On August first, the New York Times had a special supplement covering Harlem Week. It was a glorious celebration of…..Gentrification. Parts of Harlem, which is generally inclusive of West, Central and East Harlem, seem to have embraced gentrification zealously.
The reasons are obvious; there has been no real displacement, most of the development has been vacant buildings and the residents are benefitting from the influx of working people, professionals and developers into the area. Unfortunately, the east side has been noticeably lacking in enthusiasm and, although it has been gentrifying, the pace is slower than in other sections of Harlem. If you try and build anything other than low income housing in East Harlem, there is a public outcry. Yes, there is a place for low income housing but in moderation. Why would we want to import large numbers of low income and public dependent people when we already have an extremely large indigenous population? We obviously wouldn’t, unless we were a local politician and dependent on maintaining the status quo.
Melissa Mark Viverito, the council member for East Harlem, made preventing gentrification one of the key elements of her campaign and her constituents bought into it. In one of the Times articles, they trumpet the success of the Auto Mall on East 127th Street and it is described as housing several of the largest black owned dealerships in the northeast and the first new car dealership in the area for 40 years. But, wait a minute, this is on the east side, commonly referred to as Spanish Harlem, so why not the largest Hispanic owned dealerships? The answer is that the Hispanic population on the east side keep getting in their own way while the black population on the west side is accepting change. They are working together, bringing in capital, developing political muscle and solving problems while we beg for money to keep our low income population intact.
There is no real difference in the gentrification process on the west side or the east side; for both it involved renovating empty buildings and developing vacant lots into livable space. However, our narrow minded councilwoman and her narrow minded constituents seem to want to turn back the clock to a time when crime, rape, drugs and gangs were rampant and El Barrio was a dirty word. Melissa Mark Viverito has gone on record as decrying the fact that building a Home Depot in the East River Mall would be a boon to building owners and hasten gentrification of the neighborhood. This is being built on the site of the old Washburn Wire factory which has been vacant and falling down for decades, and will create hundreds of jobs for local residents.
How about banding together instead and insure that there will be some Hispanic owned stores in the mall? That’s the west side mentality….and the mentality of the far sighted people who came in when East Harlem was a ghetto and began the gentrification process that led to the nice neighborhood that it is today. It could be nicer if we re-zoned Third Avenue, our Main Street, and allowed it to gentrify instead of maintaining the present eyesores. That probably won’t happen until enough open minded people come here to live and vote for change. Then, maybe, we will have East Harlem week and publically celebrate our gentrification.