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A modern-day graffiti marking in Harlem Village. (Brownstoner)



In recent decades, Harlem has undergone a transition from a so-called “ghetto” to an emerging metropolis, in what Harlem residents now refer to as “New Harlem.” Although the elements of “old” Harlem are still recognizable and real, Harlem is also home to brand name shops, gourmet restaurants, and restored housing, as well as being surprisingly more diverse than in previous decades. This influx of money and the overall revitalization of Harlem has led to its gentrification, with white residents moving into Harlem at increasing rates. The gentrification of Harlem is a fascinating topic to study not only because it is happening today, but because of the history of Harlem that seems to clash with a modern image of a white gentrified community.

Brief Historical Background

Although the historical literature on the gentrification of Harlem is scant, researchers (including sociologists) are beginning to examine the changing elements of Harlem, both its demographics and its infrastructure. Regardless of the sociological lenses put forth by recent scholars, analyzing the current gentrification of Harlem requires a deep understanding of Harlem’s history; new Harlem residents are grasping on to the ideas of the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s and ignoring the drug-laden and crime-ridden history of the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, “New Harlem” has taken on the former image and less of the latter. Of course, the distinct racial element of Harlem also leads to important question of race relations between incoming whites and the black community in Harlem. As Harlem becomes gentrified, both these historical and racial questions will determine the future of Harlem.

Foundational Questions

1) Does the potential influx of whites impact the historical "black" significance of Harlem? (I.E. think of the Harlem’s connotation as being a distinctly black community)

2) How do new black residents moving to Harlem feel about their community versus older black Harlem residents?

3) How does gentrification benefit Harlem and conversely, what are the reasons that Harlem residents would resist it?

Literature and Resources

Dávila, Arlene M. Barrio Dreams Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
Gill, Jonathan. Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America. Grove Press, 2011.
                  *SEE Ch. 12, specifically
Sharman, Russell Leigh. The Tenants of East Harlem. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
Taylor, Monique M. Harlem Between Heaven And Hell. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Williams, Timothy. “In an Evolving Harlem, Newcomers Try to Fit In.” The New York Times, September 7, 2008, sec. New York Region.
Zukin, Sharon. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Oxford University Press, 2010.
                  *SEE Ch. 2

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