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Research Essay

What are the commercial impacts of gentrification and how it’s impacting small businesses in Harlem?

Al-Aqsa is a restaurant in the Bronx that has been dominating the Bengali communities since the beginning of 2010. At first, it was just a small grocery shop. Now, Al-Aqsa owns about two restaurants and three grocery shops of its own just around my neighborhood in the Bronx. 

Gentrification is the process in which an urban area will go through rapid changes in its physical state. For instance, small businesses and buildings will go through redevelopment in order to improve housing and attract new businesses. Gentrification has both pros and cons. In focusing on the commercial impacts of gentrification in Harlem, Money is a huge factor and probably the main cause for gentrification. In goals of making a neighborhood a cleaner environment, gentrification also decreases the rate of crimes. When crime rates decline in a neighborhood, property values tend to rise, and research shows a correlation between declining crime and an increase in the number of higher income and better educated residents.

Gentrification is a sign of economic growth. As money starts to come into a neighborhood,, many aspects of everyday life are changed for the better. Buildings and parks are renovated and beautified. Jobs arrive with the increased construction activity and new retail and service businesses. Crime rates decline. In addition, gentrification increases the values and demands of the area which is a good thing for businesses because it enables them to expand their business in the market and make more profit which can boost the economy greatly. 

Even though gentrification is greatly beneficial for the economy, it can be deadly for small businesses and working class families. Gentrification targets small businesses to make them better and increase their value by renovating. By doing this, big businesses can take over small businesses in order to make more profit and attract more people. It helps the rich to get richer and eliminates the poor ones from their current place. 

Growing up in the Bronx, I have experienced gentrification in my own neighborhood. I moved to the Bronx in June of 2013 about seven years ago. A small area in my neighborhood known as “Starling” has been going through gentrification for a long time now. During my first year in the Bronx, Starling was full of small stores like the 99cents store and fast-food restaurants. However, in the recent years, Starling went through rapid renovations of these shops and restaurants because they were bought away by bigger restaurant owners in order to create a more complex and rich environment. For instance, in 2013, a restaurant called “Nirob” owned by a Bengali businessman was dominating the whole neighborhood because of its well known foods. As time went by, Nirob was bought by another business and was named “Al-Aqsa Restaurant”. Ever since then, the owner of Al-Aqsa restaurant has bought many small shops around the neighborhood in order to expand their business. This shows how gentrification is impacting small businesses all around the city and not only specific parts. In addition, the population of the Bronx has been increasing due to property demands and better businesses. When my family rented our first house; two bedrooms and a living room plus kitchen and bathroom, the monthly rent was about $1100. However, as the structures of the neighborhood changed through rapid constructions and renovations, the rental price of the same apartment went up to $1500 in just three years. Moreover, gentrification is also impacting the MTA fees all over the Bronx. As more and more people are moving into the city, demands are increasing as well. Due to this, the fees for MTA rides has been also increasing over the last few years. When I first moved here, I believe the MTA rides were somewhere around $2. However, currently the MTA ride will cost you $2.75. Overall, gentrification is playing a major role in building the future of the Bronx. 

Harlem is one of the many cities in New York that has been gentrifying for many decades now. Initially, Harlem was home to thousands of African American families and it was more likely a cultural home to them. Businesses were owned and operated by Blacks and houses were affordable by working class families however, as Harlem started seeing gentrification, both businesses and houses became a place where African Americans no longer could afford to live in. Residents that spent their entire entire life in Harlem were forced to move elsewhere, schools that were full of African American students got diversified, Black cops that were in duty in Harlem were replaced by White cops, and etc. “Since gentrifica-tion began in this city, the Black population has declined”(Williams). As Central Harlem went through gentrification, people started to put in money in order to have a place under their name as soon as the place was completed. What this does to the poor families and business owners is that they are forced to take their businesses elsewhere so their place can be used for luxury condominiums. People who are living and operating businesses in the areas that undergo gentrification often struggle to cope with the changes occurring from gentrification. Small businesses often struggle to compete with new luxury shops and as a result of this, they run out of businesses and are forced to leave the area. “Gentrification produces economic forces that drive locals to move elsewhere”(Williams). They often face the challenge of how to cope with the changes in the demographics and need to implement strategies to survive the changes occurring in the city.

