Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Uprooted, Displaced, and Rezoned

Harlem has been next on the chopping block for some time. As the residents of the Upper East and Upper West Sides have pushed farther north looking for more affordable housing, it has caused an influx of white middle class professionals into Harlem. Although this can be cast off as the usual gentrification taking place all over the city, this NY Times article actually digs a bit deeper on how this affects old and current residents.
It isn’t news that just two or three years ago, Harlem had a paucity of bank branches, grocery stores and other basic amenities, or that now that more affluent people have started to move there, upscale shops and restaurants have followed.

Gentrification, it turns out, can have an odd psychological effect on those it occurs around. No one — almost no one — is wishing for a return of row upon row of boarded-up buildings or the summer mornings when lifeless bodies turned up in vestibules, or the evenings when every block seemed to have its own band of drug dealers and subordinate crackheads. But residents say they do miss having a neighborhood with familiar faces to greet, familiar foods to eat, and no fear of being forced out of their homes.

Those who stayed during the worst years say they developed an even stronger psychological attachment to Harlem, its flaws not unlike their own. The perceived diminution of that neighborhood, caused in part by an influx of middle class people of all races, can feel like a loss of self, they say.

The recent rezoning was the final blow. As any NYC resident knows, when the city steps in to rezone your neighborhood, chances are they are making the necessary changes to increase the influx of new residents; not putting in protections to create and help current residents. While having some new residents move in is not a bad thing, when the influx is so unbalanced displacement of current residents starts to take place. As with most NYC real estate, what follows is the new towering condos that are only affordable to those outside the neighborhood.
In East Harlem, East River Plaza, a $300 million shopping mall anchored by Home Depot, is being built on the site of a long-abandoned wire factory. Two blocks away, glass-walled $1 million condominiums are rising next to six-story tenement buildings. Earlier this year, the average price for new condominium apartments in Harlem hit $900,000, although average household income remains less than $25,000.

What is even worse than the uprooting and displacement of these current residents is that the fabric of the neighborhood is going to change for good. Beyond this first wave, these "pioneers" will themselves be displaced as well. Displacement of the displacers has become a common thing as those individuals who initially moved to the next neighborhood (because prices were cheaper), end up being the victims of the process themselves.

Overall, the city is losing diverse vibrant communities that have been the backbone of NYC for years. These are the communities that have stayed through the rough times and should be able to prosper in the good times. Instead, a cycle of displacement is taking place that is only going to leave the super rich and those who work for them. Is this the city we really want?

1 comment:

Escape Brooklyn said...

Wow, that's really sad and frustrating. It's crazy that the class tensions in NYC have gotten so bad that long-time residents are hoping for shooting sprees just to keep the "displacers" out.

And even crazier that million dollar condos are going up in neighborhoods like Harlem. Where are people earning less than $25k supposed to live? The median income in NYC is less than $40k, but what can people earning that supposed to buy?