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Gentrification and Its Impact on the Harlem Community Essay

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Updated: Aug 28th, 2019

The history of the Harlem community is rich in various events, struggles, conflicts and resistance. This is of particular concern to social, economic, and political pressure imposed on the African-American community suffering from high unemployment rates, poor social conditions, and high level of crime.

During the development of the Harlem culture, the members of the community have undergone various significant historical periods, as well as events that have had a potent impact on economic, political, and social ramifications. Specific emphasis should be placed on the period of Harlem Renaissance, the time of cultural revival and active participation of famous Harlem writers in the life of the district.

The second period refers to the end of the twentieth century, active gentrification process, which has also been marked as the revival period of social and economic conditions. The periods, however, highlight contradicting events, as well as shifts occurred to the Harlem community.

On the one hand, the gentrification process was regarded as an attempt of white community to suppress discontent of African-American community and destroy the Harlem culture. On the other hand, the revival period contrasts to the Harlem Renaissance period in terms of significant improvements in economic and social welfare of the population.

Cultural Social and Political Factors Contributed to Defining Harlem as a Community

The revitalization of the Harlem community met several controversies. Specifically, creation of the State Office Building (SOB) was perceived as “an act of physical violence against Harlem by the state government” (Taylor, 2002, p. 30).

Introducing reconstruction to the community, Harlem is challenged because its population fears to lose the heart of the African-American culture because of the interruption of the stage government.

Eternal struggles between the white community and that of the Harlem provided an imprint on the perception of people. Therefore, the attitude of the African-Americans to the gentrification predetermined by previous experience, explains discontent and protests as an attempt to reserve the cultural past and oppose the government.

In this respect, Taylor (2002) states, “urban renewal programs were viewed derisively as tantamount to “Negro removal” (p. 30). Historical background and political and social conflicts significantly affect the current situation in the Harlem district.

Because of negative attitude of the Harlem population, the SOB construction met critical responses as well. The gentrification has turned into a struggle at city redevelopment plans.

After the SOB conflict, many insiders reemerge as a movement depicting community’s resistance to housing redevelopment. Currently, collective member and history of Harlem are rich, which prevent them from improving for the better.

Nevertheless, the community gradually approved the gentrification process once it was convinced in good intention of the state government.

The gentrification process in 1990s has a positive impact on the social and economic development of the Harlem community, unlike the processes occurred in 1960s. During this period, many reconstructions process made many residents abandon their homes because of bulldozers and the wrecking balls destroying building representing high architectural value for the community (Taylor, 2002, p. 32).

Despite poor experience that the citizens of the region had during the initial steps of the Harlem transformation, as well as concerns with the middle-class replacement, the housing has become more available for this social group.

However, the arrival of newcomers to the Harlem testified to the activation of further processes of improvement in the public sphere. Therefore, it is logical that Harlem’s black gentrification is considered a unique event that explains the shifts that occurred to the building construction.

Black community Harlem often identifies gentrification with the attempt of the White community to gain power over the African-American population and turn blacks into minority in the district.

As a result, Taylor (2002) notes, “the intersection of race and class contributes to the creation of wholly new variety of community booster” (p. 33). Many historians and researchers believe the Harlem gentrification as a motive of the white community to gain control over Harlem and integrate it into the state economy.

To move away from the community resistance to gentrification perceived as a conflict between black and white communities, the Harlem administration considered it essential to introduce black gentry as an integral part of the region redevelopment process.

However, the period between 1980 and 2000 marked a severe decline of the Black population in Harlem, but the number of housing units has been increased by 14 percent (Feldman et al., 2011, p. 86).

The changes have contributed to widespread displacement of African-American residents, as well as to shifts in Harlem’s racial, physical, and cultural landscape.

Gentrification of the Harlem community was enhanced by federal and local policies, including militaristic military, aggressive policies that triggered drug dealers, drug users, and spread of street vendors. Moreover, financing was carried through external individuals rather than local population and factories (Feldman et al., 2011).

As a result, a significant number of people living in Harlem were deprived of possible commodities one the one hand, having several options left on the other hand. In addition to political and economic shift, the gentrifications introduced changes to the Harlem in terms of legislature.

