Our Hood—Community Matters

I walked into a bar, the Harlem Pub, the other day with a friend of mine. He actually chose the spot after checking his phone for a place to go since we were in the neighborhood. Although he’s not from New York City and definitely not from Harlem, he’s familiar with the city. I grew up in the boroughs and spent a lot of time in Harlem as far back as the mid 70s. Yet, I didn’t know where we could go for a meal and the opportunity to have a drink and talk; he was in town for a couple of days had put a couple of hours aside for me so we wanted a spot close by.
Since the name of the place was the Harlem Pub, you’d think it was in actually in Harlem … maybe it is today. What I mean is that when I was growing up in the city Broadway and 140 something street wasn’t considered Harlem; it was a whole other section of Manhattan. Anyway, the name was the name and there we were. I haven’t yet mentioned that my good friend is a young educated white guy because it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter except that it’s germane to the story or at least where it’s headed.
First, we walk in and the place is relatively small and we’re hip to hip, which is the perfect term since it was full of hipsters and I was a minority, which seemed odd with us supposedly being in Harlem. Second, I ordered a drink that was once a staple of Harlem bars; a top brand of cognac, the drink of hustlers or at least that’s what I grew up believing—no, I actually witnessed it—only to be told that they didn’t carry any cognac. So there I was in the Harlem Pub sipping a Manhattan and realizing not for the first time Harlem is no longer a Black neighborhood.
Gentrification is the direction of this story: A Black guy in Harlem cannot find a drink that was once as much a part of Harlem as he was. After being a part of the Harlem scene for decades, the best dining spots, the coolest bars and even the infamous afterhours spots; whether it was Wells, Adel ‘s, Copeland’s or Mama’s, I knew where to get the best soul food without considering Sylvia’s and while Smalls Paradise was a famous bar, the Royal Flush and the Dumb Bar were two among many bars with history and Fat Daddy Blue’s and Across the Tracks were two of the afterhours spots that crowded Harlem at one point. However, that Harlem is no more, and applies only with words like reminiscing and nostalgia in the conversation; the Harlem of my memory is just that, memories of a time gone.
Gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents” and that’s straight from Merriam-Webster.com., which is what, has happen in Harlem. People have been displaced and Harlem is prime real estate, which makes sense since it is Manhattan. Once a drug infested community, Harlem now has Brownstones costing in the two million dollar range and recently placed a penthouse property on the market for over four million. The Harlem Pub not has only a lot of customers, but also a lot of competition for them; pubs, internet cafes, upscale restaurants, and Starbucks are everywhere with the consumers to keep business flowing.
So is gentrification the greatest thing or what? I’ll go with the or what because there’s more to it than what’s on the surface and what’s on the surface doesn’t look all that great either. The following is the actual listing for the penthouse I mentioned, “… duplex penthouse at 303 W. 118th and Frederick Douglass Bvld. has four bedrooms, 4.5 baths, and sweeping views of Manhattan. It’s being sold for a cool $4.3 million by Brown Harris Stevens.” Great right, since property is up so are property tax, which means better services and more attention from the politicians, which translates into a greater police presence, better schools, and every city agencies aiming to serve the community. But … many of Harlem’s long time homeowners cannot afford higher taxes and very few can afford the rents today; actual listings had two apartments, both two-bedrooms with one bath going for $3,050 and $1,900 respectively.
I’m sure there are more expensive apartments in Harlem, but to make my point I didn’t need the most expensive ones, the two I did mentioned is out of the price range for most of the long time residents of Harlem. The same people who fought against and survive the drugs and violence of the 70’s, 80s and 90s are being forced out now that things are better. And how did they get better? Those people were left to fend for themselves until another group decided they wanted to live there and prices skyrocketed and Harlem received attention and care.
So while things have definitely gotten better for the neighborhood, it’s a totally different neighborhood and that’s a shame. The police presence and other city services should have been there all along for the law-abiding citizens of Harlem regardless of their ethnicity or social economic situation. The once rich and colorful history of Harlem is just that, history. Gentrification was used to kick them to the curb and is one more injustice to a group that came to this country in chains and came to Harlem in the 1920s where they faced resistance from its white residents, which is the case now, although it’s more an economic discrimination today. While Harlem stands, its people have fallen and the Harlem Pub is packed with hipsters.

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