Have We Lost Harlem?

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A tall, slender, charismatic man, Shuler greets and is greeted by several individuals on the street as he walks and talks. A renter and property owner, Shuler watches this new wave of migration into his beloved Harlem with mixed emotions. “We’re seeing good looking and promising things, but the historical value is totally erased,” he says. He feels that “foreigners,” as he calls all new residents, will never have the same sentiment as old-school Harlemites; the same feeling of community. “I admit that we are sometimes reactionary. I wish we people here had the resources, and in some cases the vision, to do more.”

As of 2002, there were 153,756 blacks, 126,794 Hispanics, and 23,187 whites living in Harlem, according to data from Claritas Incorporated. This data also shows that Harlem’s African American population declined 7.5% between 1990 and 2002, while there was an increase of Hispanics, whites, and other ethnicities by 22.3%, 9.3%, and 68.5%, respectively. Additionally, the study estimates that between 2002 and 2007, Harlem’s African American residents will decrease by 4.4%, and the Hispanic and Caucasian populations will increase 3% and 0.8%, respectively.

Nikhil and Kristin Hattiangadi were already familiar with Harlem and had enjoyed hanging out uptown with friends when they began looking for a home in 1998. They admit that the culture and the changing economic climate were a draw. They are now new Harlem residents who purchased an abandoned, four-story brownstone on Strivers Row in 2000. Nikhil was born in India and raised on Long Island. Kristin is white, from upstate New York. “My mother was concerned at first,” she says. “But now she loves it.”

They had been looking for a home since ’98, living on West 63rd Street and West End Avenue in Manhattan, paying $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. The purchase price of their brownstone was $340,000. A total gut rehab, which converted their property into a single-occupancy home, cost them close to $500,000. A corner home across the street just sold for $1.2 million.

But the Hattiangadis are not planning to leave and are looking forward to raising their daughter in the Harlem community. “It’s a real neighborhood,” says Nikhil. “People say good morning to you and they’ll take your mail if they know you’re not there.”

“We lived on the West End for eight years and didn’t see anybody,” adds Kristin. “They wouldn’t even hold the elevator for you.” Since their arrival, several new couples of different ethnic backgrounds, including African American, have moved onto the block, also with young children.

“Transition is not particular to Harlem,” says Moody. “It’s the way of the world. I don’t think we’re losing the culture. When the tourists come to New York [City], they want to come to Harlem. They want to touch it, smell it, taste it. They want the flavor. If Harlem is enjoying its second renaissance, even with this influx of new residents,” he says, “it’s not going to change Harlem’s flavor.”