GM strike

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Jul 1 08:53:43 PDT 1998

C. Petersen wrote:

>I visited New York last summer, and I thought it was interesting how you
>could go from extremely wealthy areas in the upper east and west sides
>with old ladies in fur coats walking their afghan hounds etc. and then
>within a mile, or a few blocks even, it becomes much more poor looking in
>Harlem and north of that, with lots of burned down buildings and vacant
>lots. Why didn't the area north of the park gentrify a long time ago,
>given the high rent prices. Seattle has lots of high tech jobs and a low
>unemployment rate, and the gentrification engulfs the entire city. They're
>building expensive condos all over in the poor, asian and black
>neighborhoods which had had a reputation to the suburbanites as places
>where you would surely get carjacked as soon as you drove in.

When I moved to this neighborhood in 1979, it was very mixed in terms of income and race. During the 1980s, the poorer folks were gradually pushed out, with tactics ranging from "normal" rent increases to extreme thuggishness. (In one particularly nasty conversion of a welfare hotel into condos, the residents' doors were nailed shut while they were out.) There are still quite a few poorer, mainly Latino, people living around here, but lots fewer than 19 years ago. Now it's investment bankers and chain stores. A similar process is underway on the Lower East Side, though they've got a long way to go yet. So there's plenty of gentrification here.

Harlem, though, is a hard nut to crack, gentrification-wise. There were plans hatched in the early 1980s to upscale Harlem - the excellent Rutgers geographer Neil Smith has written on this topic - but they crashed along with the real estate market in the late 1980s. The plan was to start with the edges - the western edge of Harlem, near Columbia University, and the southern edge, along Central Park North. Though I haven't looked into this in a few years, I suspect the Harlem strategy is not dead, just sleeping. Walking around the neighborhood a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a few city-sponsored rehab projects underway; the repair of Morningside Park (which has historically been seen as a DMZ between Columbia and Harlem) is probably part of the gentrification scheme. (Of course, there'd be nothing wrong if Morningside Park were restored so that the current residents had somewhere decent to recreate, but that's not the way gentrication works.) There's also a Federal "empowerment zone" along 125th St.; one of the lucky recipients of tax breaks along the street's shopping strip will be Disney, which will open a store.


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