September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Title:Winds of change blow in El Barrio
Blurb:The winds of renovation are in the air in East Harlem. The work environment is characteristic of our neighborhoodpeople paint, clean, and repair to the sounds of salsa and meringue. Those not moved by the wave of renovations fear that property values will go up and low-income Latino families will be forced to find new homes in other areas.
Body:The winds of renovation are in the air in East Harlem. They gust into our daily lives as a group of workers pours asphalt on Park Avenue while others put the finishing touches on the new, luxury laundromat on 116th Street; nearby buildings are being restored and new restaurants are popping up. The work environment is characteristic of our neighborhoodpeople paint, clean, and repair to the sounds of salsa and meringue.
Others sit at desks, brainstorming and strategizing how to improve the quality of life in El Barrio, a predominantly low-income, Latino neighborhood. They think up complicated plans that will pass through many stages of revision before they are approved, plans that will make possible the opening of a little store on 106th Street (there are only two employees but the owner hopes to have four after six months), and the reconstruction of the famous, fifty-year-old La Marqueta under the Park Avenue bridge.
This phenomenon of revitalization, which recently swept through neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan and continues to be seen in parts of The Bronx, is taking El Barrio by storm.
You dont have to look far to see these changes: the northern end of Madison Avenue at 117th Street is totally different than it was two years ago. Nine new buildings, pristine and elaborately decorated, are almost ready to be occupied, and others welcome children in school uniforms. The Pathmark on 125th Street is running strong, a new shopping plaza is slated to open soon, and a large company inaugurated an automobile dealership.
This phenomenon was not unforeseen, rather the result of years of slower changes. Over the last 10 years the New York City Housing Authority invested $605 million in restoring old buildings in El Barrio.
Without a doubt, the neighborhood will be safer and more beautiful in five years, but also more expensive. These are the two faces of economic development.
We are supporting new investments and the construction of new buildings that will attract middle-income people in an area which has traditionally housed low-income tenants, says Henry Calderón, president of the Chamber of Commerce of East Harlem. In the last two years the Chamber of Commerce has built or restored more than 600 homes for families with an annual income of $60,000 or more, while in the 1980s residents income did not exceed $30,000.
There are reasons why New Yorkers in general feel attracted to this neighborhood. El Barrio is a fantastic area, an essential part of New York and its close to Central Park and the FDR Drive.
Those not moved by the wave of renovations fear that property values will go up and low-income Latino families will be forced to find new homes in other areas. These changes are not without a price.
In five years, the population will be displaced by other groups. This displacement will be a little slower than in other areas that experienced this after September 11th, 2001, explains Yolanda Sánchez, president of the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA) and community activist for more than 40 years.
No one wants to keep the neighborhood in ruins, but we worry that we will have to leave when it gets too expensive, says Leonilda García, El Barrio resident for over 10 years.
If the process is truly irreversible, then there are also ways out. There are different strategies of economic development. We can cultivate local businesses or bring in large investors, or at least try to achieve a balance between the two, says Javier Llanos, district manager and chief advisor of economic development for Community Board 11.
To facilitate development, organizations like the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, NERVE, and East Harlem for Community Improvement, among others can provide advice, technical assistance, and training to residents and local businesses so they can benefit from these changes.
The American economic system demands that when there is competition one must offer better quality at a better price. Some small businesses feel threatened by larger ones, but they must adapt, explains Calderón. El Barrio will continue to be a Latino neighborhood if Latinos decide to buy homes in the neighborhood and raise their children here, he adds.
El Barrio continues to be one of the most economically depressed areas of the city, with high levels of unemployment compared to the national average and a severe lack of access to health care. However, the name of East Harlem may have other connotations in five years. Lets hope that these winds of change keep blowing strong, while Latino music keeps sounding loud.