Abstract: In the research essay, I was given the option to pick a topic related to gentrification and research on that specific topic to find sources and write a research paper on it. My research topic is What are the commercial impacts of gentrification and how it’s impacting small businesses in Harlem? I demonstrated how gentrification impacted Harlem commercially and how the negative sides of gentrification overweight the positive side of gentrification. Furthermore, I decided to write about my own experiences with gentrification in my own neighborhood: Bronx. This was a great experience for me because I got to write it my own way and I learned a lot from it.
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. With the goal 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 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 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 a 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 life in Harlem were forced to move elsewhere, schools that
were full of African American students got diversified, Black cops that were on duty in Harlem
were replaced by White cops, and etc. “Since gentrification 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 rental prices. For the working-class families that were already living in the area before
gentrification, this is the 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 Americans 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.