HarlemOver the past few years in Harlem, empty lots have sprouted luxury condos instead of weeds. You’re almost as likely to stumble upon a crafted cocktail at an upscale restaurant, as you are shea butter offered by a street vendor.

But, going from a New Jack City dangerous image, to certain parts of Harlem being called the “New Williamsburg” (after a part of Brooklyn known for artsy youths), has come with controversy.

Gentrification is still a four-letter word as it often includes the process of new residents moving into a community and displacing lower-income residents. And yes, long-time residents of Harlem are being priced out.

Some worry that the resultant increase of non-black residents in Harlem threatens the rich culture that has flourished there since the neighborhood became predominately black over the course of the 20th century.

And while the story of Harlem’s on-going gentrification is often told in the press by blaming big retailers that are pushing out smaller stores, or wealthy, white residents who are rehabbing historic brownstones, what is being overlooked is that many of these architects of change are black.

Blacks gentrifying Harlem speak out

“The demographic that lives in Harlem now is a lot more affluent, educated and health-conscious than just a few years ago,” Nikoa Evans Hendricks, executive director of the merchant association Harlem Park to Park, told theGrio. “The new businesses that you see now are driven by demand. Different pockets of Harlem have different personalities, but overall you’re getting a savvier customer who is demanding high quality.”

Media professional Barion Grant is one of those savvy, African-American residents who has called Harlem home since 2001. “I’ve seen empty lots get filled with condos. I was fortunate to purchase one,” Grant said. “I’m a college-educated person from New Jersey who has moved to this community, so I’m fine with identifying myself as a gentrifier. But at the same time I’m re-investing in this community, mostly via my church, First Corinthian Baptist Church.”

Not every Harlem resident who is enjoying this economic renaissance is a New York City transplant.  Bevy Smith, co-host of Bravo TV’s Fashion Queens,  is a lifelong Harlem resident who appreciates many of the new changes in her community. “The fact that they redid the riverwalk on 125th street is just great. I just did the walk from 125th Street to 96th Street. It was a great walk. Once upon a time that walk was not possible because it was unsafe and unkempt,” said Smith. “Today, more businesses here accept credit cards. For someone like me who might have hundreds of dollars worth of dry cleaning at a time, being able to go to the dry cleaner’s and use my credit card is wonderful. There are little things you take for granted and I think it’s healthy for longtime residents of Harlem to see that the area is changing.”

African-American business owners enjoy renaissance

Of course not everyone in Harlem can afford the pricier restaurants and services, but Smith maintains that there is something for everyone. “I pray that there will always be places like Melba’s, Sylvia’s and Corner Social where you can get a meal for $30. You will also see more places like Minton’s where the prix fixe menu is a $90 four-course meal.  Do you need to do that every night? No, but you shouldn’t have to go downtown to do something fabulous and chic,” said Smith.

“Harlem is now really kind of experiencing its second renaissance,” Richard Parsons, former CEO of Time Warner, said in a recent interview with New York Magazine,. “It’s coming up after a long winter’s sleep. But this time it’s different. The renaissance of the twenties was intellectual. This is a commercial one.”

(Continue Reading @ The Grio…)

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  • Rosie

    So I think that black people reap the benefits of gentrification in Harlem, but I don’t think they gentrify it.

  • Mmmgood

    I always feel so torn about the gentrification of our cities. I live in a city that is very down right now, but I see renewal in some areas. Seems good. However, with renewal comes death of other things such as longstanding positive culture (or sometimes that culture is basically highjacked). And like the article mentioned, people get pushed out. I won’t act like there aren’t perks, though.

  • mEE

    yea it’s a very…interesting position to be a Black person in a gentrified neighborhood, especially when you grew up there when it wasn’t gentrified. I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood that wasn’t the safest. my parents moved out by the time I was in high school. by the time I came back after college, the “renewal” process has already begun and I was able to buy a condo in a building I know they demolished a bunch of low income houses to build. …it’s a very uncomfortable situation at times.

  • NOitAll

    “I think it’s healthy for longtime residents of Harlem to see that the area is changing.”

    Really? I didn’t know being homeless was healthy. When it’s said that people are being priced out of the neighborhood, that’s not an abstraction. It has a real world effect. That means somebody lost the place they were living. That means they have to find an affordable apartment somewhere else. In a city like NYC, where income inequality is stratospheric and rents are sky-high everywhere, that’s nearly impossible. And yes the homeless population has increased dramatically in NYC.

  • Shaun

    I’m apart of that gentrified Harlem. Hell I was proud to move a gene-rationally poor family that looked like me out of Harlem I said good riddance and kick rocks. Hell in the 1980’s when they were flossing with Dapper Dan and slaging crack you should have been buying up brownstones. Blaming white people for picking up a jewel the community at large never gave a damn about is the easy way out. WE HAVE A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PROBLEM AS A WHOLE IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY,

    • SRA

      @Shaun Clarence Thomas is that you? Or is this Glenn Beck trying to illustrate a point? Lol just effing with you, Shaun (awww, you even chose a “ghetto”name! How smart and cuute!!! K-Shaun might have been a little better tho. Just sayin’) Why you, as a proud gentrifier be so angry, yo? Ya got what you want. You live where you want to live even if it happens to be around the “uundesirables” or “negroes” if words like that make you feel more at home in your head. And Rest assured, we always want you to feel at home even if that might make us a wee bit uncomfortable or at the very least unable to afford our skyrocketung rent.) here’s an idea: Just turn up the volume on your i-phone headset when you ride in your environmentally friendly and bulletproof/soundproof green taxicab down the street and pretend everything you see is just another vintage episode of COPS. That way your unpleasant gentrifying a** can sleep well at night.

    • Tara

      There is truth in what you said but you have a terrible delivery. You sound really cold, Shaun.