|The Manhattan Institutes|
Center for Rethinking Development
Ideas that shape the citys planning, housing, and development
|A Monthly Newsletter by Julia Vitullo-Martin, MI Senior Fellow|
Harlem's recent rejuvenation should be welcomed by all New Yorkers. Instead, as a Feb. 24 symposium at Baruch College's Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute showed, the new Harlem is a target of substantial grievance among activists, small retailers, self-described artists, and others who argue that Harlem's cultural identity is being wiped out. They contend that rehabilitation and the construction of new housing, combined with commercial development from Old Navy, Magic Johnson's Theatres, Staples, Marshall's, and even Bill Clinton's office, have cost Harlem its unique African-American heritage.
The whole subject is fraught with difficulties. "Trying to get the emotional portion out and getting to the objective is always a challenge," says developer Carlton Brown, whose Kalahari on 116th Street stands as a sensitive tribute to African culture. "If there's to be an objective evaluation. you need a base of comparison. If you compare Harlem today to the Harlem that was vacant and burning, that's one story. If you compare Harlem today to the vibrant cultural renaissance of the 1920s, that's something else."
The development numbers since then have been substantial. Between January 1987 and December 2005, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) completed the construction of 44,774 affordable housing units in Community Boards 9, 10, and 11or 19% of the citywide total. Of these, 7,454, or 22%, are owned rather than rented, increasing home-ownership in Harlem to 16% in 2002, up from less than 2% in 1993. (Actual home-ownership is probably closer to 20%, but the official neighborhood figures from the city's Housing and Vacancy Survey won't be available until 2007.)
Complaints that city policy has driven out low-income households are not borne out by any data. Over 78% of HPD's beneficiaries were low-income, 11% were moderate-income, and 11% were middle-income. According to Deputy Commissioner Kimberly Hardy, who directs the Office of Community Partnership, HPD's rehabilitation of 27,764 once highly dilapidated but occupied units caused no displacement, because HPD policy returns the apartments to the original tenants. From the tenantsí perspective, the rehabilitation is done virtually for free.
The truth is that the new Harlem is substantially benefiting the old Harlem. So why all the complaints?
WEAK COMMERCIAL CORRIDORS
One can argue that the presence of the big stores on 125th Street has produced positive spillover effects. It seems to have encouraged the opening, for instance, of the now-renowned Harlem Vintage wine store on Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 122nd Street, and the elegant Les Ambassades restaurant down a few blocks more. Both have Harlem roots.
Yet the real commercial problem, just as it was until recently on the Upper West Side, is one of density. Harlem still doesn't have enough consumers of the kinds of (inevitably high-end) goods that get produced and sold in indigenous crafts stores like harlemmade, because harlemmade needs far more upper-income residents than currently live within shopping distance. Luckily for harlemmade, and for Harlem itself, those higher-income residents are coming.
HARLEM'S FIRST MARKET-RATE BUILDING
The Lenox, built without government subsidies, on privately owned land, will open at 129th Street and Lenox Avenue in the spring. Its 77 apartments will range from $490 per square foot, for 3-bedroom units, to $668 per square foot, for the penthouses with terraces. Of the 17 apartments priced over $1 million, 5 have already been sold, even though occupancy is several months away. Developer Lewis Futterman told the Baruch audience that "we wanted the most upwardly mobile members of the Harlem community to stay. And we wanted to attract back those who had left in the days when there was so much disinvestment in Harlem."
Futterman also said, to murmurs of disapproval, that middle- and upper-middle-class African-Americans tend to be very conservative with money and were formerly reluctant to buy in Harlem. But what's important for Harlem's future is that they are now buying in Harlem, and will be spending their dollars at Harlem stores. That's the most direct solution for Harlem's current lack of retail diversity.
"There's never been a previously down-trending area come back with so little displacement as Harlem, Futterman added a day later, still sounding somewhat frustrated. "You can even be a bad guy as a developer, but unless youíre terminally stupid. why would you take on vacating an occupied building when you could get vacant land in Harlem?"
But these trends do not mean that Harlem is as safe as most other Manhattan neighborhoods. Harlem is doing well, but its future is not yet secure. It was once nearly destroyed by crime, and crimeparticularly in the visible form of street drug dealersis down but not defeated. This is one neighborhood that still needs thoughtful, attentive analysis by those who care.
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