Tuesday, November 9, 2010

☞ READ: Clinton Leases and Causes Renaissance

Along with the Wall Street Journal's announcement of Bill Clinton's Harlem office lease renewal was the statement that the former president was partially responsible for Harlem's new renaissance: LINK. The building at 55 West 125th Street (at far right in photo) doesn't really get a lot of second glances from those walking down the Harlem main street on any given day and there still are some undeveloped properties around it.  Are folks really moving and developing Harlem to be close to Mr. Clinton?


  1. Maura Webber Sadobi sure phoned that in.

  2. I think you missed the mark in interpreting the statement "helped fuel the renaissance that area has enjoyed over the past 20 years." Obviously nobody is going to claim that people are moving to the area or developing solely because Clinton has an office there that he visits a couple of times a year, at most. (Nor does the article claim his office is an architectural marvel, so I'm not sure what your point about the building has to do with anything).

    But I think it is undeniable -- like it or not -- that his decision 10 years ago to locate his office and foundation here lent an air of legitimacy to the neighborhood as a place to safely work, live, and play. Surely, scores of other residents, businesses, and establishments started that momentum previous to his arrival, and have continued it since, but I think it's more than fair to say that the President's arrival "helped".

    Frankly, I find the most interesting part of the article the fact that Obama was cropped out of the photo for the print version of the WSJ!

  3. I wish people would stop referring to the re-development of Harlem as a "new" renaissance or the "second Harlem Renaissance." There is nothing about what is going on in Harlem today that is relevant to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's to 1930's. The Harlem Renaissance was about the artistic, political and socio-economic developement of African-Americans. This period in Harlem's development has more to do with economic development, money-exchanging hands, etc. Yes, we have our African-American artists continuing to develop themselves in Harlem today but I think one would be hard pressed to link the two periods. Todays development has everything to do with shining up "The Big Apple" as a whole and people are left out of the equation.

    Finally, I don't think people are coming here to be close to Mr. Clinton, although I do believe his move here signaled the "OK, its safe now" for white folks and others who were previously afraid of Harlem. I remember a co-worker from MN came here on a class trip in the mid-1980's and when they asked the chaperone could they go up to Harlem, the chaperone replied; "Why so we can be stabbed in the back!?" Today, that co-worker not only lives in Harlem but works here as well

    But please, stop calling what is going on a second Harlem Renaissance

  4. Well ... it is the second Harlem Renaissance; it's just different in nature from the first. A Renaissance is a rebirth, and I think you have only to look at the photos on this blog from the NY Marathon in 94 compared to today to see that a rebirth has taken place.

    As for Clinton -- I think it's been a big boon and one of the reasons the second Harlem Renaissance has been able to take place. When I tell people I live on West 126, the first question I always get is -- 'do you see Bill Clinton?"

  5. Regardless of what you call what has been happening to Harlem over the past 5,10,15 years (I think 20 years is a stretch - during the real estate bust of the early 1990s and the peak of violent crime few people were chosing to move to Harlem), I do think Bill Clinton's arrival here had an effect. As Harlemite said, it made Harlem seem like a legitimate choice as a place to live or work.

    But there are so many other factors - real estate prices started to rise in the late 1990s, big box retail started to arrive thanks in part to Magic Johnson, and crime started to fall dramatically in the mid 1990s. So Bill was one of many factors ....

    Glad to see he is sticking around!

  6. I think the term second renaissance is accurate for the new Harlem, there is a thriving artist community, just visit all the artist studios on show at the recent open house NY tour, and many museums and galleries, event spaces, Harlem has fabulous restored architecture and a growing list of restaurants that where once drug infested bombed out blocks. One of the big differences between this Harlem renaissance and the last is that this second renaissance has more diversity.

  7. WHAT William Jefferson only comes here a few times a year..if? Why did I move to Harlem then for? ;)

  8. Ah, yes, the evergreen Renaissance Question. Heck with everything, I'm voting yes.

    Naturally we're all biased (we live here, after all) but I'd aver that there's a certain frisson you get on the streets of Harlem that you just don't find in any other neighborhood in New York right now. The resurgent local economy has yielded an uncanny clash of cultures--African American, Senegalese, Ethiopian, Dominican, Arab, plain ol' WASP--making for a resurgence that can't be measured in rising dollars-per-square-foot alone. That we're still making slow but steady progress in the midst of a brutal recession suggests to me that this revival is more than a flash in the cultural pan.

    And yes, Bill's a big part of that. So kudos to him for re-upping the lease!

  9. Greg, I think it is perfectly fine to define this as a second Harlem Renaissance. I can't find the source, but Maya Angelou herself defined what is happening in Harlem now as a Renaissance.

    I like a lot of what you post on here (especially the historical stuff), but not sure why you have to single out 'white folk' moving up here. I know just as many black folk who have moved up here, some to open new businesses, others to raise their families in what is now a much safer environment. All were hesitant to do so in the past b/c it was a blatantly unsafe place to have your kids running around.

  10. The Cheese Stands Alone! AGAIN!

  11. The Harlem Renaissance speaks to Black or African American Culture, specific and precisely. The Second Harlem Renaissance is about GREEN and economic ethnic cleansing. Since history is written by the victors, it is perfectly fine for the power brokers that be to romanticize the current transition with charming branding like "Second Harlem Renaissance".

    You've heard the term, "The first time you get married is for love, the second time for money". Same thing. The first Harlem Renaissance was about love, this second? Money.

  12. Interesting perception Mnhttnvlly. I have seen a lot of change in just the past year since I have been here and whether or not it falls under the 'Harlem Renaissance', I have no clue, but it is certainly born out of love. The efforts by the Mount Morris Park Improvement Association (and other groups) to improve parks, put on events for Halloween etc., improve neighborhood conditions for families has nothing to do with making a buck. It is out of love for the neighborhood. The Harlem Art tours are driven by love for art. Sure, the prospect of selling a painting or two helps, but primarily these guys/gals love what they do.

    It is so easy to sit on the side lines (or on a blog) and harp on about how people are only after money or whatever it might be, but to those people, don't complain when things are not to your liking.

    Oh, and God forbid the new businesses taking huge risks opening in Harlem that they actually want to make a few bucks.

  13. Not sure why money is being portrayed as an evil motivator here. Last I checked businesses kind of need it to um... stay in business. Anyway, glad Bill decided to stick around.

  14. stick around? He's never there

  15. @Greg "The Cheese Stands Alone!"LOL.

    For the record I'm with Greg.

    There's a difference between celebrating the influx of Jazz Musicians, Painters and Poets into the area and celebrating the influx of big box retail into the area.

    Renaissance has artistic connotations. The proper term here would be "gentrification".

    If there was a "New Harlem" artistic asthetic in the wind around I'd of noticed. I mean, somebody would have at least texted me or something :)

  16. I see your point there Vic Vega.

  17. I totally get what Vic means, too--it's obviously not a full-on artistic flowering. (Not yet.)

    It is, however, a highly charged cultural atmosphere, and I think it's got potential. And I feel having somebody like Clinton in the area adds to that, underlines it in a way, even if he isn't actually there so often. Is Tina Fey permanently installed in Rockefeller Plaza? Does Jonathan Safran Foer spend all day wandering around Park Slope? And yet these people add to and help define their respective cultural spheres.

    As for Mnhttnvlly's comment... I agree we have to be vigilant in preserving the area's character, and that over-development poses a very real threat to that. But "economic ethnic cleansing"? I don't think we're in any immediate danger of that. (I don't think I even know what that means.)

  18. @ Greg & Vic

    I stand with the cheese.