In conclusion, it should be stressed that the reconstruction and gentrification in Harlem has a multi-dimensional impact on social, political, cultural, and economic processes. All these changes have been predetermined by historical reasons.

Due to constant struggles and conflicts, the Harlem population rigidly opposed the redevelopment process. Rather, there was an attempt to impose new cultural and political tendencies and destroy the heart of African-American culture.

Social, Political, and Economic Dimensions during Historical Periods

As it has been mentioned before, the Harlem community has witnessed various struggles, conflicts, and movements to confront social, economic, and cultural pressure of the white community. Harlem Renaissance and Gentrification period are among the brightest ones in the history of the African-American culture.

The Harlem Renaissance is the cultural revival of the district. This is the time of great upheaval writers, poets, artists, and creative activist who dedicated their works to describing the challenges and problems which black community in Harlem had to overcome (Taylor, 2002).

To describe the essence of the period, Taylor (2002) notes, “Harlem’s cultural history shapes symbolic images connecting past and present for others as well” (p. 77). Symbolism of the movement could also be traced in its historical role.

Because Harlem is considered to be the center of black culture, the significance of Renaissance was enormous for the community because it was a possibility to introduce opposition to the white culture.

Apart from cultural concerns, the Harlem Renaissance has several economic and political underpinnings for the African-American community. The evident transformation of polemic models at this period marked the transition from ancient medieval America to the modern society.

The residents of the Harlem region once again call for freedom of expression, equality, and resistance against pressure and unjust treatment of black culture (Turner, 2005, p. 130).

Hence, the Renaissance period has international importance as well because it allowed to engage numerous related communities from Africa and confront economic and political problems in various regions, particularly in the United States, to be able to understand how black people can eliminate poverty and unemployment.

On the one hand, significant improvements in terms of inventions, new ideas, and social reforms are among the most common features of the Harlem Renaissance. On the other hand, the period witnesses evident representations of strong racism, as well as widespread feeling of lost connection to the black culture.

The policy of isolation, therefore, created serious challenges to the development and enhancement of the Harlem community. Thus, the Harlem’s poets and writers “…were fighting for an increasing participation, social equality, and a conscious handling of the history of the African Americans in the United States” (Ellssel, 2008, p. 5).

Therefore, the actual goal of the emerged movement is to present new political and economic ideology of the Harlem community, as a protest to the ideologies and policies introduced by the majority population of the country.

In contrast to the Harlem Renaissance, the political and economic transformation of the revival period was initiated by the state government, but not by the leaders of the Harlem community. Because of severe events in the past, it is logical that African-American community protested any reforms on the part of the white population and, as a result, gentrification process was conceived as an invasion into the black culture and social life.

Nevertheless, during the gentrification process, the district experiences significant economic and social improvement because of mass reconstruction and building of new housing units. The employment rates have been increased as well as whereas crime rates experienced a significant decline (Taylor, 2002).

Although the process had specific economic and political underpinning on the part of state government, African-Americans were still interested in the improvement of social and physical landscape of the city. However, they introduced their contrastive proposals to redevelop the region.

Some of the residents positively reacted to the changed introduced by gentrification because they were not fully preoccupied with possible undercurrent purposes and goals of the city revitalization.

Judging from these assumptions, the apparent reason for resistance was predetermined solely by long-term tensions between the members of the Harlem community and the white population.


In conclusion, it should be stated that, despite constant struggles and tensions between the black and the white communities, the process of gentrification has a good impact on the overall physical and social landscapes of the city.

The hostile attitude to the social transformations was explained by historically predetermined event that made the African-American people skeptical about the actual intention of the U.S. government.

This is of particular concern to the period of the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural movement under which numerous political, literary, and artistic activists introduced their new political, cultural, and social conception of the development of the Harlem’s black community.

Because the black community has always been struggling for freedom and equality, they opposed to the gentrification process as well.


Ellssell, C. (2008). Political aspects in ‘The New Negro’. US: GRIN Verlag.

Feldman, S., Geisler, C., & Menon, G. A. (2011). Accumulating Insecurity: Violence and Dispossession in the Making of Everyday Life. US: University of Georgia Press.

Taylor, M. M. (2002). Harlem between Heaven and Hell. US: University of Minnesota Press.

Turner, J. M. (2005). Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance. US: University of Illinois Press.

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