RNA Blog

Monday Jul. 11, 2011

A return to Harlem's gloried past?

Harlem's Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave) won Curbed's 2010 New York City neighborhood of the year award. While some may question the designation of FDB as a neighborhood, readers of Curbed's site overwhelmingly recognized it as an area better than the other 15 nominated. Surely the award is in recognition of FDB's recent surge of development. The near one mile stretch of blocks between 110th and 125th Sts. now include a luxury hotel, a beer garden, a supermarket and a number of luxury condos. And according to Curbed, one of the largest sites for NYC real estate news, the area has even been designated the "Gold Coast". Yet for some the award, the significant number of new establishments and the whites who patronize them are just blaring signals of a gentrifying Harlem. But is all this recognition simply a sign of return to Harlem's gloried past? (click title to continue)

Since 1930, Harlem has been majority black. A constant fear of those troubled by the thought of gentrification is that Harlem will become majority white. While it is indeterminable whether whites patronizing establishments on FDB's Gold Coast are residents or just visiting from bordering neighborhoods like Morningside Heights, Harlem is not close to having a white majority. Andrew Beveridge's, Professor of Sociology at NYC's Queens College, analysis of Census data showed that in 1980 the white population of Central Harlem (btw. 110th to 155th Sts, East of Morningside and St. Nicholas Aves) was 0.6% by 2006 the white population grew to 6.6%. While the growth of the white population is an alarming ten-fold increase it's not quite a takeover.

A more realistic yet masked signal of Harlem gentrification is the influx of middle- and high-income blacks. I mean gentrification is defined as an influx of wealthier residents ("the gentry") into neighborhoods mostly inhabited by the poor. Yet for most of its history, Harlem was economically diverse. During its renaissance, Harlem comprised low, middle and high income blacks. A dramatic decline in Harlem's population began in the 1950's, and most of the decline was due to the flight of the black middle class. These demographic shifts commenced an increase in levels of concentrated poverty which peaked in the 1970's. And by 1980 Harlem's population dropped by half. Later in the decade the black middle class began to return. Putting issues of affordable housing aside, this population of blacks and the growing population of whites are likely proud of the honor bestowed upon FDBs "Gold Coast".

Andrew A. Beveridge (2008). A Century of Harlem in New York City: Some Notes on Migration, Consolidation, Segregation, and Recent Developments, City & Community, Vol. 7, Issue 4, p. 358-365.

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