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Social Issues: Gentrification in Harlem Essay

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Updated: Mar 17th, 2020

Harlem is the name of the neighborhood which consists of three Manhattan districts of New York City. The neighborhood is known as the center of the large African-American cultural community. The cultural growth of Harlem began in the early part of the 20th century when many black inhabitants of the community became known because of their literature and artworks.

The period of the cultural boost in the 1920s is known as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’, but today the researchers also pay attention to the fact that Harlem develops actively, and significant changes are noticed in demographics, social and economic spheres (Maurrasse 31-32).

It is possible to state that the beginning of the 21st century is significant for Harlem’s development because today the community experiences the new ‘Renaissance’ associated with the process of gentrification as a residential change characteristic for the urban territories.

Thus, gentrification in Harlem during the period of 2000-2012 is characterized by changes in the community’s demographics, household income, and economy connected with the arrival of wealthier residents, increased investment, promoted economic and business activities, and changes in the factor of affordability which are supported with the relevant statistical data.

Defining Gentrification and Affordability

In order to analyze the processes and factors which characterize gentrification in Harlem, it is necessary to discuss it as a phenomenon typical for the urban territories.

Gentrification can be defined as a specific change in the urban community which characterizes by the shift in the roles of poor and wealthy residents because wealthier residents begin to move into the community, develop businesses, influence the increase of property values, and often make the low-income families drive out (Zukin 47-48).

As a result, there are obvious changes in the demographics of the community which are traditionally associated with economic growth and development. The population increases, its ethnic and social background can change, and the alternations in the economic life make the community members drive out because of the impossibility to adapt to the experienced changes.

These persons cannot use the proposed services, infrastructure, and benefits of changes because of their low income and social status (Davidson 2385). The lack of affordability is a challenge associated with the gentrification process.

Harlem is divided into three parts known as West Harlem, Central Harlem, East Harlem, and these communities are correlated with Manhattan’s District 9, District 10, and District 11 accordingly. Harlem became an attractive destination for the urban residents, and the population of the neighborhood is constantly increasing (Zukin 48).

According to the Census data of 2010, the population of West Harlem was 110,193 residents in 2010 in comparison with 111,724 in 2000, and 106,978 in 1990 (“Manhattan Community District 9”). The population of Central Harlem in 2010 was 115,723 residents in comparison with 107,109 in 2000 (“Manhattan Community District 10”).

Thus, the community’s population increased by 8%. The population of East Harlem in 2010 was 120,511 residents in comparison with 117,743 in 2000 (“Manhattan Community District 11”). From this point, the population increased by more than 2%.

The significant shifts in the population numbers are caused by a range of social factors, and this process is characterized by the associated development of infrastructure and increases in the housing costs (Sullivan 583). The increase in the population numbers is associated with the movements of wealthier residents who are mostly white. As a result, there also changes in the racial characteristic of the neighborhood.

Harlem is traditionally discussed as the largest black community in New York City. However, during the period of 2000-2010, the prevalence of the African-American residents became less obvious. Thus, the African-American population of East Harlem decreased by more than 10% during the period of 2000-2010, when the Asian community increased by 110% (“Manhattan Community District 11”).

The similar changes are characteristic for Central Harlem, where the African-American community decreased in 12%, the Asian community increased in 200%, and the white community increased in 400% (“Manhattan Community District 10”). The most significant decrease in the number of the black population in 22% is characteristic for West Harlem (“Manhattan Community District 9”).

Thus, the non-black population demonstrated the great interest in Harlem in the 2000s, and this tendency led to boosting the economic and social progress of these districts of Manhattan. More white families began to choose this neighborhood for living because of the availability of services and resources.

This process resulted in increased investment in the neighborhood, causing increased housing costs. Many African Americans could not afford to live in Harlem anymore, and they began to drive out of the neighborhood (Freeman 463). These changes in the racial parameter illustrate the connection between social, demographic, and economic factors.

While focusing on the economic aspect of gentrification in Harlem, it is important to note that the urban shift is always associated with significant economic changes related to the household costs, real estate rates, costs of the residential property, and residents’ wages. Those non-black persons who moved to Harlem in 2000-2012 were wealthier than the black population of the neighborhood.

As a result, new residents began to purchase the properties actively and create the high-cost infrastructure, affecting the life of the low-income population.

Thus, the changes in the household income related to the Harlem population are significant because, in 2012, the median household income related to East Harlem was more than $31,000, the median household income related to Central Harlem was about $36,000, and the median household income related to West Harlem was about $40,000.

While comparing the numbers with the data of 2000, it is possible to state that the median household income increased in 10%, 15%, and 20% in East, Central, and West Harlem accordingly (“Manhattan Community District 9”; “Manhattan Community District 10”; “Manhattan Community District 11”).

