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Historian Laments the Impact of Gentrification on Harlem

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Michael Henry Adams examines the changing face of Harlem in an NYT op-ed

Last week, the New York Times published a searing opinion piece by historian and author Michael Henry Adams, examining the impact of gentrification on Harlem, the neighborhood he grew up in. In the piece, Adams assails the policies of the de Blasio administration that have led to the creation of several pricey new condos like One Morningside Park and Circa Central Park, and the destruction of iconic cultural establishments in the neighborhood like The Renaissance Theater, and Childs Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ. Adams also decries those who try to unlink the process of gentrification from race and choose to focus on it solely as an income issue. Adams examines these links and reflects on the changing face of his neighborhood. Here are five powerful points from his opinion piece:

  • "It was painful to realize how even a kid could see in every new building, every historic renovation, every boutique clothing shop — indeed in every tree and every flower in every park improvement — not a life-enhancing benefit, but a harbinger of his own displacement."
  • "For so many privileged New Yorkers, like James [poet James Fenton], Whole Foods is just the corner store. But among the black and working-class residents of Harlem, who have withstood red-lining and neglect, it might as well be Fortnum and Mason. To us, our Harlem is being remade, upgraded and transformed, just for them, for wealthier white people."
  • "By 1930 hundreds of thousands of blacks (and not a few whites) lived in Harlem. And yet, even then, residents understood that the black hold on Harlem was tenuous. That same year the author James Weldon Johnson asked in "Black Manhattan," his classic account of Harlem’s early years, "The question inevitably arises: Will the Negroes of Harlem be able to hold it?"'
  • "Today the pace of change is bracing, as is the insolence of the newcomers. A local real-estate speculator who specializes in flipping buildings in the shrinking Little Senegal section of Harlem told me that new tenants complained, "We’re not paying that much money to have black people living in our building!"'
  • "He [Mayor Bill de Blasio] and the City Council have effectively swept aside contextual zoning limits, which curb development that might change the very essence of a neighborhood, in Harlem and Inwood, farther north. At best, his plan seems to be to develop at all speed and costs, optimistic that the tax revenues and good graces of the real estate barons allow for a few affordable apartments to be stuffed in later."
  • The End of Black Harlem [NYTimes]
  • New York Narratives: A Bronx Native on Why She's Disenchanted With NYC [Curbed]