Thursday, July 09, 2015

Locals feel the chill as gentrification looms over a block in Upper Manhattan's Washington Heights


The west side of Broadway between 161st and 162nd Streets

by Ken

Even as Jane Jacobs described the process of organic neighborhood revival she called "unslumming" in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she recognized that it could go haywire if all spoils were allowed to go the highest bidder. What we later came to call "gentrification" bears a superficial resemblance to Jane's "unslummng," but one difference is that gentrification pays no heed to the energies of the local residents whose faith in their neighborhood gets the process started -- and another difference, of course, is that gentrification, far from guarding against the money-takes-all killer wave, joyfully embraces it.

So there's often muted cheer in a neighborhood that perks up in the early stages of gentrification, but since Jane J's attempts to build in checks against the rampage of raw greed now seem decidedly quaint, there is unfortunately no way to halt the development process at anybody's idea of a "sweet spot." Ironically, by the time the process is complete, and the fully gentrified neighborhood is now a restricted habitat of the rich, it no longer has most of the features that once made the neighborhood what Jane thought of as a real neighborhood. The cruelest irony is that it has happened to her own beloved West Village, which has become both unaffordable and increasingly dead.

How one reacts to "gentrification stories" depends on where one is on the economic spectrum and the social-sensitivity scale. For many of us, though, despite the initial giddiness, it has the feeling of a death sentence.

And so even a humorous take on the subject is likely to be a subject for fairly dark humor. Which seems ample setup for this report on the changes that appear to be lurking ahead on this block of Upper Manhattan's Washington Heights -- the west side of Broadway between 161st and 162nd Streets -- which thus far have reached only what we might call "the eviction stage," definitely not part of Jane Jacobs's organic "unslumming" process.

This report by DNAinfo New York's Lindsay Armstrong, drawing on earlier reporting from Jeremiah's Vanishing New York ("Washington Heights Gentrification Sale") and the Village Voice ("A Manhattan Landlord Is Evicting an Entire Block of Latino Business Owners"), was posted Tuesday evening.

Business and Economy

'Gentrification Sale' at Uptown Diner Offers Single French Fry for $8.99

by Lindsay Armstrong

Just call it Williamsburg Heights.

An Uptown restaurant locked in a legal battle with its landlord got a gentrification-inspired makeover Monday.

Punta Cana Restaurant, which has been at 3880 Broadway for almost 30 years, was temporarily transformed into the Casa de Campo Restaurant, named for an exclusive resort in the Dominican Republic.

Signs announced a “Gentrification in Progress Sale,” with faux ads for Jarritos with an $11.99 corkage fee, a single hand-cut seasonal French fry for $8.99 and a “Desayuno del Hipster,” or hipster breakfast, for $8.99.

Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reported that the signs were the work of Doug Cameron and Tommy Noonan, two Brooklyn residents who created a similar campaign when their local deli was threatened by a large rent increase in May 2015.

This time Cameron and Noonan focused their energies on a stretch of Broadway between 162nd and 163rd streets, where landlord Coltown Properties recently evicted several longtime local businesses, including a barbershop, two clothing stores and a tax preparer. Only Punta Cana and El Buen Camino fruit stand remain.

Cameron and Noonan gave a similar treatment to the now-vacant storefronts, which officials said would likely become one restaurant.

Tongue-in-cheek signs that advertised the storefronts for rent suggested possible uses for the spaces, including a barbershop specializing in “CrowdSourced Artisan Bangs with Flax” and a pet spa offering “Doggy Botox.”

Another banner advertised a new version of the fruit stand.

“Frutera El Buen Hipster: Now with Expensive Green Juices and Kombuchas,” it read.

The pair also included a sign urging people to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, or the "Bill de Bodega," as they have re-christened it. The bill would ensure business owners 10-year leases with the right to renew, leveling the playing field between landlords and commercials tenants, supporters say.

Raul Liriano, a 35-year resident of Washington Heights and a regular customer at Punta Cana, supported the campaign.

“They’re trying to say that the neighborhood will soon be too expensive for us, the community who has been living here for a long time,” Liriano said. “Somebody has to say something.”

Although the signs seemed to poke fun at some of the area’s newer residents, Liriano said he doesn’t blame them for the rent increase.

“The rent Downtown is too expensive so they move here,” he said. “Everything goes back to the landlords. They make the law and whatever they say, we have to pay.”

Cameron and Noonan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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