South Harlem: ‘A Busy, Interesting Place to Live’

Oct 27, 2022 · 86 comments
Bookish (New Jersey)
There goes the neighborhood. No one seems to understand gentrification as detriment. the Rettig's see a neighborhood in transition, police presence and cleaner streets. It seems those services were all but unavailable prior to the transformation of Harlem to South Harlem. To my mind these services are a given when Blacks are moved out by whites and others who suddenly find the area interesting, or have been priced out of other neighborhoods they have desired.
Derek (BK)
Reading this story and the comments are very enlightening to me about how a variety of folks feel about this particular part of Harlem. I plan on moving here from Midwood and, as a Black man who wants to respect the culture in a place I haven’t lived before, I will refrain from using the name South Harlem. I see both how and why that can be dangerous and disrespectful, respectively, to those who have lived here for years. The upheaval that gentrification can provide can set families white doing their best to maintain back for years. I’ve seen the positive commentary about the diversity, access to parks, and strength of Black culture in the community; conversely, the negative commentary about the “crisis” the neighborhood finds itself in seems similar to many other parts of NYC that have challenges with systemic poverty and homelessness. Considering it all, I feel excited to move here and immerse myself into the culture, become cool with my neighbors and community, and be an intentional advocate for those who need it. Many of Black millennials are flocking AWAY from urban centers for a multiplicity of reasons, but as someone who values what comes with urban life after growing up in a smaller city and a suburb of it, I’m excited to make this part of Harlem my HOME. Thanks for the perspective shared in the article and for all the insightful comments. 
susurrus (Bendigo)
I love learning about different suburbs and precincts within the greater NYC area, but some simple qual analysis of these articles would bring forward very strong themes of loss, disconnection from place, people being priced out of family homes, histories forgotten. Heart wrenching.
MVF (Harlem, NY)
IT's East Harlem, West Harlemand Central Harlem ... no North or South and trying to rebrand where I live is simply going to further alienate the new from the old and in the end, resentment of the area we live ibn will start to set in and things will happen that we don't like. Sit back, enjoy the rich Heritage that is Harlem but don't Chris Columbus us. Say good morning to three people you don't know too ... engage those who where here before, you 'd be pleasantly surprised that the overall change is welcomed.
Danni Tyson (Central Harlem)
I am the originator of Harlem not Soha, what saddens me that every time I see an article line this one no one has bothered to contact me. Harlem not Soha is not to unwelcome new comers to Harlem. By the way, I too am a real estate broker.
Rev. E. M. Camarena, PhD (Hell's Kitchen)
Harlem has seen woeful times since the over-esteemed Mayor LaGuardia declared it off limits to military on leave and posted MPs at its southern edge. The Harlem Renaissance at that point went right down the toilet, and Fiorello pulled the chain. A community cannot recover from something like that. It has been piled on ever since.
Syderia Asberry (Harlem)
People try to divide Harlem by changing its name, that’s not going to change anything. Harlem is what it is, Harlem. The article also sugarcoats the real details of the community. We are a community in crisis. Homelessness, drugs, deprived of adequate sanitation, oversaturation of drug facilities, and the home to the first Safe Consumption Site in the US, just one block outside of your “South Harlem” catchment area. Take off your rose colored glasses and add some truth to your story.
Justin Devonish (NYC)
@Syderia Asberry The article did state that it is an area in transition. Some people interviewed have a more optimistic view than you seem to have currently. Let's revisit the area in three years time and see what has developed. If Alphabet City or Time's Square is any proof, I won't bet against the city to continue to reinvent and gentrify itself. I look forward to the tale.
Bookish (New Jersey)
@Syderia Asberry honestly and eloquently said.
Richard Kave (South Harlem)
Having lived in South Harlem for most of the last 15 years I understand resident’s frustration at the area being renamed “South Harlem“ or “Soha“, however I think it’s important to remember that places like the East Village and West Village were not named as such until the mid-1950s and 1960s. The identity of Harlem is not just one place - it’s extremely diverse considering it’s very large geography. When people ask me where I live, if I respond “Harlem“ it leaves the question where in Harlem? My typical response with no insults intended is “South Harlem”with all due respect to those that came before me. Thank you, Richard Kave Manhattan Ave, South Harlem
ER (New York)
@Richard Kave Simply tell people the cross-streets as all New Yorkers do. There is no such place as South Harlem, and if you truly respect and appreciate the people and history of the neighborhood as you claim to do, don't participate in this fear-baased "dog whistle" of a deliberate misnomer.
LL (nyc)
Stop trying to make Soha happen. It’s not going to happen.
Preston Scott (Charlotte, NC)
I see you're helping to change the name. Good for you.
