The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville
By Derek S. Hyra


Copyright © 2008 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-36604-3

Chapter One


From the intersection of 135th Street and 7th Avenue, Harlem's twenty-first century renaissance is ubiquitous. On the southwest corner, scaffolding covers a large abandoned building and construction workers repair the facade of a structure that once housed Smalls Paradise, a legendary 1920s jazz club. A few blocks away, a new luxury condominium complex rises from a once vacant lot. Around the corner, a new bank branch has opened as have a number of small boutique shops. Nearby rehabilitated brownstones command prices between $600,000 and $1,000,000.

While Harlem, and this intersection, is rapidly redeveloping, a Laundromat just north of 135th Street is still a remnant of the community's impoverished past. The shop is run down and the old washers and dryers often do not work. An outdated arcade video game stands in the back. In the front, two worn metal folding chairs and a small TV sit in a makeshift waiting area.

Lashanda, a petite woman in her late twenties, owns the business. Lashanda has lived in Harlem all her life. She grew up in one of Harlem's many public housing projects and now lives with her two-year old son in a market rate, $1,000-a-month one-bedroom apartment. While waiting for my laundry, Lashanda and I talk about the articles in the Daily News, the latest BET music videos, and Harlem's new posh nightclubs and bars.

Our conversations often center on the revitalization of the community. She says she does not mind the changes because her perception is that the neighborhood is improving. She expects her business will allow her to keep up with Harlem's rising costs. However, she declares that rents are becoming unaffordable for the majority of residents.

About a year after I first met Lashanda, I was walking up 7th Avenue past the Laundromat and noticed that it was closed, as were some of the other flanking businesses. Construction workers were tearing down the Laundromat's frontal signage. I immediately called Lashanda and asked her what had happened. She said the owner of the building did not renew her lease; he wanted to rehabilitate the building in order to rent to more upscale businesses. I asked if she was upset and she replied, "The one thing constant in life is change." She was not angry or highly distressed, as many of the other Harlem business owners faced with the prospects of displacement had been. Lashanda has a carefree way about her and perhaps compared to the tragedy of her boyfriend's death a few years ago, the loss of her business was minor The commercial section that once housed Lashanda's Laundromat now contains high-end boutique clothing shops that serve the tastes of young black professionals, willing to pay $500 for a pair of stylish designer jeans.

Economic development in Bronzeville on Chicago's South Side is just as pervasive as in Harlem. Until recently the community had one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the world, but now all of Bronzeville's high-rise housing projects are slated for demolition, and many will be replaced with $500,000 townhomes and luxury condominiums. With the public housing removed, major financial institutions that once neglected the community for decades are now eager to make loans, and are even establishing new branches in the area. Many of the beautiful graystones, which were built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, have been rehabilitated and are selling for upwards of $600,000. A number of coffeehouses, as well as a bed and breakfast, have opened. As the cover of a recent Chicago real estate publication emphatically states, "Bronzeville Is Booming," evidenced by Bronzeville's higher than city average property value increase.

My introduction to Bronzeville's public housing began while attending a resident health fair at the Stateway Gardens housing project. My neighborhood connections suggested that this event might present a good opportunity to meet and talk with public housing residents. While at the all-day event, I decided, near the end of the day, to play basketball with a bunch of elementary-school aged boys. After I finished, Tre, who is in his late twenties, invited me to play basketball with some of the adults the next day. Through playing basketball most Saturdays and Sundays at Stateway for three years, Tre and I became good friends.

Tre, a man who stands almost six feet and is about 250 pounds, has lived at the Stateway Gardens housing project his entire life and comes from a family that is entrenched in its gang life. Nearly all of his brothers have been gang members, yet Tre, a high school dropout, has remarkably resisted gang involvement. Tre has experienced many hardships at Stateway. He has been robbed by a group of men carrying shotguns. He has seen his brothers go in and out of prison and has had to navigate the violence that occasionally erupts between rival gangs that control Stateway's drug trade. Regardless of the tragedies he has witnessed and experienced, Tre loves Stateway; it is his home.

Tre is a Stateway leader who is committed to improving people's lives. For the last six years, he has worked for several nonprofit groups. Tre connects Stateway residents to health care services, intervenes during instances of police brutality and harasses neglectful housing authority staff. Tre also coordinates an annual basketball tournament involving teams from various housing projects.

