckner Boulevard in 1957, they encapsulated New York’s promise. The towers beckoned to the working class as a coveted antidote to some of the city’s unlivable residential spaces and, later on, its unfathomable rents. These were not the projects of idle, stinky elevators, of gang-controlled stairwells where drug deals go down. In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when most of the city’s public housing was built, a sense of pride and community permeated well-kept corridors, apartments and grounds. Far from dangerous, the projects were viewed as nurturing.

There are more than 400,000 residents in the New York City Housing Authority’s 2,611 buildings at any given time. Judge Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, is just one of more than 100 marquee names on a city list of alumni.

Many are athletes or entertainers. Jay-Z, the rapper, grew up in the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn. Wesley Snipes, the actor, in the Monroe Houses in the Bronx. Marc Anthony, the salsa singer, in the Metro North Houses in East Harlem. Mike Tyson and Hector Camacho, the boxers, and a deep bench of basketball players all came up through the projects.

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