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Harvard University Press

V Books: Prof. Brian Goldstein Talks Gentrification And The Struggle Over Harlem In New Book

New Harlem vs. Old Harlem. 

Thanks to gentrification, the face of Harlem is changing. Ensconced on Black Manhattan’s avenues and blocks are lofty condos, trendy restaurants, and many other privatized businesses. Harlem even has a Whole Foods supermarket that sits on the infamous 125th Street. The natural food supermarket isn't there to cater to the historically poor folks of Harlem. The pricey supermarket is there to serve the sea of wealthy whites lodging in plush condominiums across the street from St. Nicholas Housing Projects on 7th Avenue.

New Harlem is far from the intellectual center, and the hub of thriving black owned businesses that made Uptown the Black Mecca of America decades ago. Gentrification is a complex issue, to say the least.

"The word 'gentrification' perhaps obscures as much as it reveals," Brian Goldstein, assistant professor of architecture at the University of New Mexico, says. "Yet even if this is an ambiguous term, it helps us to understand that something has changed both physically and demographically in places like Harlem, and that ambiguity points to the fact that this process never unfolded simply in Harlem. Gentrification came with significant costs, including a focus on profit-oriented development over the needs of low-income residents, fear and tension among those residents—who worried about their ability to remain—and rising housing costs. At the same time, many Harlemites saw gentrification as beneficial: it brought stores that residents wanted no matter their income, saw improvement of Harlem's physical environment and marked the achievement of goals of economic integration that some residents had voiced."

VIBE reached out to Prof. Goldstein to shed light on gentrification of Harlem. Goldstein argues in his new book, The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem (Harvard University Press), that local Harlem activists played a major role in the gentrification of Harlem. We also discussed class conflict, Bill Clinton's stay in Harlem,  local Harlem activists and the future of the uptown sub-borough.

VIBE: Can you briefly tell us what your book is about?
Brian Goldstein: The Roots of Urban Renaissance is a history of the transformation of Harlem between the early 1960s and 2000s and, through that lens, a history of urban change in those decades more broadly. In the early 1960s, Harlem was the symbol of America’s urban crisis. By the new millennium, however, Harlem had become a new kind of symbol: one that represented what people called the “urban renaissance” and the dramatic process of gentrification. In tracing this arc, I tell a history of gentrification from the bottom up, focused not on the people who moved into neighborhoods like Harlem but instead on its longtime residents, who sought to rebuild and gain control over it. Understanding their story—and its benefits and costs—provides a more complex, nuanced history of gentrification that goes beyond simple frameworks of winners and losers.

What inspired you to research this topic? Why Harlem?
There are two major reasons. First, I am interested in the ways that people use the built environment to imagine their ideal future. I found Harlem to be a rich terrain in which urban space played this role, as Harlemites constantly imagined and debated future visions of what their community should be. A lot of really interesting groups—founded by activist architects and planners, for example—participated in this pursuit but had not been included in Harlem’s long historical record.

Second, Harlem has long been at the center of both urban history and African-American history. Even as New York’s black population increasingly moved to Brooklyn, Harlem remained both an iconic place and a site in which urban transformations often happened first or especially intensely. Its role as a pacesetter was no less true in the late twentieth century as it was early in the century, and so it provided an ideal case for telling about phenomena that occurred more broadly, too.

You mentioned in the book that Black Power changes public life. How is that?
Black Power was an ambitious social movement that took up the goals of racial self-determination in political, economic and educational realms. We see its influence in the rise of black mayors, in the development of the idea of “black capitalism” and in the emergence of Black Studies. I add a detailed analysis of how Black Power also changed the way that cities were built. Black Power advocates demanded a voice in the way that land was shaped in places like Harlem. I explain that they created a new array of organizations to seek that goal, including community development corporations. Though these did not always follow a straight path, they did, indeed, give citizens a role in shaping the places that they lived, worked and shopped.

