Gentrification is a rising epidemic happening in disadvantaged neighborhoods in New York City for some time now. Neighborhoods in Manhattan such as Harlem are an ever changing landscape with visible social classes. Some people would argue that gentrification is a good thing because it brings public safety, housing, jobs, and opportunities. Jobs that were usually placed outside of low income neighborhoods are now easily accessible and more recycling and going green programs are being initiated. But with the good inevitably comes the bad.
The issue at hand is the lack of morality regarding socioeconomics and race within gentrification. While gentrification is constantly being dismissed, another Starbucks pops up in the hood, or another rack of Citi bikes is placed on cracked sidewalks that are not consistently maintained. Housing developments in disrepair are populated with poor working class citizens that have to live across the street from luxury high rise condos taking over their view of the midtown skyline or Central Park, giving a visual to the poverty threshold that imposes gentrification. Housing developments with garbage cans overflowing sit right in front of the entrance to the building because the trash compactors are broken. The fact is, this would never happen if this was a luxury condo. Housing developments don’t have to be luxurious, they just need to be clean and have safe living conditions like every human being deserves.
Race plays a big part in gentrification. To quote James Baldwin on Harlem getting its first project building, “Other people were delighted to be able to point to proof, positive that nothing could be done to better the lot of the colored people. They were, and are, right in one respect: that nothing can be done as long as they are treated like colored people. The people in Harlem know they are living there because white people do not think they are good enough to live anywhere else. By treating African Americans as people of color, rather than individuals, secluding those in Harlem caused them to act in anger.”
If you were to enter an elevator in a project building, you would be met with the smell of urine, you might even step in some too. But if you don’t want to take the shoddy elevator that rarely runs, you can always take the stairs, if you’re brave enough that is. Dilapidated staircases are the norm, decades of grime and layered lead paint. Garbage lays littered all over the steps, a fire hazard in the one place that’s assigned as an escape from fires. Again, would that ever happen in luxury condos? With these buildings comes constant disrepair, lack of public safety, underfunding, and poor maintenance. The bare reality of humans being denied basic rights goes far beyond the pros of gentrification. The acclaimed good that gentrification can bring is used as a blanket to continue to forget the lower class people who make the community what it is.
The only solution to gentrification is to improve the conditions for the current residents already living in these neighborhoods. According to 596 Acres, NYC has sold 202 city-owned lots to developers for $1 each, Lots that could easily be used for the community instead of distasteful condos no one in the neighborhood could afford. There is a need for more after school centers for children and teens, more funding for public schools, adequate conditions in shelters, free or affordable health clinics with access to therapists, and rehabilitation centers. In a city of 8 million It’s easy to get lost in a crowd and keep to yourself, But if we come together and unite in numbers, we can make an actual change for the better.
Amber Skyy is photographer and writer based in East Harlem, focused primarily on the effects of gentrification and inequalities in disadvantaged neighborhoods in NYC.