Candlewick (Ubiquitous Drive)
Harlem will become another Oakland, California where Black residents have become a minority "minority"-( from almost 50% in the 80's to about 20% now): the game is always gentrification and long-term residents being priced out: As prices in Northern Ca continue(d) to skyrocket-non-Blacks located to previously undesirable locations. Guess that is true too of the so-called "South" Harlem which is nothing more than a realtor's marketing game.
Owlwriter (New York)
When I moved to South Harlem four decades ago friends and relatives were very discouraging. But finding a huge rental with park views for what studios downtown rented was too good a deal to pass up. It was hard to believe but several prewar apt buildings with park views were gutted and abandoned eyesores. Despite right across the street the most famous park in the world Central Park,then in pre-Conservancy disarray. In fact, two decades ago this paper was unable to determine accurate property values along CPN. One big advantage back then was the easy street parking. Never had to ride around looking for a spot. Most often I parked right in front of my building. In fact, a first floor neighbor who frequently sat in his window would shoo drivers away from parking in "my spot." Those were the good ole days. Nowadays parking is at a premium but it hasn't discouraged drivers of pickup trucks or armored tank like veichles who hog a space and a half. Gentrification has been a mixed blessing.
I know Langston Hughes & Zora, and James Baldwin still have Harlem in their souls. For Black folks it's not "South Harlem" or "SoHa" or any's simply the Black Cultural Mecca!
Darwin (White Harlem)
Beautiful quint coffee shop with white pseudo intellectuals serving the Columbia U community. An Ode to Harlem, Cambridge on CPN, where the Vikings roamed, pseudo reality estate of mind, population exchanges dotted with neoliberal re education camps.
Eric Blair (NYC)
Columbia’s multi-billion dollar expansion northward in recent years is probably the single most powerful force driving change in Harlem right now. Developers are licking their blood-stained chops. But everyone I know is pretty excited for the Trader Joe’s coming to 125th. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs ….
John (Pine Plains, NY)
Anybody remember the story about in the late 70s involving the Shelton Plaza Hotel?
Veebravo (Brooknam)
Stop trying to rewrite history at the expense of our people. No one in our community calls this “South Harlem.” Come on,
akamai (New York)
By next week, this will be called SoHa.
Richard (Manhattan)
See “Max Soha” on Amsterdam at about 122nd.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@akamai It already is. The NYTimes restrained itself here.
nerdrage (SF)
@akamai Or SoSo. HaHa?
ALW515 (undefined)
One of the more amusing features of NYT real estate stories is they so often feature people under the age of 40 whose multimillion dollar real estate purchases do not seem to match up with the jobs we are told they have. It's always fun to imagine how they came into the money--inheritance, insurance settlement, parental largesse, a previous job that provided a financial windfall when the company went public... so many possibilities.
mbl14 (NJ)
@ALW515 "I provide art therapy to goats and my partner is a mime. Our budget is $1.5 million."
Ramik Williams (Harlem)
I think it's disrespectful and shameful for new comers, real estate agents and their supporters to rename a neighborhood. Equally it's not surprising that the majority population would force it's ways onto and into an existing neighborhood for the sake of marketability.
Mr. D (Bklyn)
@Ramik Williams The Dutch named it Haarlem, these folks just added "South", cause it's a large area. Hardly a reason to feel disrespected, or to shame others. As for gentrification, it's a thing in NYC. I was gentrified out of three neighborhoods until I purchased a property. I grew up not far from South Harlem, and now live in Bed Stuy, and I didn't "force" my way anywhere.
Malik (115th & Park)
i’ve always considered the Park Ave-Garvey Area a bit distinct from Spanish Harlem, including the ‘Little Senegal’ stretch of 116 that goes from Park to Fredrick Douglas. But ultimately it’s all Harlem. I do agree that “lower” Harlem and “upper Harlem” (below and above 135 respectively) are very different
Gerry Gress (Bronx, New York)
Where did all the people who can't afford pay millions for their apartments go?
NgHai (Vermont)
I used to teach at City College on 137th Street. My students often spoke of the trouble their families were having with gentrification and rising rents. “Where will we go?” was a worry.
CML (Amsterdam)
@Gerry Gress Exactly what I was thinking from the moment I started reading this piece.
Charles alexander (Sarasota fl)
@Gerry Gress People always find a place to go when they are gentrified out. I am a white guy and was twice gentrified out of 2 lofts which I rented. One in the 70s and one in the 80s Once the properties were gentrified, they were vastly better, Paid more taxes, and helped stimulate other businesses to move in. Gentrification may not be in the best for some but no doubt it is for the greater good.
Pepper (Manhattan)
Don’t forget to mention LIDL…the best deal for groceries in Manhattan!
Boourns (New York City)
One of the last parts of Manhattan that still feels like all the good, diversity and fun of pre-9/11 NYC.
