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Archive for the ‘gentrification’ Category

Here is something I wrote to a friend in August 1987 about the difference between West 111th and 109th Streets in Manhattan. In those days 111th had been mostly gentrified but 109th not:

… I walked back up Broadway and for a change of scene I turned right at 109th Street, left onto Amsterdam Avenue and then left again on 111th Street to get back to Broadway.

The difference between 109th and 111th was amazing.

It was early Friday evening, the sun had gone down but light was still in the sky, and 109th was full of people: men sitting at card tables on the sidewalk playing dominoes, boys on bicycles, girls standing together talking, parents sitting on steps, a boy sticking his hand into the low spray of a fire hydrant, people talking, music playing, black kids and white kids playing together. It was a neighbourhood in the true sense as opposed to a street of buildings where people live next to each other.

I went up two blocks and turned down 111th Street. It was like another world. It was quiet and almost dead: one boy on his bicycle, a couple walking their dog, two girls leaning out the window watching their father taking out the trash. Both Hispanics and Anglos live on this street, but the minute I turned the corner onto 111th Street I could tell it was mainly Anglo: it was so dead. Dogs and cats take the place of children. People sitting apart in their air-conditioned rooms takes the place of a true neighbourhood.

I have seen this difference before: a black neighbourhood in the city is full of life while white suburbs are not just quiet but almost dead: you can walk down a street and hardly see anyone. The only way you can tell people live there is that the grass is cut and cars are parked. But you almost think they had all died an hour ago of some strange disease – like in some science fiction story about the end of the world.

People get down on the city and lately I have been getting sick of it myself, but things like 109th Street restore my faith. And yet in five or ten years 109th will be gone, a memory: it will be gentrified and become a street of air-conditioned yuppies instead of a street of laughing children.

This difference between white gentrifiers and others was not just something I imagined. Here is how many white gentrifiers see Harlem in 2008 according to a New York Times article:

And many new residents are uncomfortable with Harlem’s noisy street life, including sidewalk barbecues that can draw large crowds. Some believe there are too many churches on the one hand – Harlem has more than 100 houses of worship – and a casual flouting of the law on the other, with people littering, double-parking and drinking alcohol on the street.

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