A(ll the) rage in Harlem: … and hell, with Clinton’s luck running the way it is now, he may wind up depressing property values further (irritating already peeved longtime residents).
Harlem is in some ways unique because of its history and symbolic importance in black culture, a fact that seems to heighten the response to change there. But similar changes have been playing out in varying degrees in neighborhoods elsewhere, from Fort Greene in Brooklyn to parts of the South Side of Chicago and sections of Detroit. George Galster, a professor of urban affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit, said that in that city, “You hear black community leaders literally saying the following thing: `Now that we have made the city worth something, they want it back.’ ” During the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, he said, “Blacks saw whites fleeing a sinking ship. But, by golly, it near completely sunk, and in the 1990’s it has actually started to rise in the water. And blacks take pride in that. And now they say, ‘Gee, wouldn’t you know it? Now the rats want back on board the ship.’ ”
Attitudes in Harlem vary from household to household, individual to individual. It is impossible to generalize about the opinions of homeowners and renters, old timers and newcomers, business owners and customers. All that can be said is that views about the implications of Harlem’s revival are widely mixed.
“Some feel if it’s not overwhelming, it is good because it does bring some diversity to the community,” said Lionel McIntyre, director of the Urban Technical Assistance Project, part of the urban planning program at Columbia University. “Some feel that black folks just can’t have anything: ‘Every time you look around, they want it’ � that kind of sentiment. Then there is cautiousness about what is the real intent. Does it stop at reaching a racial mix or go to one group taking over the other?”
Mary Pattillo, an assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and a former Harlem resident, said: “If Harlem becomes integrated, is it still Harlem in the way everybody says Harlem and has a vision of it? My personal opinion is, I would like Harlem to stay a black neighborhood and a strong black cultural space. But my political and policy opinion is that I know that segregation allows neighborhoods to be strangled.”
What is happening in Harlem differs in several ways from integration of the more familiar black-to-white form. For example, when black people moved into white neighborhoods, there were in most cases little income or class differences between the two groups. But when middle- or upper-middle-class people move into lower-income, minority communities, what takes place is as much class � as racial � integration.
Whereas whites may have feared that the arrival of black neighbors would provoke white flight and depress property values, residents of gentrifying neighborhoods fear rising property values will force them out. If they do not believe they are under the risk of actual displacement, they may worry about a loss of political control and the erosion of customs, rituals and institutions � what Monique Taylor calls “a way of living in black communities.”