Reimagining Community: Finding Sanctuary in Public Spaces

April 9, 2018 – 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Public spaces like parks, sidewalks and public-facing walls, can offer narratives produced by residents and reflect a community’s values and norms. Gentrification often disrupts those narratives and blurs the line between development and erasure. Join the conversation as we discuss the impact of public and public-facing spaces and their role in the development of community, commerce, and the fight for the soul of a neighborhood.

This program is presented in partnership with The Laundromat Project.
@SchomburgCenter #ReimaginingCommunity

Cost: Free. Pre-register for this event via Eventbrite.com.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard at 135th Street
New York NY 10037

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Is Columbia really destroying Harlem’s authenticity?

Because of ignorant people like me, Columbia’s selfish and corporate interests are destroying the authenticity of nearby communities. This was the accusation I faced from a group of activists after I asserted that I undoubtedly supported Columbia’s expansion into Harlem. I was being accused of being an accomplice to the latest social sin: gentrification.

The controversy began in 2003 when the University announced a plan to construct a new campus in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville. The Manhattanville campus, a 17-acre site located just north of the Morningside Heights campus, will consist of more than seven million square feet dedicated to teaching and cutting-edge research. It will also feature facilities for cultural, recreational, and commercial activities.

And yet, there are people—some of whom are Columbia students—who are vehemently opposed to this plan. Their arguments are based on an urban social phenomenon called gentrification. The term was defined by the British sociologist Ruth Glass as the “arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, and a related increase in rents and property values.” The activists stress that this socioeconomic shift will inevitably produce a cultural change in the area. This immoral and artificial process would, in turn, strip Harlem of its authentic character and cultural heritage.

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By Christian Zaharia | February 19, 2015

What Will Happen When Harlem Becomes White?

Harlem is gentrifying.Harlem gentrification

Get off at 125th street’s A subway and walk south. As you go, you will spot luxury condominiums in between brownstones and walk-ups. If you want to, you can stop off at a designer flower store or a hat boutique. On your walk, you will almost certainly spot more than a few white, middle-class-looking faces – something that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago.

Couples can now be spotted in and out of bars and restaurants along Frederick Douglass Boulevard, locally renamed “restaurant row”. Outside of 67 Orange Street, a small craft cocktail speakeasy, reality television crews have been known to ask customers to sign off releases so that their faces can be used on film. The bar is a staple of Harlem’s “new” renaissance, where young, hip, black customers have adopted local venues to spend their downtime.

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By Rose Hackman | May 13, 2015

Austin Davis: The Big Apple in Tree City

I took a trip to New York City recently to visit a friend who lives in the predominately African-American and Hispanic neighborhood of northeast Brooklyn known as Bushwick. Though bordering the relatively affluent hipster-mecca of Williamsburg directly to the east, about 32 percent of Bushwick’s residents live at or below the poverty line, according to a community district profile in 2007.

Walking around Bushwick, I began to notice several hipster-esque pop-up businesses in the area attempting to compete with the neighborhood’s discount stores. Though nothing too impressive — just some run-of-the-mill student bars and restaurants filled with chain-smoking college-aged kids — these establishments appeared to be thriving. My friend scowled as we walked past one such bar. He attributed its success to its upper-middle class clientele of young, twenty-something gentrifiers.

Gentrification: it’s become the dirty buzzword being thrown around in major cities all across the country. Wealthy young people move to impoverished neighborhoods and set up shop. They found new establishments and build high-rise housing developments, often in an attempt to better the area. Most of the time these attempts have adverse effects. While attracting new, wealthier demographics to the area, these establishments drive up rent prices, ultimately forcing the neighborhood’s original populations to the undesired outskirts of the city, or in some cases, to the streets.

New York serves as an example of the process. According to Patricia — a 65 year-old prostitute with whom I had lunch at a small restaurant in the heart of East Harlem — Blacks and Hispanics have been pushed to the outer boroughs for years as a result of gentrification in Manhattan.

By Austin Davis, Columnist
Published September 7, 2014

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Harlem, race and gentrification: Black gentrifiers reflect on their role in the changing Harlem landscape

Over the past few years in Harlem, empty lots have sprouted luxury condos instead of weeds. You’re almost as likely to stumble upon a crafted cocktail at an upscale restaurant, as you are shea butter offered by a street vendor.

