Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Harlem on Our Mind

The controversy over the re-zoning of 125th Street underscores the callous disregard that the city has for small and minority owned businesses. As the Spectator reported last week; "Community Boards 9, 10, and 11 and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer have estimated that the plan would result in the displacement of 71 local businesses and a rise in the area’s average rent."

The city planners, however, aren't content to simple plan for the demise of these businesses. They consistently find the need to first disparage them, a nasty prelude to their physical displacement. As Juan Gonzales points out today in a trenchant analysis of the entire sordid affair: "According to the city's impact statement, the 71 businesses that will be displaced by the rezoning do have "substantial economic value to the City or region ... and do not, individually or collectively, contribute substantially to neighborhood character."

This is the legacy of New York's Burden, a socialite and dilettante who's been given carte blanche to trash and bash the city's smaller, vulnerable businesses. As Gonzales goes on to say: "Imagine working years to build up your tiny business only to have some bureaucrat from downtown declare you have "no substantial economic value to the City or region." You must make way in this Brave New World for the "substantial economic value" of a luxury condo."

We're certainly not surprised at all of this, not after we witnessed the debacle over the displacement of the minority merchants at the Bronx Terminal Market. In this episode, our old consultant friends AKRF, mirroring EDC's disdain for those merchants, claimed that the unique African and Hispanic products would not be missed because, "a similar line of market products could be found with New Jersey wholesalers." This from a New York City economic development agency.

So the beat goes on, and this time it's luxury housing that is the linchpin of the assault on the existing community: "The city's plan would permit the construction of 2,600 new units of housing along the commercial strip. Only 20% of those new units would be affordable to families earning below $56,000 a year. With average family income in Harlem only $37,000, community leaders want a greater mix of moderate income housing in any plan. Amazingly, the city's environmental impact study for the rezoning claims only 500 residents in the project area "could be vulnerable to second displacement if rents rise."

That's because so many have already been evicted through the gentrification process. But no mention is made of the combined displacement that will occur when this plan and the Columbia expansion plan go into full gear together. We hope that the current crop of African-American elected officials get their satisfaction while they can, because changing demographics and subsequent gentrification will certainly create an inevitable political displacement as well.