T. Archie (New York City)
What’s happening to Harlem is horrible, it won’t be Harlem anymore as many of the people that have lived there for decades are now priced out. I guess we’ll have to make a new Harlem somewhere else, and buy the property this time, lnstead of renting so we can’t be chucked out.
akamai (New York)
@T. Archie The many public housing projects will keep a lot of residents there for a long time.
@T. Archie Weeksville in Brooklyn was a "free Black" community founded after New York ended slavery in 1827. Harlem residents might follow the example of the ancestors. See below:
Manhattanite (New York)
@T. Archie Owning property is no guarantee. Bedford Stuyvesant had a much higher rate of Black-owned houses than Harlem--those wonderful brownstones. When gentrification hit, many old-times sold out. Been to Bed-Stuy lately? A lot of it has the demographics of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights.
Pat (Harlem)
*PS180 has the dual language program
Patrick (NYC)
I wonder where Blacks that are being replaced on a slightly higher than one for one ratio by whites are moving to. I am guessing down South, maybe Atlanta, as nowhere in the Northeast is affordable. I imagine this demographic shift will increase dramatically before the next census.
NgHai (Vermont)
They jobs and families here. It’s not that easy to pick up and move.
Patrick (NYC)
@NgHai For those NYC selling prices, one can upgrade from a condo or coop in a Harlem townhouse to a small stately mansion in the Southern States. As the article describes, there is a new found demand and influx in this area dubbed South Harlem that might be providing sellers much better living options. There are a lot of things, believe it or not, about NYC that long time residents can easily get tired of. cold winters not the least of which.
Eric Wilson (NYC)
Why is this a story? Just, WHY? The SOHA nonsense started over ten years ago. It didn't stick them, and still won't. It's just simply Harlem. Move on people, nothing to see here. At all. It's Harlem. Not too little, not too much. Just Harlem.
Jim ODonnell (Miami)
@Eric Wilson I think it's a story for the same reasons any other neighborhood is featured in the real estate section -- it gives potential buyers (or renters) some context on the featured neighborhood. The article gives pricing on several different recent buys and rentals, mentions some characteristics of the neighborhood and a few property amenities, and has comments from the residents.
Amber (118th Street (Harlem))
This article was clearly written by someone who knows nothing about actually living here. It glorifies the "nice bits" to completely gloss over the reality of gun violence, drug abuse, homelessness, poverty, and outrageous police presence that make up the reality of many residents' lives. This article is an ad to attract more rich people and continue the gentrification process without an honest consideration of the impact on 'the rest of us.' This isn't investigative journalism - it is a rich folk/tourism fluff piece. NYT straight up encouraging our displacement... Also, NYT 'forgot' to include close up photos of the hateful, violent, racist, homophobic messages constantly on display at Atlah - the infamous church on Malcolm X Blvd / Lenox Ave. (a few blocks away from the fancy restaurants that got featured!) We need social reform that doesn't involve cops rounding up the homeless - not more fake depictions of a 'gentrified' Harlem.
T. Archie (New York City)
@Amber Well said, thank you.
Peter (Harlem)
PARKING PARKING PARKING. With progress comes cars. Big SUVs. Two street spots a unit. Build some, a lot, parking space.
Bookish (New Jersey)
@Peter consider global warming. Try walking, forget the machine. Therefore no need to displace more black and brown people for parking lots for big SUV's.
Allison (NC)
@Bookish Somehow I think that Peter is reporting on the parking problem rather than causing it.
FunkyIrishman (member of the Liberal majority)
Is the price really worth paying a million dollars to share walls with other people only to get a glimpse of ''billionaire's row''? I guess it is up to the buyer and the free market. I have no doubt that there is fresh renewal and urbanization going on, where those moving in are enjoying, while those moving out (possibly not being able to now afford) might not be. There are always going to be winners or losers. However, a million dollars buys you a LOT of freedom compared to half of the world's population living on less than two dollars a day. It is also a lot of freedom of movement as many places go under water and people have to move from there as well. Enjoy it all, but keep it in perspective.
Maestraz (New England)
My daughter and a friend rented a great, brand-new 2 BR apartment on St. Nicholas Ave. between 199th and 120th about 15 years ago. We really enjoyed discovering that neighborhood. So many great restaurants. I loved the proximity to the north end of Central Park, which I had never seen. It was just a short walk up to Amsterdam Ave. and the amazing Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the spectacle of the Paul Winter Consort's Winter Solstice performance. If they are still doing it, and you can get tickets, go.
abc (ny)
the lack of ECONOMIC diversity in this article is glaring ... wealthy people can afford these homes. The rest of us live in a 2-bedroom apartment more ore less next to the Metro North tracks and pay 2000 for rent.
B. (Brooklyn)
A two-bedroom apartment for $2000 a month? What do you expect to pay, $375 the way I did in 1979? When it cost about fifty cents to take the subway? To buy a slice of pizza too.
abc (ny)
@B. yes, that's what we pay and the landlord is super nice but the noise from the train in unbearable.