The marquee at the historic Apollo Theater announces the death of former South African President and civil rights champion Nelson Mandela, on December 5, 2013 in the Harlem neighborhood of the Manhattan borough of New York, United States. Mandela was a leader that helped conquer apartheid in racially divided South Africa after being jailed for his activism for decades. He was South Africa's first black president; he lived from 1918-2013. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The marquee at the historic Apollo Theater announces the death of former South African President and civil rights champion Nelson Mandela, on December 5, 2013 in the Harlem neighborhood of the Manhattan borough of New York, United States. Mandela was a leader that helped conquer apartheid in racially divided South Africa after being jailed for his activism for decades. He was South Africa’s first black president; he lived from 1918-2013. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

But, going from a New Jack City dangerous image, to certain parts of Harlem being called the “New Williamsburg” (after a part of Brooklyn known for artsy youths), has come with controversy.

Gentrification is still a four-letter word as it often includes the process of new residents moving into a community and displacing lower-income residents. And yes, long-time residents of Harlem are being priced out.

Some worry that the resultant increase of non-black residents in Harlem threatens the rich culture that has flourished there since the neighborhood became predominately black over the course of the 20th century.

And while the story of Harlem’s on-going gentrification is often told in the press by blaming big retailers that are pushing out smaller stores, or wealthy, white residents who are rehabbing historic brownstones, what is being overlooked is that many of these architects of change are black.

Blacks gentrifying Harlem speak out

“The demographic that lives in Harlem now is a lot more affluent, educated and health-conscious than just a few years ago,” Nikoa Evans Hendricks, executive director of the merchant association Harlem Park to Park, told theGrio. “The new businesses that you see now are driven by demand. Different pockets of Harlem have different personalities, but overall you’re getting a savvier customer who is demanding high quality.”

Media professional Barion Grant is one of those savvy, African-American residents who has called Harlem home since 2001. “I’ve seen empty lots get filled with condos. I was fortunate to purchase one,” Grant said. “I’m a college-educated person from New Jersey who has moved to this community, so I’m fine with identifying myself as a gentrifier. But at the same time I’m re-investing in this community, mostly via my church, First Corinthian Baptist Church.”

Not every Harlem resident who is enjoying this economic renaissance is a New York City transplant.  Bevy Smith, co-host of Bravo TV’s Fashion Queens,  is a lifelong Harlem resident who appreciates many of the new changes in her community. “The fact that they redid the riverwalk on 125th street is just great. I just did the walk from 125th Street to 96th Street. It was a great walk. Once upon a time that walk was not possible because it was unsafe and unkempt,” said Smith. “Today, more businesses here accept credit cards. For someone like me who might have hundreds of dollars worth of dry cleaning at a time, being able to go to the dry cleaner’s and use my credit card is wonderful. There are little things you take for granted and I think it’s healthy for longtime residents of Harlem to see that the area is changing.”

African-American business owners enjoy renaissance

Of course not everyone in Harlem can afford the pricier restaurants and services, but Smith maintains that there is something for everyone. “I pray that there will always be places like Melba’s, Sylvia’s and Corner Social where you can get a meal for $30. You will also see more places like Minton’s where the prix fixe menu is a $90 four-course meal.  Do you need to do that every night? No, but you shouldn’t have to go downtown to do something fabulous and chic,” said Smith.

“Harlem is now really kind of experiencing its second renaissance,” Richard Parsons, former CEO of Time Warner, said in a recent interview with New York Magazine,. “It’s coming up after a long winter’s sleep. But this time it’s different. The renaissance of the twenties was intellectual. This is a commercial one.”

Parsons, an African-American man, is the current owner of Harlem’s new Cecil restaurant and the renovated jazz club Minton’s. Minton’s is in part a gentrification project, but also a labor of preservation. The club originally dates back to the birth of bee bop jazz, and is seen as its space of origination.

Brian Washington Palmer, owner of the restaurant Native, a Harlem locals’ favorite, noted the relationship between eateries and different types of development. “The retail follows the bars and restaurants. That in turn creates a more walkable environment and people get to ‘discover’ different options in the neighborhood,” said Palmer, who will be closing Native and opening La Bodega 47 Social Club in mid-December at the same Harlem location. La Bodega 47 Social Club will be a lounge that focuses more on appetizers and cocktails than meals as Native did.

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It’s Harlem of the future — Bloomberg style

Mayor envisions destinations for tourists, tech geeks and science nerds.  Residents and some pols fear more gentrification.

Is this a scene from the Meatpacking District? No, it’s how the intersection Amsterdam Ave. near W. 125th St. will look within the next decade, according to developer Janus Property Company.

Is this a scene from the Meatpacking District? No, it’s how the intersection Amsterdam Ave. near W. 125th St. will look within the next decade, according to developer Janus Property Company.

A new “Grand Central Station” for Harlem. A biotech center. A jazz museum. A  new home for a national civil rights organization. A massive brewery and  pub.

It’s all part of Mayor Bloomberg’s vision for 125th St. — circa 2025.