Will you briefly explain the conflict between middle-class and poor black activists in Harlem?
Middle-class and poor residents often traced fundamentally different visions. The latter demanded a Harlem built by and for Harlemites, centered on their basic needs for decent housing, jobs and education. They argued that Harlem did not need outsiders to revitalize. On the other hand, middle-class Harlemites often saw the path to community control in profit-oriented commercial ventures. They emphasized bringing wealthier outsiders into Harlem and joining Harlem to what they saw as the economic “mainstream.” At the same time, class could often align in more complicated ways. Middle-class Harlemites with an activist bent, such as radical architects, assisted low-income Harlemites. And low-income Harlemites often saw great promise in commercial development, such as supermarkets and shopping centers, in a community that had not had much of either.

Can you name some Harlem organizations that partnered with corporations, which consequently brought about gentrification of Harlem?
The Harlem Commonwealth Council, which still exists fifty years later, emerged in the late 1960s. It was a really important early voice in shaping black capitalism and, as it evolved, increasingly embraced large-scale commercial development as a goal. Most notably it played an important role in the development of Harlem USA, the community’s first shopping mall, which brought retailers like the Disney Store and Old Navy to Harlem. The powerful Abyssinian Development Corporation emerged later, in the 1980s. It played a central role in important projects like Harlem Center, a partnership with Forest City Ratner that also brought new chain stores, like Staples and Marshall’s, to Harlem.

Are local activists also responsible for the gentrification in places like Clinton Hill, Ft. Greene, and Bed-Stuy Brooklyn?
It’s difficult to answer conclusively because neighborhoods are each different, but certainly Bedford-Stuyvesant had parallels with Harlem. Just before the Harlem Commonwealth Council took form, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation arrived as the country’s first community development corporation. As Michael Woodsworth explains in his recent study of the community, this was only one outcome of efforts by middle-class residents to address neighborhood problems. And these efforts did lead, over time, to the kinds of changes that are still ongoing. If they favor longtime residents at all, they tend to favor those who own property.

Bill Clinton rented a penthouse in Harlem for his office and foundation headquarters following his presidency. How did Harlemites feel about that?
If you read headlines from the day after the office opened, you would think that the response was unanimous. One read, “In Harlem, a Hero’s Welcome for New Neighbor Clinton.” But Harlemites actually offered a range of reactions, from hope that this would be the tipping point for accelerating investment, to fear that this was the beginning of the end for African-American Harlem. While the event got a lot of attention, I’d argue that it was a shiny object that was more a symptom of changes with deep roots than the cause of continuing gentrification.

How would you assess the future of Harlem?
Central Harlem remained majority black as of the 2010 census, but I will not be surprised if that is no longer the case by 2020. As I show, economic and physical changes that have accompanied racial change have not had simple outcomes. Harlemites celebrated the arrival of their first major supermarket, a Pathmark on 125th Street, in the late 1990s. Yet in 2015 the Abyssinian Development Corporation sold the market to a major developer. It closed later that year. Whole Foods is now approaching completion elsewhere on 125th Street. Theoretically, such changes could take place while also ensuring the longevity of longtime Harlemites, but there is little to keep housing costs from continuing to rise. Without such measures, it will be very hard for all but the most well-off long-term residents to stay. Harlem will remain an attractive and unique place but the pace of change will only accelerate.

What other areas of research would you like to see explored on this topic?
I hope to see more detailed studies of specific communities. Every neighborhood has unique dynamics and understanding those can illuminate how other places have changed as well. While I have great interest in New York, I hope that others will take on studies of places like Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, my hometown. They are likewise seeing aggressive gentrification, and in ways that are undoubtedly both similar to and different from Harlem’s story. Architecture as it intersects with race is another interest that arises in the book. This topic has gotten more attention recently but needs still more. It is important to understand how architecture and urbanism have served as settings for movements for justice and equality but also as the material through which activists fought such movements.

The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem is available at Amazon.com.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

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Anderson .Paak, Tierra Whack And More Praise Female Artists At 2018 Billboard Women In Music

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Pusha-T Pushes The Culture Forward Through Mentorship With New Discovery Platform

“I actually told [my manager] Shiv, I’m not doing any more interviews,” Pusha-T ironically admits to VIBE in an exclusive sit-down.

It seems about right since the rapper has endured a relentless news cycle this year, both for promoting his highly-acclaimed album DAYTONA and his feud with Drake.

