As an architect and a native of the Bronx, Donzell Crow, 27, views the borough through a lens that many of us do not. Bronx Narratives recently chopped it up with Crow about music, art, and his blueprint for a better Bronx.
What area of the Bronx are you from?
Wakefield, many people in New York are not familiar. Only people in Wakefield know about Wakefield.
What was it like growing up over there?
Growing up was everything, you saw a lot. Hip-hop was right down the street. Now Hip-hop is Manhattan, it’s L.A. You have to go far to get to it. Whereas growing up, you could go right to the Big Pun Mural and you see members of Terror Squad.
When you say you "saw a lot," what do you mean?
In every spectrum you saw a lot. Growing up in the 90s, it was a very different time in New York. [Mayor] Giuliani definitely cleaned up the streets. I went to church right on 238th and Nereid Ave. That’s where my entire world existed. I remember when the current Walgreens was the neighborhood deli. We knew them so well, I feel like we put so much money in that store. [chuckles]
Why did you decide to stay in the Bronx?
I’m not gonna lie, for a brief moment I thought of moving some place more convenient but there is always this sense of home here. Other boroughs have a stronger voice within their community. They are able to say "we need this,” and it gets done but the Bronx has a long way to go before we can make those requests. There is also a sense of giving back. Anyone who follows me on social media knows I always share new innovative ideas to help the Bronx serve people in my age group - young professionals in their mid-twenties. The Bronx is set up for small families. It’s not a place where one of my homeboys can come out and get a drink.
What way do you aim to serve the community?
Professionally I’m an architect but my hobbies include writing and singing. I operate under the moniker Donzell Crow as a singer. I work with an architectural firm; we present urban frameworks on how we can reinvent the borough to be its own. Living in the Bronx, it’s very hard to enjoy amenities within our Borough. We always have to go out and spend money elsewhere. We have to go to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and even sometimes outside of the city. The Mall at Bay Plaza is the first indoor mall that has ever been in the Bronx.
How did you get into architecture?
It was always something that I wanted to do; I was always into the Arts. To me it’s all about self expression.
Do you like the new developments that are here?
Yeah, [The Mall at Bay Plaza] is good economically. I know it took a lot of money to make it but now we have a place to go.
It’s funny, we were just talking about the new mall and one of the kids mentioned it’s not for us. They feel in the long run it’ll be for a different demographic. What’s your take on that?
You know this opens the door to the word everyone uses these days: Gentrification. I obviously hear a lot because I am able to experience these changes first hand. If there is hope for a new development in a specific community, a community that was there prior to gentrification, The Bronx is the best place for this. Mayor De Blasio issued an order of about 200,000 affordable housing units but unfortunately a lot of properties are being eaten up. Brooklyn is pretty much swallowed up. Manhattan is pretty much swallowed up and they are now moving into Queens. They are attempting to rezone areas in the South Bronx [3rd Ave, 149th street and the Grand Concourse] to make it more like the city. I am actually not opposed because I believe there are some ways gentrification benefits us but we also have to have something in place to protect the existing community. It’s a conversation that I have all the time with colleagues.
The mall gives money back to The Bronx and it gives people a place to go. You have to work with the system and use it to benefit the community. There can be more amenities but I understand a lot of politics come into play. Financially, the South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the U.S. It’s very easy to govern places like Manhattan because you have all these big players that are like “I’ll put this toward that if you let me get this,” whereas in the Bronx, we don't have those pulls.
If you could develop any area in the Bronx, what area would that be?
I definitely believe there are some gems in the Bronx that can turn into beautiful creations. For example, The Bronx River is an open space - there can be foot traffic, bike lanes, and vendors. There’s a golf court by the Whitestone Bridge [Ferry Point Park] but it's almost a slap in the face. Its right on the water, you have this amazing view of the Whitestone Bridge - why not make it a community? Why not stop building luxury apartments in places like Five Points, which is known for its art history. Buildings can easily be placed near the Whitestone Bridge and more industrial jobs can be created. The landscape is so flat and it’s literally right by the water. There’s so much opportunity there. We [The Bronx] just need more places for people to go.
How’d you get into music?
That was a typical "black child in the church" story. I knew I could hold a note and when I went to Howard [University], one of my friends was like “you should be on one of my songs,” and I sung a hook. I was like OK this kinda sounds nice. I guess it was some of that subconscious church vocal training and then year after year I honed my skills.
What kind of music do you write/sing?
I do mostly soul, R&B, and narrative music. For me, like art, music is what validates my self-expression. If I can’t express myself I’m a lifeless soul. My music mostly tells stories. It’s very atmospheric, ethereal, very narrative, very wordy.
Does music help you balance your work? I know architecture is very technical. With music, do you feel more free?
I think both can be conceptualized as free. Music is something that clicks, you hear the melody and then the words flow, it just all comes together. Architecture is sort of the same but just more pragmatic because people are living in that space. Its about the mind, body, and soul.
Going back to what you said about people from other boroughs having a voice in their community. I really think it goes back to us having a voice in the Bronx but there seems to be a lack of that. How can you get people to speak out about certain things going on in their community or become more aware about what’s going on in the Bronx?
A lot of this deals with trend, I think in a sense there are only a few types of people in the Bronx. I go to different types of places and I study the way people move. In Delaware, everybody picks up the paper. In the Bronx people don’t do that. If you hear about what’s going on it’s through word of mouth or one of your friends posts on Instagram.
It's a sense of home pride that starts within the community. A voice can be heard it just has to be cohesive
Even if it’s not a paper, which is the traditional way of sharing information, it could be a blog. That’s definitely needed so there can be one voice.
Do you see yourself living here for a long period of time?
I feel like I could never 100% leave the Bronx. I can definitely see myself living in Riverdale, it’s quiet and I like my living space to be quiet.