The Bloomberg administration hand-picked developers to move into empty  city-owned eyesores in hopes of turning the Main Street of Black America into a  cross between Silicon Valley and Manhattan’s chic Meatpacking District.
The National Urban League has its own vision for a new headquarters at 121 W. 125th St.

The National Urban League has its own vision for a new headquarters at 121 W. 125th St.

Mega-developer Scott Metzner, head of Janus Property Company, beat out 16  competitors in the bidding war for one of the biggest projects — converting the  dilapidated 280,000-square-foot former Taystee Bakery factory into a new-age  home for startups, eateries and shops.

“It’s Harlem’s turn to move into the 21st century,” said Metzner.

Janus is spending around $500 million on 11 buildings between Amsterdam Ave.  and Morningside Ave. — part of an effort to turn west Harlem’s so-called  “Factory District” into a mini-Dumbo.

“For the first time in 100 years this will be an active neighborhood again,”  Metzner said.

The Metro-North station on 125th St. is a mess. The city envisions a “Grand Central Station” for uptown.

The Metro-North station on 125th St. is a mess. The city envisions a “Grand Central Station” for uptown.

The “Factory District” idea came from a 2008 rezoning of the 125th St.  allowing the construction of towering condo and office buildings in lieu of  low-rise mom-and-pop shops.

Then the city’s Economic Development Corporation decided which abandoned  properties could serve as upper Manhattan’s startup meccas.

“Harlem’s growth and evolution will ensure it becomes one of New York City’s  premier destinations for generations to come,” said Economic Development  Corporation President Kyle Kimball. “The arts, culture, science and industrial  sectors of Harlem will continue to thrive.”

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Confessions of a Harlem gentrifier

As part of a white influx into a historically black area, I can’t help feeling like a tourist — or an intruder 

I can see the church from my window. All grey stones, stained glass and towering Gothic spires, it looks like a fortress, its walls mightier than Jericho’s.

Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church (Credit: Google Maps)

Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church (Credit: Google Maps)

If ever there were a monument to mark just how much I don’t belong here, it might look like this, the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Founded in 1808 by Ethiopian seamen, and built in 1923 on this street in Central Harlem, it has served the community as a hub of spirituality and politics for decades.

I, on the other hand, have been in Harlem for just over six months. With no historical ties here and only one friend in the area besides my brother (with whom I share the sublet) I’m an outsider.

This is never more apparent than on Sunday mornings, when my neighbors flock to the church for services. Sometimes I’ll walk by them on my way to get a coffee at the deli on the corner: the women striking in ornate dresses and pillbox hats, the men sharp in crisp suits.

But there are others there, too, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, a horde of European tourists carrying guide books and cameras. Some are lining up outside for a chance to witness the church’s famed choir, like the ones they’ve seen in movies and on television. Others pick a spot on my stoop to gawk at the tremendous scene, a happening Columbia University’s Patricia J. Williams likened to a safari. “All that’s missing is the hats,” she said.

For me, it’s always strange to wade in the middle of these disparate groups, both literally and figuratively. Like the church congregants, I live in Harlem. But I can’t help noticing that I have more in common physically with the tourists, a sensation that makes me feel like a visitor, at best, an intruder, at worst.

For the most part, though, I’ve been met with nothing less than kindness here. I’ve felt safe walking the streets at night, and I’ve come to expect some of the same friendly faces at the deli and the library. Only once, walking to the subway with my brother, did I feel unwelcome, when a woman called us “white devils” and shook her umbrella violently in our direction. But, I suspect that woman was simply crazy, an outlier rather than a representative of the neighborhood.

If she were representative, would she really be so wrong to want me gone? In the past decade, the black population in Harlem, a place “synonymous with black urban America” for nearly a century, has shrunk to its lowest levels since the 1920s. That, as the number of white people in the neighborhood has doubled.

But I wonder: Is one unquestionably the result of the other? And, further, is a little diversity really so bad? A sociologist at Queens College said that the influx of different ethnicities has made Harlem “as it was in the early 1930s — a predominantly black neighborhood, but with other groups living there as well.” Continue reading

East Harlem “Tours” Doc Explores Development Impact On Neighborhood

For years, East Harlem has been undergoing changes as more luxury housing moves into the neighborhood, and now one lifelong resident is documenting how that transformation is changing the area's cultural identity. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

For years, East Harlem has been undergoing changes as more luxury housing moves into the neighborhood, and now one lifelong resident is documenting how that transformation is changing the area’s cultural identity. NY1’s Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

Andrew Padilla says 96th Street used to be the classic dividing line between the haves and have nots on Manhattan’s East Side. But he says that’s changed as gentrification has taken hold of his lifelong home of East Harlem. The 23-year-old documented these changes in a movie titled “El Barrio Tours”.”