He’s perched upright in a swivel chair in the studio of Lower Manhattan’s Electric Lady Sound Studios, a venue that easily has one of the richest musical histories – built by Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and recorded legends like Stevie Wonder and David Bowie.

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While this opportunity probably comes as a chance in a lifetime for the handful of artists, whose backgrounds, ages, and identities range tremendously, it seems to be just as monumental for Pusha-T.

This project should be seen as a win for hip-hop as it merges the gap between veterans and rookies, which in the past, has been broadened by various riffs between the two parties. Some of the seasoned titans may not understand the new wave, but Pusha-T alludes to mentorship and collaborations as a thing of the future and likely the next phase of his career. “This is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business,” he says. “I think I have my hand on the pulse on what’s going on musically out here… People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, ‘aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.’ And really, I do. I enjoy it.”

In celebration of the album’s release, all 10 of the selected artists will perform their recorded tracks, followed by a performance by Pusha himself in New York City's Sony Hall on Dec. 5. The compilation album will officially debut on Dec. 7.

In VIBE’s exclusive interview with Pusha-T, we discuss 1800 Tequila’s brave courageous new school of young rappers, the importance of paying it forward, and retirement.

The first 1800 Seconds compilation album is available now. Listen to it and check out our interview with Pusha-T below. 


VIBE: Can you give us a rundown on how you selected these artists?

Pusha-T: It was a vetting process between us and 1800. I would look for guys that were a strong lyricist, guys who're into melody. Just, you know, small followings, but I thought they were dope.

That’s interesting because in this era of music people focus on the people with the massive followings on social media.

You know, you got to think, if it’s too big then it’s not really special to see it in this process.

Very true. Your music has pretty much always stayed true to your sound and brand. So did you find it challenging to work with this pool of new artists that follow so many of the new trends in hip-hop?

Nah, I think that this is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business. Man, I’m performing in front of 18 to 45 [years old] every night, and it trips me out to see the people get hype over “Grinding” and the people that just know me since 2013. But you know, with that being said, I think I have my hand on the pulse, on what’s going on musically out here. I’ve learned how to enjoy it. I enjoy all types of rap. People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, “aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.” And really, I do. I enjoy it. I mean, how could you not? To be in it like this, how could I not find appreciation in everything that’s going on?

The way you answered my last question seems like you’re considering retirement or at least exploring what that looks like. But you’re right in the thick of it all, so that’s very interesting.

Yeah, man. I don’t think lyric-driven hip-hop goes out of style. I think that stays around forever, and then I feel like you retire when you’re out of the mix of it and out of the culture and lifestyle of it. When you start not caring about hip-hop aesthetics and just being first and competing, then you supposed to be like, alright cool, I’m out. But until then, I still know what’s fresh to put on and so on and so forth.

One of the biggest differences between vets and new artists is the communities they live in and the things they witness as youth. Did you see some of those differences reflected in their music while working with them?

Yeah. As a veteran artist, I was speaking about what was going on outside at that very moment. I think the newer artists are more introspective. They’re more about themselves and trying to convey messages from their heart. They’re trying to sell you on them, whether they want to party [or] they’re heartbroken. It’s not so much looking out the project window and saying what’s going on. It’s like, I don’t even want to go outside. I’m in my room, and y'all don’t even know I’m writing and I’m going to show y’all one day. It’s all about that.

That seems kind of overwhelming or can come on too strong at times, no?

Nah. As a writer, you dial in on things… You know when somebody says something in a song like, “oh you meant that.” Or you were so intricate with the description of that, you had to get that off. So that’s a score as a writer, me listening to somebody like that. That’s a good thing.

What’s the greatest lesson that you have given this new generation?

I think the greatest lesson for me and the position I’m in right now is opening up these corporate opportunities. They do everything themselves. They’re shooting their own videos, recording themselves. They’re writing, producing, and recording themselves. They’re damn near engineering. One of the girls, [Nita Jonez], she was like, “Yeah, I just be knocking little stuff out while I’m at the crib.” I’m like, I don’t even do that. I don’t even know how to finesse all that. But they’re so self-sufficient. Only thing I could try to do is just package it for them the best way possible. They all got dreams of being huge. A lot of that has to do with the art and what they’re doing, but how it’s presented [as well]. And that’s what I try to show 'em and teach and help 'em with.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from them?

