Thoughts on Gentrified Harlem

NEW YORK- 10/22/2017


What makes Harlem unique is the culture and the landmarks in the area. Either natural change or artificial human touch changes the environment. While the younger people tend to recognize the gentrification less, older people who have lived their whole life in Harlem are better in differentiating past with future. Most of the buildings are always developing and gentrified, while the stores and neighborhood changes. We went to Harlem to see how much the gentrification affected. As we walk around the area and talk with the locals, we can see different views on this prevalent issue.

My first impression is that the buildings are shorter, and the avenues are broader than the lower parts of Manhattan. Being used to walking around 11th street, 125 looks like a big street number. Instead of many companies occupying small buildings, now we have huge shopping centers with big brand names. The first thing that we come across after leaving the subway is a Starbucks. Looking left, a “Planet Fitness” and an “Olive Garden” are next to each other. Huge stores like “Gap” and “H&M” are on the 125th Street. The only local food shop I could see is “Lincoln Fried Chicken,” and unfortunately it looks old and neglected.

Apollo Theater, a music hall which is a well-known venue for African-American performers, opened its doors in 1914 and is an essential landmark for Harlem. Christian Dobin, who works at the theater as security, says: “I have been working here for six years, and I am originally from the Bronx. I don’t know if the area changed that much, it seemed natural to me.” Gregory Whiting, who is the main security of Apollo says: “I lived here my entire life. I was born at 1953 at Harlem Hospital. I’ve been working here for five years, before that I tried to sneak in.” (laughs) When asked about the gentrification happening around the area, he says that it changed so much and that he had most of the time when it was ‘ghetto.’ After talking about a local hamburger shop that is out of business, he said: “I can’t tell you when that store went, but it did go.” After we asked about the Apollo Theater, he said: “I didn’t affect negatively. It’s always been a cultural institute. But not only for black people. Italian, Irish, and some other people were here before the black community was here.” He said that he sees the change all natural. “It’s the only constant we have here, the change.” said Gregory, “Always be open-minded and open-hearted.”

There are almost no local shops in the area. “Whole Foods” and “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” are huge stores on the street. We see expensive cars in the parking lots of low-budget apartment units. We go into Gap and ask a salesperson about the store. Sarah Thompson says: “It’s been four years that the Gap is here. I was born in Harlem but only lived here for the last five years.” She also adds: “Different stores are opening, and I think the population changes a lot.”

The Deputy Executive Director of Strategic Planning of NYC Department of City Planning Howard Slatkin has the job to decide how much of what should be allowed where. He thinks that everyone living in New York needs a home, and that’s what’s happening in the city. The change is natural, and it’s hard for one neighborhood to maintain its old atmosphere since thirty-eight percent of total population of New York is foreign-born. Slatkin says that with gentrification, New York is safer, and New Yorkers have more job opportunities. He says that rent increases everywhere, and it is not only happening in the city. People have a growth in income, and those who struggle with this, will move to neighborhoods outside of NYC, but this will also give the city the natural growth. He says that before, the areas may have a racial component, but now, there may be an economic component, and it will create a more diverse city.

We care about this now, because nowadays the change is more artificial and forced, instead of natural process. The culture used to change as a new perspective was added to the current one. We wouldn’t lose a culture but rather add to it. And now, this pace may cause loss of culture, without having a replacement.



Leave a Reply