A major impact of gentrification is the dramatic increase in rental prices. New York City is one of the cities that has a median rent of about $3000 per month. Based on the real estate industry, rental prices in NYC have been increasing dramatically over the last decade. “The real estate website mined its data from 2010 to 2018, looking at more than one million listings, and found that New York City rents have increased by 31 percent in those eight years”(Plitt). The areas in which rents are increasing are mostly considered the areas that are or going through gentrification. Gentrification seems to target areas that are considered as a poor or working class neighborhood where people earn an income that they need daily. An increase in rental prices and utility bills become a burden on the working class family. There is no easy solution to the rent crisis however, one way it can be handled is by creating more housings which can cause a decrease in demands and the rental prices. For the working class families that were already living in the area before gentrification, this is their only solution they have other than moving elsewhere. According to the article “These NYC Neighborhoods Saw Rents Grow the Fastest Since 2010”, Plitt, Amy argues that in New York City, lower income neighborhoods are the ones that experience a higher increase in rental price than the neighborhood whose families earn a good amount of salary. “And thus, lower-income New Yorkers are the ones who experience the biggest hits in terms of rent hikes. “In the 52 neighborhoods with a household income above the city’s 2010 median of $50,285, rents grew by an average of 26.9 percent between 2010 and 2018. In the 31 neighborhoods with incomes below the city median, rents grew by 33.1 percent over the same period,” per the report”(Amy). In conclusion, it is clear that gentrification is the basic cause for rents to increase dramatically over just a short period of time.

Gentrification does not only change the physical state of a neighborhood but it also changes the demographics and the culture of a neighborhood. Businesses and shops are built based on the demands and supplies of the demographics of a neighborhood and once the demographics start to see changes, businesses often struggle to cope with the changes. Gentrification causes certain people to move out of an area and causes others to move in and this greatly affects the culture of a neighborhood. For instance, Central Harlem has always been home to African Americans for centuries however, the time has come and Harlem is struggling greatly to preserve its cultural backgrounds. “Gentrification brings about many displacements and a threat to survivability for African American living in poor class neighborhoods. Among everyone else, even the ones that have grown old in Harlem and spent much of their adult life in the neighborhood have to face the threat of gentrification and eventually forced to pay a higher rental price alongside utilities” (Versey). These kinds of changes are important in terms of gentrification because as household income is steady, the increased rent becomes a burden on the older and poorer residents that are living in Harlem.


I have been in the education system for almost 8 years now and before this year, I have never learned about gentrification and how it is impacting our world. In the beginning of the semester, when I was doing my very first assignment, I thought to myself; why is gentrification so important? why are people even worried about it? why not just let it be? After completing many assignments and gathering a basic knowledge of gentrification, I started finding answers to my own questions and it was quite surprising and ironically I realized why gentrification is such an important matter in the future of our world.

I find gentrification is something that is very interesting to learn and study about because it just give you so many answers to why the world today at its current place. I learned very important things in this class that I can take away with me while I move onto my next level classes. I believe the knowledge I have taken away from this class will help me in the future.

In addition, I have also written a research paper on gentrification. This paper was not something easy and something that I have not done before. So, after I completed my paper and read through it, I felt like I accomplished something special. I believe that working on this paper has prepared me enough to be ready for my next English class which I know will be very challenging but I believe in myself and I know that I will do great work in the future because I learned the important skills for writing from this course.

Evidence of Gentrification in Harlem

Harlem began to see rapid gentrification in the late 1990s. Ever since the beginning of gentrification, Harlem has fallen victim to gentrification greatly.

This image shows us the picture of a part of Harlem in 1978 and a picture of the same place in 2015. According to this image, we can clearly see the difference gentrification is making on Harlem. Now, many will argue that gentrification is bringing positive changes by saying that it is helping the economy to grow at a faster rate by increasing the rental price. Yes, that is non arguably true however, we need to look at the consequences of gentrification. We have to accept the fact that hundreds of families are being forced out of their houses and hundreds of small businesses are being shut down, how will these people get back on their feet? I personally believe that gentrification is a nightmare for the poor and an amazing opportunity for the rich to invest more in. Gentrification could be seen as a good thing if it was fair enough for everyone equally and not just favoring the rich. Yes, renovating buildings and making them better is a great thing but we need to make sure that part of that building is given to the people that were already living there instead of just increasing the rental price dramatically.

Gentrification is not only taking over big cities but it is also taking over small areas within cities. I have been living in the Bronx for almost seven years now and I have experienced gentrification on my own as well. In 2013, when I first moved to the US, the rental price of a two bedroom house was about $1100. However, currently a well fitted two bedroom house/apartment will cost you about $1500 or above in the Bronx.        

This is a picture of the South Bronx, close to where I live. In the image we can see that how the buildings are so diverse, the small buildings are being broken down and being reconstructed into big buildings in order to have more space and better environment. I remember having a small deli store near my house and I used to go there almost everyday to buy food and drinks. A few years ago the store was taken in order to have more space for a building that was next to it. The owner of the building then built it into a bigger restaurant where now many people go everyday.