As each Stateway high-rise building is demolished, Tre moves to another one to remain at Stateway. He knows he can get a voucher for a privatemarket apartment but Trewants to stay at Stateway and in Bronzeville. With Bronzeville's real estate prices escalating and housing demand increasing, the community's landlords are reluctant to accept housing vouchers, especially from former public housing tenants. Tre eventually finds an apartment in a more distant South Side neighborhood; he is forced to watch Bronzeville's revitalization from afar.

The stories of Lashanda and Tre are not unique. Their situations are all too familiar to longtime residents and small business owners of revitalizing inner city areas. As redevelopment occurs, many of those with strong community roots are forced to relocate in response to mounting market pressures and government action. In the drama of the creative yet destructive forces impacting urban America, they are the victims.

To some, this scenario may seem reminiscent of the past urban renewal, however, the situation occurring in Harlem and Bronzeville is different. Urban renewal of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s was synonymous with "Negro Removal." During this period in cities throughout the United States, large tracts of land were cleared for redevelopment and many African Americans were displaced to make room for highways, universities, large commercial developments, and new residential neighborhoods. Most of the beneficiaries of this development were white. White residents, real estate developers, and construction companies benefited from the deployment of federal funds to revitalize central cities.

Today's urban renewal, evident in the redevelopment of Harlem and Bronzeville, is benefiting middle and upper-income African Americans, while lower-income members of this racial group are seeing their communities transformed into spaces they can no longer afford. As individuals like Lashanda and Tre are being left out, prominent black real estate developers are making millions building and selling luxury condominiums and townhomes. One black developer in Harlem estimates that he has already made nearly $10 million from one of the community's new upscale high-rise condominium buildings. He forecasts that his Harlem plans will eventually net his company approximately $40 million. In addition, numerous African-American homeowners in these communities are seeing their property values skyrocket. Unlike the past, the second round of urban renewal is benefiting certain segments of black America. The current urban renewal is not entirely race specific but involves an intersection of race and class.

While many developing inner city areas experience an influx of white residents, Harlem and Bronzeville are transforming without drastic racial changeover; they are experiencing "black gentrification." Instead of middle-class whites, middle-income blacks are replacing low-income African-American residents in these communities. Today, Harlem is nearly 80 percent African American and Bronzeville is 90 percent; the redevelopment of both areas is associated with the influx of the black middle class.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, America is experiencing a new round of urban renewal. Although concentrated poverty continues to plague many metropolitan neighborhoods across the United States, inner city, African-American communities in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles have transformed from concentrated pockets of poverty into trendy and expensive living spaces. No two communities symbolize this revitalization trend more than Harlem and Bronzeville. These two neighborhoods were once among the most impoverished, declining, and destitute urban black ghettos in the country. In the 1970s and 1980s, violent crime, drug use, school dropout, teen pregnancy, and pervasive poverty were commonplace. In the last ten years, however, the economic conditions of these communities have dramatically changed: property values skyrocketed and median household income doubled. As massive amounts of residential and commercial investments have poured into these areas, the communities have gone from being red-lined to green-lined, from the crack house to the coffeehouse. It is imperative that scholars uncover the dynamics and consequences associated with these monumental transformations.

The primary purpose of this book is to highlight the dynamics that are leading to the changing conditions in redeveloping inner city neighborhoods. Harlem and Bronzeville have undergone two similar transitions in the twentieth century: changing from affluent white areas to significant black communities and then from mixed-income black areas to highly concentrated poor neighborhoods. Each alteration has highlighted major societal forces that have been instrumental in shaping America's urban landscape. The formation of these communities as culturally, politically, and economically self-contained black spaces-cities within cities in the 1920s-expressed the importance of industrialization, patterns of black urban migration, antagonistic black/white relations, and black solidarity on urban neighborhoods. Their second transition, from thriving, segregated communities, to what Kenneth Clark coined the "dark ghetto" in Harlem and Arnold Hirsch labeled the "second ghetto" in Bronzeville signaled how de industrialization, concentrated public housing construction, persistent white racism, and black middle class movement to the suburbs merged to create extremely disadvantaged black neighborhoods that engendered America's urban "underclass."