These changes mean that the economic situation in the community improved, but the social growth was caused by changes in demographics because the increases in household income were the direct result of arrivals of white upper-middle-class representatives.

The changes are observed not only in demographics and economic life of Harlem residents but also in the social life because of the interconnection of factors. From this perspective, changes in the housing costs are also the indicator of gentrification (Davidson 2386). The rent costs in Harlem increased in more than 19% while comparing the rent costs in the 2000s (Maurrasse 36).

The increase in costs is a result of the arrival of new residents with high incomes. The demand for houses increases affecting the renting and housing costs. Thus, the economic change is associated with social change. Furthermore, education is one more important factor to be discussed in relation to the gentrification process.

The education level of Harlem residents increased in more than 40% while comparing the data of 1990, 2000, and 2010 related to School District 4 of Manhattan (Bloomberg and Burden 64). As a result, the number of college graduators also increased, affecting social changes. Thus, wages of Harlem residents increased in response to the obvious economic changes generally in 35%, while affecting the changes in the life of families.

The unemployment rate decreased by 7% because of the intense job creation observed in 2000-2010 (“Manhattan Community District 9”; “Manhattan Community District 10”; “Manhattan Community District 11”). Revitalization of the economic life of Harlem led to improving the social life in relation to such basic indicators as education and health.

However, there is also a negative result of the developed gentrification observed in Harlem during the period of 2000-2014. This aspect is associated with the notion of affordability. The problem is in the fact that the increase in the economic and social standards in Harlem was a result of the active investment in this neighborhood. New residents moved to Harlem because of the obvious potential for economic progress.

Nevertheless, the demand for services provoked the increase in costs, and services and resources became unavailable for the low-income black community. Many African Americans who had lived in Harlem before 2000 chose to leave the neighborhood because of the obvious gentrification.

While comparing the numbers of the black population in 2000 and 2010, it is important to note that the black community in three districts of Harlem decreased in about 30% (“Manhattan Community District 9”; “Manhattan Community District 10”; “Manhattan Community District 11”; Zukin 49).

The process is observed even today because the active economic acceleration and obvious changes in the social life mean that many black persons cannot afford previously used resources, and they have to drive out Harlem.

Conclusion

The process of gentrification as the residential shift is often associated with the economic boost, acceleration in business, and increased standards of social life. Referring to these aspects, it is possible to note that the indicators of such changes are noticeable about the socio-economic growth in West Harlem, Central Harlem, and East Harlem. The data of 2000 and 2010 represent significant positive changes in the household incomes and education levels.

These shifts are the result of the changes in the demographic pattern and racial composition of the neighborhood. The main characteristic of gentrification is the movement of wealthier people to the urban territories which results in the obvious replacement. Thus, during the period of 2000-2010, the population of Harlem increased in more than 10% when the African American community originally located in Harlem decreased by about 30%.

This shift is the direct consequence of gentrification because wealthier and well-educated white people and Asians produced the demand for housing and services and made the black population drive out because of the changed conditions.

The economic and social growth, job creation, and increases in incomes affected the development of the society according to the principle of affordability related to the low-income population. From this point, Harlem experiences significant changes associated with the gentrification process and the racial composition of the neighborhood changes along with the alternations in the socio-economic spheres.

Works Cited

Bloomberg, Michael, and Amanda Burden. New York City Public Schools: Demographic and Enrollment Trends 1990-2002. New York, NY: Department of City Planning, 2003. Print.

Davidson, Mark. “Spoiled Mixture: Where Does State-led ‘Positive’ Gentrification End?” Urban Studies 45.12 (2008): 2385–2405. Print.

Freeman, Lance. “Displacement or Succession? Residential Mobility in Gentrifying Neighbourhoods”. Urban Affairs Review 40.4 (2005): 463–491. Print.

Manhattan Community District 9. 2014. Web. 26 June 2014. <http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/neigh_info/mn09_info.shtml>.

Manhattan Community District 10. 2014. Web. 26 June 2014. <http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/neigh_info/mn10_info.shtml>.

Manhattan Community District 11. 2014. Web. 26 June 2014. <http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/neigh_info/mn11_info.shtml>.

Maurrasse, David. Listening to Harlem: Gentrification, Community, and Business. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2006. Print.

Sullivan, Daniel. “Using Survey Data Reassessing Gentrification: Measuring Residents’ Opinions”. Urban Affairs Review 42.1 (2007): 583–592. Print.

Zukin, Sharon. “New Retail Capital and Neighborhood Change: Boutiques and Gentrification in New York City”. City & Community 8.1 (2009): 47-64. Print.

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