I began to see friends, family, small business owners that I had known for decades that were getting pushed out of the borough, out of the city, out of the country, and I wanted to know why that was happening,” Padilla said.

The film talks about the rise in property values and how that change is pushing longtime residents out of the area. Padilla offers walking tours of the neighborhood too, where he points out the changes first hand.

“Traditionally how it works is, you’ll have them like this, where you’ve got a public housing project and a luxury condo, they might be right next door to each other, but that does not mean that these two communities get together,” Padilla said.

He also cites Jorge Vargas’s Justo Botanica as an example of what’s been happening here. It was forced to move to a much smaller space from a far better location on 104th Street.

“We were there since 1954 to 2012,” said Vargas. “The landlords threw us out.

“Padilla paid to make the film out of his own pocket. Now, he’s trying to raise enough money to take his movie to other cities and make links between what’s happening here and other parts of the country.

“The hope is to raise $15,000, and get the film out to 15 different cities all across the country that are dealing with gentrification. And begin to explore why they’re going through it, and what are the national trends, because it’s not just East Harlem that is dealing with this,” Padilla said.

Padilla is planning to screen his movie Thursday evening at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and hold a fundraiser on Friday night. For more information, visit elbarriotours.tumblr.com. –

See more at: http://manhattan.ny1.com/content/top_stories/187502/east-harlem–tours–doc-explores-development-impact-on-neighborhood#sthash.4DuJDu01.dpuf

Retail vacancies plague Lexington Ave. stretch in E. Harlem

Nearly every storefront is vacant or going out of business between 100th and 101st Sts. Locals blame higher rents

An East Harlem block has become a ghost town called Gentrification.

Eight of the nine storefronts on Lexington Ave. between 100th and 101st Sts. are out of business or going that way.

Eight of the nine storefronts on Lexington Ave. between 100th and 101st Sts. are out of business or going that way.

Lexington Ave. between 100th and 101st Sts. has almost entirely lost its commercial sector as eight of the block’s nine retail spaces either vacant or about to bite the dust — all citing high rents.

Santa Anita Grocery is the latest tenant call it quits, planning to close Aug. 3, after its lease jumped from $4,000 to $7,000.

“For five years everything here was great,” said grocery manager Meliton Torres. “But now it’s a lot of money they want.”

Meliton Torres’ Santa Anita Grocery will be going out of business on Aug. 3 because of rent hikes.

Meliton Torres’ Santa Anita Grocery will be going out of business on Aug. 3 because of rent hikes.

Santa Anita is the newest, but by no means the last victim of one landlord’s bid to upscale the block.

The block was purchased a year ago by Brooklyn-based E & M Associates a year ago. The company initially focused on renovating the residential units on the block — but a month ago, began seeking “upscale” vendors for the vacant spaces. Continue reading

With a Virtual Tour, Preserving the History of East Harlem

A virtual tour of East Harlem will include the historic La Marqueta market that once occupied several buildings under the Park Avenue railroad tracks.

A virtual tour of East Harlem will include the historic La Marqueta market that once occupied several buildings under the Park Avenue railroad tracks.

Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, two legendary Latin musicians, may not have had superpowers, but an artist from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, plans to tap the popularity of comic book heroes to celebrate the significance of these and other figures in the cultural history of East Harlem.

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, an artist specializing in comic-book-style graphics, is working with other comic book artists to depict, among other spots, Park Palace, a former Latin dance club in East Harlem that welcomed artists like Ms. Cruz and Mr. Puente when downtown clubs would not welcome Latinos.

“They were like the Superman and Wonder Woman of the Latin music world,” he said.

Mr. Miranda-Rodriguez’s work will be part of an app that a nonprofit organization, the Caribbean Cultural Center in East Harlem, hopes will help preserve the history and culture of a neighborhood undergoing gentrification and that those participating in the project say history books often overlook.

The center will use art to depict significant people, places and events to give the app’s users a virtual walking tour of East Harlem. The app will superimpose original artwork onto images of the neighborhood on the screens of smartphones and tablets.

“The importance of this project is the sustainability of community in a period of gentrification,” said Marta Moreno Vega, president of the Caribbean Cultural Center’s African Diaspora Institute.

Mr. Miranda-Rodriguez and seven other artists from East Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and Puerto Rico are each developing several works for the app component of the “Mi Querido Barrio” project, which means “my beloved neighborhood.” The virtual tour will include tributes to Puerto Rican, Jewish, Italian, Mexican and African history and culture in East Harlem, Dr. Vega said.

The project plans to include artwork about the historic La Marqueta marketplace on Park Avenue, for example, and an African burial ground on First Avenue. Mr. Miranda-Rodriguez also plans to sketch a tribute to the game of stickball, which East Harlem residents of various ages and ethnicities have played in the streets for decades. Continue reading