Thursday, July 12, 2012

Harlem

When I first visited New York, it would not have occurred to me to visit Harlem for its reputation and my timidity. It was the early 90s, crime was high in New York (though already on a downward trend) and anger was high, justifiably, at Harlem's poverty and exclusion.

Times have changed: the poverty is still here but there are palpable signs of regeneration and change. I am sitting in one, the friend's apartment I have borrowed, in a block built in collaboration with one of Harlem's many churches. The block brings new professionals into the area and it expands the churches ability to provide facilities and services to the neighbourhood. Incidentally it has fabulous views looking downtown across Manhattan. Harlem has many churches - big and small - in diverse buildings offering Jesus in various kinds of packaging as the route to salvation (found here only). Poor Jesus a universal highway of hope turned into so many toll roads of exclusion (even if all roads eventually lead to Rome...metaphorically speaking)!

Out for a walk yesterday, the poverty is evident. The shops are mostly singly owned, not chains, and cater for a poorer demographic, with interesting cultural markers: cheap gold jewelry, tattoos and Reggae being much in evidence. There was one splendidly tattooed large African American lady at a street side stall, selling scarves, hats and cheap sunglasses whose whole skin lit up with moving imagery as she swayed and talked.

From time to time, you hit pockets of new affluence, like the French restaurant in a line of three upmarket eating establishments that I ate at yesterday evening. Near the metro station, opposite Marshalls (the only sign of  global shop chain life I saw), their clientele was significantly more racially mixed than the surrounding streets and you realize that 'regeneration' can often simply mean 'replacement' as poorer people are displaced by incoming folk finding 'cheaper' places to nest and like cuckoos pushing out  the'weaker'.

The staffing of the restaurant was, however, a sign of continually changing demographic. The owner was white (and French) and the staff were black - no immediate surprise there except the staff were all French speaking from Haiti and Senegal as far as I could tell. A melting pot continues on - even if the racial divide continues resistant.

The verdict is out in Harlem and the key to success will be (as usual) the provision of social housing in sufficiently robust numbers and quality to maintain balance (as was apparent for the strategy in central Mexico City I saw earlier in the year).

I walked home through Marcus Garvey park where a very racially mixed group of musicians were preparing to play (a very loud) concert  and a young woman was very volubly and colourfully letting her boyfriend have whole chunks of her mind down the other end of her cellphone!

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Well at the World's End

A professor of Ancient History, whilst walking in the Highlands, encounters, with his wife, Fand, a well whose water is so clear that they ...