Gentrification: In with the New
By Valeria Veras
Today, Harlem, once known for crime and dangerous streets have been overlooked the new amenities, real estate, and businesses. On 126th street and Lenox Avenue in Central Harlem, the opening of Red Rooster in 2012, by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson, was a significant change to the neighborhood once known for crime and dangerous street.
The crowd outside of Red Rooster waiting to be seated speaks for itself. The bar is overcrowded with guests having a drink waiting to be seated. Waiters and Bus boys are constantly running up and down the restaurant. The red lights are on inside and the live jazz band is the entertainment of the night.
In the 1990’s, central Harlem was filled with abandoned brownstones and crime rate was at its peak. Overtime, areas like 125th Street and Lenox Avenue have seen there transformation. As affluent residents have moved into the area and businesses have done the same.
Karyn Wilson, 20, has lived in Harlem all of her life. She has seen the neighborhood transform and has been around to witness its renewal. “I love the transformation, as well as the economic growth the neighborhood has undergone. I do still fear being displaced, just as any other longtime resident would feel”.
I have lived in Harlem all of my life and have noticed that the gentrification of Harlem has resulted in a population decline of low-income residents; there is a trend of them moving to upstate New York, the South, New Jersey, and other more affordable areas. This includes some of my family members, old neighborhoods, and childhood friends. Residents believe that the positive outlook includes safer living conditions, with a significant reduction in crime and the amenities, such as gyms, cafés, and restaurants.
Harlem was once best known for its richness in culture.
Karyn Wilson, a long term resident of Harlem, has seen the neighborhood transform and is satisfied with the changes despite the worry of being displaced. “I’ve seen Harlem change a lot over the years. While I’ve seen people become displaced overtime, hopefully the change is for the better”.
The Harlem Renaissance began in the 1920’s. It was a culture movement that spread through the entire world. The idea of the renaissance was to create a sense of pride amongst African Americans. The Harlem Renaissance created an era of art and literature and served to uplift African Americans. It also promoted progression, socialism, and racial integration.
Today, a lot of the culture still remains amongst African Americans. However, the gentrification of Harlem in recent years has brought about much change; some small business owners who have survived the revitalization and rent hikes, and others who have been forced to close.
With the change of the neighborhood, many shopping areas and amenities such as H&M, Old Navy, NYSC, and Starbucks, have come into place in recent years, In the 125th street area, there are many restaurants and lounges such as Lenox Lounge, Corner Social, Manna’s, and Harlem BBQ.
Some businesses that manage to stay around and keep the culture of Harlem are the Apollo Theater, one of the countries most famous music halls.
Lenox Lounge, a historic jazz club opened in 1939. Despite the neighborhood transformation, this jazz club managed to maintain its popularity and stay in business.
The Corner Social, a restaurant and bar located on Lenox Avenue, opened early this year, and has greatly contributed to the change in the neighborhood.
Chill Berry, a self serve frozen yogurt shop, is located on 130th Street and Lenox Avenue. The frozen yogurt shop opened in 2011 and has been very popular amongst residents and visitors to the neighborhood.
While longtime residents struggle with the idea of being displaced, the migration of more affluent people to these newly renovated neighborhoods is taking place. These longtime residents struggle to maintain proper living situations with the fear of being forced out of their homes.
Gina Rocco, a New Jersey native, recently moved to Harlem due to job relocation. She chose the neighborhood because of the affordable rent, the great amenities, and the nice apartment. Going in she may have felt a bit uncomfortable being new to the area, but today, it’s something she doesn’t regret.
Carlos Zorilla, a superintendent for a chain of buildings in Harlem, has seen the neighborhood transformation. He has also seen residents forced out of their homes with the inability to pay. Having been a super for ten years, he has seen the neighborhoods residential restructuring from low class residents to middle class residents. “I have had long time residents in their homes for over 40 years forced to leave because they can’t pay. People have come to me when all else failed to see if there was anything I can do. I try to find all possible resources, but then again, I am just the super”.
Mohammed Sarh, owner of a chain of delis, has been around to see the transformation and restoration of Harlem. He explains that the only way he is able to stay in business is because he has been around for so long. He also believes the neighborhood his business is located in hasn’t been fully revitalized. I am always scared that when my lease renewal comes, I won’t be able to pay.” Sarh is another resident who fears being displaced from something he dedicated his entire life to, because of his inability to pay. However, he has also been around to see the transformation and remembers when you couldn’t walk down the street late night without clutching your belongings or being scared.
Gentrification is a renewal that for some, is of great benefit, and to others, will ultimately lead to displacement. If gentrification continues with its displacement, it will eventually alter the face of New York City, both good and bad. While there are many potential benefits that come along with the process, is it enough to positively impact the city as a whole?
Ana Jimenez, a long time resident of Harlem, has experienced the revitalization of the neighborhood. While the transformation has had its disadvantages, Ana feels good about the safety and security, as compared to the 1990’s, and the economic growth of the community. “Although a lot of my friends have had to move out of the neighborhood, I like the growth that I have seen in Harlem and the economic progress, with businesses coming and creating jobs and it being a safer place to live”.