Saturday, November 1, 2008

Heard on NPR

NPR has been producing an ongoing series on land use. Today they revisit Harlem, and effects of the gentrification on this culturally-changing historic area.

Growing Pains Come To Harlem | by Alison Stewart

One Harlem, Many Meanings

For a successful real estate agent such as Willie Suggs, the gentrification in Harlem is about business.

"It's not cultural," she says. "It's an economic transformation of a neighborhood from one economic class to another and clearly that's been happening in Harlem."

For longtime resident Dolores Early, 72, the word "gentrification" conjures something different.

"Homelessness comes to me, so a very sad situation comes to mind," Early says.

A newer arrival, artist Misha McGowan, sees a positive side of the renewed interest in uptown Manhattan.

"I love the fact that it's been restored to its former beauty. I don't mind most of the development," McGowan says.

Lucille McEwen, president of the Harlem Congregation for Community Improvement, which helps create affordable housing, is practical in her assessment of the changes.

"Sometimes, we say we are victims of our own success in rebuilding the community," she says. "But it's a much better option to be concerned with gentrification than to be concerned with high crime and blight."

Drugs, crime and poverty made for a powerful triple threat that decimated Harlem in the 1970s.

Once-stately brownstones became abandoned, graffiti-ridden dens of illegal activity. Locals who couldn't afford to move or didn't want to leave were living in an area that had few services and an uneasy relationship with police.

In the 1980s, New York City took ownership of many of the ruined homes and gave good deals to those willing to fix them up. The residential real estate market took off in the '90s.

The other side of the coin shows shades of another reality, one born in commerce, but not so compassionate on the ground.

A Fight For Low Rent

Low rent is one of the things that keeps Early in her apartment despite its problems. Her husband opens a hall window and reveals a smelly mass of black water and refuse just a few feet from their front door.

"This is a condition that has been here for years," Early says. "But recently they decided not to clean it. I've been complaining about it for over a year."

Her apartment is rent stabilized, but she believes her landlord wants her out.

"Some of the apartments, they're getting $1,500. Some of them, more than that," Early says, adding that she pays $474.02.

Low-income housing is at the top of the list for community leaders who want to embrace the economic growth but protect the people.

It is a well done story. The names may change, but the story is the same as the have-much and have-lesses fight for their home turf. There are forces in common, whether Harlem in NYC or Whitaker Mill Road in Raleigh. The challenge is figuring out how to grow in a respectful way. Fallonia believes it begins be seeing each other as real people.

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