When I envision Harlem, I see Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, the Cotton Club, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I picture the vibrant upbringings of music’s elite, like Damon Dash, Alicia Keys and Diddy as they walked the streets inhabited by Malcolm X. I visualize brownstones, beautiful people … and the impact of gentrification on the mecca of black American culture.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines gentrification as:
“The transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value. This change has the potential to cause displacement of long-time residents and businesses … when long-time or original neighborhood residents move from a gentrified area because of higher rents, mortgages, and property taxes. Gentrification is a housing, economic, and health issue that affects a community’s history and culture and reduces social capital. It often shifts a neighborhood’s characteristics, e.g., racial-ethnic composition and household income, by adding new stores and resources in previously run-down neighborhoods.”
Gentrification hasn’t been received well in Harlem because there are positive and negative implications, including an influx of whites into the legendary neighborhood, which increases real estate prices. Some think gentrification causes neighborhoods to losetheir flavor.
“I think [Harlem's] going to be less than 50 percent black by 2020,” Stacey Sutton, an urban planning professor at Columbia University, told the New York Times. “If all of that changes, what remains is this historical memory of the place that was black, but is something very different.”
However, Harlem resident Clyde Williams, former Domestic Policy Advisor to President Clinton, sees urban revitalization as a positive addition.
“These businesses create jobs and bring economic stimulus to the community, as well as a diversity of restaurants and nightlife,” he told PolicyMic. “Studies have shown that Harlem – as well as the rest of the District – is significantly under-supported by service businesses/retail relative to population density.”
Director Shawn Batey wants to highlight the impact of gentrification with the feature-length documentary, Changing Face of Harlem. It will examine Harlem’s revitalization through the lens of residents who’ve been living in the area before gentrification and are seeing the impact now.
Batey sees this documentary as crucial to the fabric of American culture. He writes on the crowd-source funding page:
“There is something sacred about the streets of Harlem, something that no other neighborhood possesses. Harlem has a soul. It is the holy ground for some of the most critical forces to shape Black America. Known by its moniker the Mecca of Black culture, Harlem is where men and women went to find their footing and experience spiritual and intellectual growth. Once the capital of Black America, it played a pivotal role in shaping the African American narrative and produced some of the nation’s most important icons. Malcolm X preached from 125th Street, Langston Hughes read poetry from his Harlem home, Billie Holiday sang from the legendary Apollo. Black America experienced a cultural awakening and found its voice in Harlem. This is the legacy Harlem has given to the world.”
Batey has launched an IndieGogo campaign to bring the documentary to fruition. To donate, click here.