In those years, there was no stigma attached to living in "the projects." To the contrary, many residents took tremendous pride in the beauty of their surroundings. Allen Jones who wrote a book about his Bronx experiences called "The Rat That Got Away" recalls friends and relatives of people who moved into the Patterson Houses in Mott Haven walking through the grounds in sheer wonder at the meticulously maintained lawns and litter free walkways, while Connie Questell, in an oral history interview she did with the Bronx African American History Project boasted that the Japanese Gardens in the nearby Melrose Houses was a favorite Sunday strolling site for Bronx families
But for many residents, the social atmosphere of the projects was as much an attraction as spacious apartments and well maintained grounds For Black and Latino families especially, who experienced extreme segregation in the private housing market during those years, public housing in the Bronx represented their first experience with living in an integrated neighborhood. Taur Orange, a college administrator who grew up in the Bronxdale Houses at the same time Sonia Sotomayor did, remembers Bronxdale as "a little United Nations" and recalls Black, Jewish, Italian, Latino and Asian mothers sitting on the project benches watching their children and sharing stories and recipes. Vicki Archibald Good, a social work supervisor, who grew up in the Patterson Houses with her brother, basketball legend Nate "Tiny" Archibald recalls families of every nationality playing together, raising children together, and sharing each other's food and music. Allen Jones and Nathan Dukes fondly remember days when everyone regardless of race or ethnicity, sang doo wop, danced Latin and would defend their project against all rivals, on or off project grounds. . .
Over time, the atmosphere in the projects would deteriorate. As the first generation of families moved out to buy homes or middle income co-ops, they would be replaced with poorer, more troubled families, many of them on public assistance, and a combination of job losses, drug epidemics and white flight would erode the spirit of community and feelings of optimism that these developments had once been known for. These problems would be intensified by budget cuts that would reduce the quality of project maintenance, leaving lawns poorly cared for, hallways and grounds filled with debris, and elevators in need of repair, and local community centers deprived of needed staff.
Nevertheless, Bronx housing projects never became the broken, hopeless urban concentration camps that many people imagine them to be. The Bronx River and Bronxdale Houses, along with many other projects in the South and West Bronx, were important sites in the development of Bronx Hip Hop. . . And even through the present, Bronx projects house thousands of senior citizens who have lived in them for fifty plus years, and who refuse to move because their neighbors look out for and take care of them.
But the most important thing to remember, at a time when development of affordable large scale multiple dwellings has been neglected for more than a generation (while huge high rises for the rich dot the urban landscape throughout Manhattan and North Brooklyn) is that public housing was a tremendous success when it was rich in social services, provided excellent daily maintenance and was careful in its tenant selection.