Gentrification in Harlem
Imagine living your whole life in a place where the majority of people looked just like you. Then one day you come outside and you see a completely different demographic. It’s a shock to you because this was once such a rare sight. Over time you start to notice new businesses in your neighborhood and new demographics flood in with it. Next thing you know, strangers are in your building and the ones you grew up with are gone. This is gentrification.
The Merriam Webster dictionary definition of Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. This has become a trend in many neighborhoods around New York City. One neighborhood in particular is Harlem. Harlem’s predominant demographic was African Americans. Harlem was known for being the Mecca of Jazz and Blues. From top African American musicians like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald performing at venues like the Cotton Club.
Now these people and places are rarely talked about. A large amount of youth in Harlem aren’t even sure what the Cotton Club is or know much about these people because new things have come into the neighborhood. Lance M Freedman says “some youths depending on their age (say someone under 10) will not be able to remember a time when gentrification was not occurring in Harlem. For these youths gentrification will be the norm.” This may be the case but there are also those youth who are aware of the changes but not realizing the impact it may have on them in the future. The entire neighborhood is being gentrified and those living there don’t even realize it.
One of the biggest signs of of gentrification are new businesses like Starbucks or CVS coming into Harlem that once just had local mom and pop shops. In these neighborhoods, children who have grown up there have experienced the changes first hand. These changes have both positive and negative effects on children. For everyone it is a different experience, but most youth don’t know what is going on in their neighborhood. When we surveyed a group of students from the iSchool and asked if they knew what gentrification was most said no.
The iSchool being a very diverse school have students that live all over the city. What stood out during this survey was regardless of where these students lived the vast majority said they noticed a lot of new businesses opening up in their neighborhood showing just how widespread gentrification has become in New York City. In New York City today some believe that gentrification is negative for everyone in the neighborhood, but others believe it is a very good for neighborhoods that were once failing. Why is it negative? In the process of gentrifying many people get displaced. People who have had their families living on the same block for 50 years might have to move because of rent hikes, the result of all the people moving into the neighborhood.
Many old businesses get kicked out, also creating a whole new dynamic in the neighborhood between consumers and business. People who need the job who have lived in the neighborhood forever, are unable to find jobs because the new businesses aren’t always hiring local people. The unemployment rate is 7.2% in the United States according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This causes businesses to look for the person with the most degrees and most people being gentrified won’t fill those credentials opposed to the gentrifiers who will most likely get the job. From a youth’s perspective, depending on the age, they may have anger about the gentrification, based in part on their family’s opinions.
If one’s family gets kicked out of a neighborhood because of the rising rent, the child might not have the most positive vision of gentrification. “Young people among the gentrified might feel they are being demonized,” said Thomas Angotti, a Hunter College professor of Urban Affairs and Planning. The fact that people who don’t look like you can come and just take over your neighborhood has the potential to make one feel less than to the people already living there. What are the Positive Effects? When a neighborhood becomes gentrified there is often an extreme drop in crime. In the past 22 years the crime in neighborhoods in northern Manhattan has gone down 87.
9%, according to New York Police Department statistics. In 1990 there was a total of 41 murders in Morningside Heights/Harlem; by 2012, this had dropped to only 5 murders, the NYPD reports. This can be linked to gentrification. When masses of white people move into an area that was once was mostly minorities the crime starts to stop more and move somewhere else further from the gentrified neighborhood. Another major thing that happens is new businesses open up.
Starbucks and CVS’s that were once subway stops away are now in close proximity. For the youth many positive things occur. Schools in the neighborhood become better, which is most closely linked with more parents involvment. This then leads to more opportunities to for the students in the neighborhood. Columbia University Professor Lance M.
Freedman, who wrote a book about gentrification, says, “In general, I would think youths would be better positioned to take advantage of any opportunities that gentrification might offer and better able to adapt to the challenges gentrification poses. For example, some youths depending on their age (say someone under 10) will not be able to remember a time when gentrification was not occurring in Harlem. For these youths gentrification will be the norm.” As a child you are more willing to accept new ideas and new things making the process of gentrification easier on them, then the parent. “Young people tend to be more open to establishing new relationships.” says Angotti, linking the fact that there are many positive effects of gentrification on the youth.
What Now? Once everything is gentrified there’ll be nothing to gentrify. Gentrification may have it’s positive and negative effects but which one outweighs the other? The positive effects are important because neighborhoods may become safer and new businesses come in but what about the many people who lose their homes? There are so many people who moved to certain neighborhoods because that is where they could afford to live. Now with all the new businesses attracting the upperclass their rent is being raised and their back to where they started, trying to find a way to pay the rent. Granted all these new business provide jobs but these business won’t necessarily hire locals. If this trend continues New York City will soon become a place where only the upper class can live. Those who have lived there their entire lives will be long gone and new families will be in their place.
So it is up to you to decided whether gentrification is positive or negative for our society.