Tuesday, June 03, 2008

gentrify, testify

there's been a massive amount of construction in my building. a commercial development company bought all of the buildings on my side of the street, and although the rumor is that they'll flip the buildings and turn them into condos when the vacancy limit is reached, others say that it's more of a moneymaker to continue renovating each apartment as it becomes vacant and jacking up the rent to match whatever they're paying downtown. they've even put up green awnings at each entrance with the address and this really silly, pretentious name: the westbourne.

what's especially sad is that when they renovate, every other room becomes a bedroom, for the most part, and harlem apartments were never meant to be lived in that way -- especially on the west side. the people who move into these spaces never realize that. most places have a living room, dining room and a kitchen that's large enough to sit and eat in. and the larger apartments in the front also have sun rooms or sitting rooms. even my two bedroom apartment is supposed to be a one bedroom set-up: they converted the dining room into a large bedroom and put a closet in it, then sealed off a doorway that led directly to the kitchen.

the reason why they don't have anything like that downtown is because back in the day, harlem was meant for luxurious living. the sidewalks are broader, there are malls filled with flora and fauna that divide the streets with benches to sit and chat, and the streets feel more like thoroughfares than roads. and compared to what you'd find downtown, the apartments are cavernous.

the apartments downtown were created for immigrants: small cramped situations with bathtubs in the living room and bathrooms down the hall when they weren't placed in a closet. that's the nyc in the tenement museum in the lower east side. no one gets to wander through a harlem apartment unless they're watching one of those screwball comedies from the 20s or 30s -- and when you happen upon one of those movies, with the sumptuous marble lobbies, replete with chandeliers and whatnot, you have to keep reminding yourself that its new york city that you're seeing.

watching the disparity in these movies as a kid, i always knew that i would live in a palace of an apartment in harlem. why bother with any other part of the city? and although i've had pretty standard issue places so far -- with the exception of a cavernous place on riverside drive -- they have been huge in comparison to the apartments downtown and elsewhere in the city. i still want such a place. what's bizarre is that if i stay in this building long enough and if they actually flip the building, i just might get it.

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