As Harlem and Bronzeville experience their economic revival and "second renaissance," they once again reflect patterns and forces critical to the reconfiguration of urban America. Economic globalization, increasing interdependency among national economies around the world, is a major societal dynamic that is contributing to the inner city development in certain cities. The movement of industrial jobs to off-shore locations was one of the key factors related to the inner city decline, and now, downtown centralization, also influenced by international business, is associated with Harlem and Bronzeville's redevelopment.

Federal government action and resources are also critical factors. While national community development funds were severely cut during the 1980s, in the 1990s certain federal programs, most notably the Empowerment Zone (EZ) Initiative and the Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE VI) program, steered billions of redevelopment dollars to some of the country's most blighted urban areas. The allocation of federal funding is one of the important backdrops that set the context for understanding contemporary inner city revitalization. In the last three decades America's black middle class has tripled and the tastes and preferences, not to mention the increased purchasing power, of this group are reshaping the social, political and economic features of the urban landscape. While the black middle classed black ghettos to more prosperous and often less segregated communities in the late 1940s and 1950s after the abolishment of restrictive housing laws, a new crop of middle class African Americans returned in the 1990s. By moving into and participating in the redevelopment of historic African-American communities, this group is altering the notions of urban black America.

While these major redevelopment dynamics are influencing Harlem and Bronzeville, their consequences are different. For instance, Harlem has more commercial development. With the arrival of mainstream outlets such as Staples, Starbucks, Marshalls and Old Navy on 125th Street, greater displacement pressures are being faced by Harlem's longstanding small businesses. Furthermore, Bronzeville's high-rise public housing is being demolished while Harlem's public housing high-rises remain. Thus, in Bronzeville extensive displacement occurs among the poorest segments of the resident population. Greater public resistance to the revitalization exists in Harlem, even though one of the most visible signs of gentrification, the demolition of high-rise public housing, is not occurring there. I seek to explain both the parallels and inconsistencies related to the redevelopment processes in these historic African-American communities.

A critical dissimilarity between Harlem and Bronzeville is they are situated in cities with drastically different political landscapes. NYC has a fragmented government system and Chicago is a classic, centralized Democratic machine. This difference is essential for understanding the distinct consequences associated with the redevelopment of these communities. More than any other study on neighborhood redevelopment, this investigation uncovers how city politics mediate and alter the effects of community development forces.

Harlem and Bronzeville: Not Just Communities

In this book Harlem refers specifically to Central Harlem. It is located toward the northern tip of Manhattan, the main borough of New York City, and is bounded by Central Park at 110th Street to the south, 155th Street to the north, 5th Avenue on the east and Morningside and St. Nicholas Parks on the west. It houses many culturally significant black institutions including the Apollo Theatre, Abyssinian Baptist Church, once led by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and the New York Urban League. Harlem is where Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X settled and established their political and social movements. Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston wrote many of their famous literary works in Harlem, and renowned painter Jacob Lawrence lived there as well. Musicians Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane performed at venues such as Smalls Paradise, the Cotton Club and the Lenox Lounge. During the early and mid-twentieth century, these people and many other African-American artists, writers, performers, and political leaders developed Harlem's reputation as the "capital of black America."

Bronzeville is the Harlem of Chicago. It is located on the South Side of Chicago and is bounded by 26th Street to the north, 51st Street to the south, Cottage Grove Avenue to the east and the Dan Ryan Expressway to the west. During its heyday, Bronzeville inspired the work of literary figures such as Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks, as well as artists like Archibald J. Motley, Jr. It houses many important black institutions including the Chicago Urban League, Olivet Baptist Church, and the Chicago Defender newspaper, which still sponsors one of the largest annual African-American parades in the country. Moreover, this community is where the Johnson Publishing Company, with its signature African-American magazines Ebony and Jet, originally began. Many important political leaders such as Ida B. Wells, Oscar De Priest, and William Dawson resided in Bronzeville. During the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, numerous singers and musicians including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Earl Hines performed in neighborhood venues like the Regal Theater, the Palm Tavern, and the Parkway Ballroom.


Excerpted from THE NEW URBAN RENEWALby Derek S. Hyra Copyright © 2008 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.