Sunday, September 7, 2008

Let's Get Gentrified! (Part 2)

Courtesy of Michelle Agins (NY Times)

Seems like everyone likes to make Gentrification their scapegoat. This is my take on why the NY Times tried to represent an alternative viewpoint in this article. Be it ATLAH, Craig Schley, or the random pissed off guy on the street, everyone has a bone to pick with "newcomers" who move to Harlem. But what's really going on here? Who are these so-called "Gentrifiers?" And what are the consequences of their actions? To address these questions, I have only my own personal experience...beginning in 1995 when I first moved here--through 2003 when I first purchased an apt on 145th--till today.

When I first moved to Harlem in 1995, the name of the game was survival. Many buildings were derelict and served as crack houses to groups of roving drug addicts. From 1995-2000 I was personally robbed about 5 times, with over 2 dozen attempts. The pic above is from the my former apt window, looking into the airshaft of 111th St. All of Northern Central Park, Morningside Park and even Riverside Park were nothing more than large camps of homeless crack addicts, robbing and harrassing people by day, scoring and smoking up by night. This endless pattern went on for years and years with seemingly no end in sight. During this time, Gentrification was a small pinprick of light on a very distant horizon, with many people praying for a reduction in the violence. It's sad to say, but many people did not make it through this phase, either claimed by violence, jail, drugs or a combination of all. Many of my personal friends--and a few enemies--were "taken out" never to return to the block again. Around 2000, things looked like they might improve, but slid two steps backward after the tragedy at the WTC. Finally, in late 2002, the momentum began to shift again...with 2 major Zoning Changes that were to subtley, yet inexorably, tilt the playing field towards Urban Renewal. Those changes were the rezoning of 145th St. from St. Nicholas Ave. to Lenox Ave. and of Frederick Douglas Ave from 110th to 125th St. I will focus on the 145th St. renewal in this post, and save FDAve. for a later one. After seeing the neighborhood crumble for so long, it was at this time the writing on the wall was clear to me. I also began to experience some anger in the fact that I had built up so many bonds in the hood, that would now seem "irrelavant" in this new wave of money coming down. So instead of lashing out, I put together a financial plan and I began to marshall my credit resources for a chance to enter into the Gentrficaiton Fray. I figured that I had just as much sweat equity in the neighborhood as the next man and so I entered into a few of the housing lotteries that I found on nyc.gov. As a result of living in CB10, I was able to get housing preference...which resulted in me purchasing a brand-new 600 sq ft. 1 bedroom, for $156,500. When I closed in January 2004, it was like a dream come true...to have my own affordable NYC apt after all the years of struggling just to get heat and hot water! But the jubilation did not last long. The day I moved in, there was a shooting in front of my building, and there would be continued acts of intermitten violence throughout my stay there through October 2007. There were also numerous issues with the building, developer, City, tenants, the parking garage, the Super, the Co-op Board, plus the extremely complicated way the buidling was financed (its a condop) and mortgaged by HPD. But none of this derailed me--I loved my apt, building, neighbors, and Harlem in general--and resolved to see it through. Once the City and Gotham saw the success of our building, they set out to fill out the remaining corridor on 145th. Here's some pix of that transition.
The Langston, before demolition.
An interesting point to make here is regarding the argument that gentrification "pushes Native Haremites out." My response to this is yes and no. If you look at the picture, all of these residences and commercial spaces had been vacant for years before this pic was taken...with one exception. Obscured by a tree is a small sports bar located on the North side of this block. The guy who owned it, lived above it and was a Harlem native. When my then Super had to go over and inform him that he had been bought out and had to close his business, let's just say the reaction was not positive. But I will say this about it, yeah it sucks, he did get pushed out, but his business was a dangerous and borderline criminal establishment. Cops were always responding to his place on Saturdays and I'll never forget the New Year's Eve when I came home and couldnt get down the street because there was a huge stabbing. I vividly remember being escorted down the block, leaping huge puddles of blood--oddly enough with shiny quarters sprinkled throughout--to get to my door. So yeah, this one guy and his business did get forced out. Honestly, I was relieved that it did!
The Bradhurst under construction. (Drew Hamilton Projects in the background).
The Hamilton and Bradhurst today.
The Langston today.
Hillview Towers
Drew Hamilton Houses
Pathmark
View from my former living room window.

15 comments:

Uptownflavor said...

This is excellent! I'm curious about what kept you in Harlem despite all the robberies? I think I would have packed up and moved on to a less blighted borough after the first or second time.

Yojimbot said...

Great question Uptown Flavor. The answer is that I had no where else to go. Also as a child I had moved around alot, so I figured that it would be just was well to hunker down and try to make the most of it. Deep down I always knew it would keep getting safer--Harlem just has so much going for it--that I resolved to see it through. But yes, many times my friends and family gave me that "what the fuck are you still doing in Harlem look." But thankfully it all worked out, even better than I thought it would!

Cool Blue Reason said...

This is a great post -- I'm very much looking forward to your closer look at FDB as well!

Cool Blue Reason said...

BTW, you should make the number of comments visible from your front page -- it's not immediately apparent that comments are even enabled.

Yojimbot said...

Thanks cool blue...im a bit confused though b/c all the browsers ive seen so far (ie, ff) do have the comments section with #. Am I missing something?

Cool Blue Reason said...

Looks like it was an issue with Google Chrome beta -- though it's currently working. Rather ironic, since they're behind both the browser and blogger.com...

sdg1844 said...

Congratulations to you. My sis was just called about the lottery as well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her.

Yojimbot said...

Awesome SDG...what development?

Paolo Mastrangelo said...

fantastic post. So glad I found your blog this evening. great photos and history.

Yojimbot said...

Thanks Paolo, I also just found your nyc the blog, blog. We till some of the same Harlem ground!

Michele Wallace said...

Thanks a lot for this beautiful, beautiful post on a neighborhood I have lived in all my 57 years (on and off for side trips to other places). My parents were born there in the 30s and their grandparents came there in the teens through the 20s. The change this area has undergone moves me so deeply it is hard to speak about it, hard to write about it. Only that I am glad there are still people who live there who love the neighborhood and love themselves, because that will be what it takes to keep it safe.

Cin said...

hi, it was great to see your post, but hopefully you will see my post, my family and i are thinking of moving to that area,(drew hamilton area), i had been moving alot in my life just like you and my family and i really want to find a permanent place to stay. but since i never been to the area, don't know how it goes, is it safe at night? are the parking easy? thanks alot and hopefully you will see this

Christopher said...

yea but wat you dont see is that you are driving prices up that the natives cant afford. it is not our fault the buildings look like that. That is from being neglected by the city so now that white people come around they want to fix everything up. it is disgusting if you ask me.also the town has lost its character due to that

Yojimbot said...

I can understand your feeling Christopher, but its inaccurate to characterize gentrification with whiteness. Many many Black Harlem natives, whom I personally know, fixed up apartments and buildings throughout the neighborhood. I also know of a family that could've bought their 5 bedroom 3 bath for $1 back in 1988, but didnt. The true story behind the success of this neighborhood does not conveniently fall along racial lines.

Dani said...

I'm so glad I found this. I moved from Harlem a good number of years ago and wondered what happened to that sketchy lot. I remember I used to cut through there to walk up 145th all the way to my grandma's house in Washington Heights! My fam and I lived in the Drew Hamilton proj's for about 13 yrs.