Man, there are just absolutely no rules. No rules at all. They’re such free spirits. They don’t even record how I do. I come in a with a new notepad, pen, and I write like that. I have to see it. It helps me memorize it. They come in and run straight to the mic and just be who they are. And they find themselves through it all. Not everybody; there were some other writers in there, like, Hass and Tyler. Tyler [is] so good at it. It comes out just that precise or damn near close. And then he’ll go and chop it up, make it right a little bit. But they just have that unorthodox attack in the studio. I’m more like, I want to sit down, chill… I don’t even like being in the studio that long. I probably write at home, then I’ll come here and figure out the rest. It’s a very formatted type of thing. And some of the spontaneity and some of the energy probably gets lost in my way because they come in and vibe immediately. Things that may just happen on the spur of the moment, they catch it. When I come in, it’s just all there. Either I’ve written it already or I’m writing it and that’s just what it is. I may lose an adlib. I may lose something that’s quirky in a song that just happens that probably won’t happen for me, but they’ll catch every time.

Do you think there’s a way to balance that incorporates both of those worlds – yours and theirs – to make that ideal way to create?

Well, I think it would have to come from practice. Certain people learn a certain way. Honestly, there’s no difference in what they do than what Jay-Z does. He just practices so much that way that his mind works and processes things really fast. And you know, he’s just really confident in not seeing anything and catching the vibe and going at it. Theirs is just unorthodox. It’s the same thing though. And then as they do it more and better, it’ll get more concise.

In any field, with mentorship there’s only so much you’re willing to take from your mentor before you’re ready to do it yourself. Who were your mentors, and what were some of the things you did and didn’t take from them?

From afar, it would have to be Teddy Riley. Him moving to the area, Virginia Beach, where I’m from – him alone was like wait a minute, music is a real thing. Oh man, there’s a Ferrari down my street. I can’t believe this. I’m seeing Jay-Z’s here. Michael Jackson’s in Virginia Beach for what? You know, shooting a video, all of these things that happened, let me know that this is a real thing and not just for the people on TV. Now in arm’s reach, you got Pharrell and Chad. You got my brother [Malice] who taught me how to write. He actually taught me that MC Hammer wasn’t a rapper when I thought he was. Pharrell literally taught me how to count bars. It’s just been so many lessons between those guys; they taught me everything. They taught me to look at a song, try to see it the whole way through and not just get up and write for the sake of writing. Pharrell always told me, “you may not have something to say today.” Like if I get stuck, “It’s fine. You’ll get to it. We’ll find it another day.” Never force it though.

There’s a huge divide in the genre as far as rookies vs. vets go. This project is so good because it’s paying it forward. Do you think that’s both a necessary and important part of the culture that needs to be restored?

Yes. Well, no. You know what? It’s not for everyone. It’s not for everybody to do. Some people are so stuck in their heyday that they can’t even see what’s going on outside. Everybody that I’ve ever liked in rap music, I probably have had a longer career than all of them. Like whoever I thought was the greatest in my time, I be like, bro, wait a minute they only have five years, five albums? What? When I really think about it, it’s because they all got stuck in their heyday. And that was a hell of a time. The greatest of all great raps, but you know, they couldn’t see any further than that. And when something new came up, they was like, “Yeah, but y’all don’t like us because we…” They just start getting washed and their jeans start fitting differently and they pick the wrong size. They just get stuck in that time period and before you know it, it’s skinny jean time and they got on fucking size 42s and they weigh a buck 50 and they look crazy. And it’s wrong because you get stuck because you don’t embrace and try to help and learn from what’s coming in next. And you should. This is music. You can never stop learning. You have to continuously learn with this forever. It’s just what it is until you just say I’m done. It’s not for everybody man. If you’re not trying to push hip-hop forward, then no, you’re going to be washed and you should be. You should be. I think it’s corny. This is the youngest genre of music. The youngest, most powerful, most influential. We should not be at a point where the elders are knocking the rookies. It’s corny. That’s an effort to stunt the growth of the genre. And that is just totally wrong, 100 percent.

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