B. (Brooklyn)
I grew up in a house that had express trains rumbling beneath it and now live in a house that has trains running behind it. I hear you. But it's always something: truck routes, bus routes, flight paths, subways. But these are the normal sounds of a city on the go. What I detest are the moron sounds of sonic sound systems and stupid raucous voices.
Dee (Lama)
I find it painful to read about Harlem now. Living there as a small child it was safe. On west 121 Street, we played in Morningside Park all summer long, had block parties and knew everyone on the block. Then drugs were ALLOWED to proliferate. When going to school we walked through a maze of drug addicts. Then came the arson. Buildings were constantly burning down. Lots remained vacant and people had to move out. Slowly the once thriving African American community was supplanted by those who would've never set foot in the area. Enjoy.
B. (Brooklyn)
It was drug dealers who supplanted the African-American community, who had supplanted Jews and Italians earlier. Current populations living there make do despite the drug dealers and derelicts. Let's not paint too rosy a picture. Newcomers come despite problems.
Lee (NYC)
African Americans did not “supplant” Jews in Harlem. Jews and whites moved out. That is very different from what is happening now.
B. (Brooklyn)
Poor Lee. There's a reason people move out of longtime homes.
Bill (FL)
According to NYC’s own statistics, South Harlem has the second-highest crime rate in the city (source: The abysmal performance of the public schools in South Harlem is described in the article. This information seems to undermine the rosy tone of this article, the pluses of which seem to be far outweighed by the crime and education data.
Newcomers plan to send their kids to private schools so don’t care about poor school Performance.
Sallie (NYC)
SOUTH HARLEM IS HARLEM! Harlem is a beautiful neighborhood with a rich history - if you can't appreciate Harlem don't move there!
Al (NYC)
It is disingenuous for the NYT to constantly run articles and editorials about the lack of affordable housing - while promoting gentrification throughout NYC.
rm (NYC)
"Central Park Boulevard" ???
Cheryl (New York)
yep, that's just wrong. You can call it 110th Street. You can call it Central Park North. You can call it Cathedral Parkway. But nope, it is not Central Park Boulevard.
Ken (Staten Island)
Don't forget the Metro North station at 125 Street and Park Avenue. It's one stop down to Grand Central in less than 15 minutes.
akamai (New York)
@Ken It is technically illegal to do that, but I don't think anyone would stop you. The ride would be free since the conductors collected the tickets before the trains entered the City.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@akamai MetroNorth website allows you to plan and pay for a 125th to GrandCentral trip. But it's $6.25 even off peak so it's unlikely people would opt for that
John McMahon (Cornwall, Ct)
Tuesday morning, shortly before 8am, I rode Citibike from west 72d up the east side drive in central park and onward to to 120th and Mt Morris to get to Metro North…what a beautiful area! The brownstones lining the streets so beautiful, multi-ethnic parents with babies, school children and joggers and walkers filling the streets, those inviting restaurant fronts as pictured…I eye-balled the alternate-side parking situation and concluded that owning a car without a garage would be manageable (basing this on the fact that unlike, 72d street, car owners had actually moved cars out of the no-parking zone 30 min before no-parking kicked in…in the 72d st area the spots are vacated only briefly for the sweeper). A very nice feel overall.
Al (NYC)
@John McMahon from CT, Next time consider taking a bus :) - authentic NYC transportation and an opportunity to see the streetscape
Janie (Langley)
@Al You can't see the streetscape from a bike?
Harlem (NY)
Its an incredibly neglected place where no one seems to care about public space or the residents safety in their homes. The streets are littered daily and there is no discussion by public officials about recycling, reuse, and repurposing. Can the local Harlem elected officials tell us all how a building has had scaffolding for over 15 years and local elected officials have done nothing to help the residents? Or, could the problem be the local assembly member has the worst attendance record in Albany.
Eileen (Nyc)
An honest reaction. This is a completely dishonest description of this area. Which no one describes as south Harlem. South Harlem doesn’t exist. Neither does north Harlem.
Caro (New York)
@Harlem Name and shame. Who is the Assemblymember you're referring to?
B. (Brooklyn)
"The streets are littered daily." The problem in a nutshell. And no amount of money can fix what the slob class breaks. The slob class, which consists of all colors, creeds, and social classes, and runs from Donald Trump on down to Kanye West and to the gangstas and substance-addicted loiterers whose antics degrade our city.
Jay Why (Upper Wild West)
The same lack of affordability in Harlem that’s endemic to the rest of the city? That’s what I call progress.
Alan (Manhattan Baby)
Love the vibe up here, and I’m grateful for the changes over the past 10 years
Shaun (Passaic NJ)
Very nice article; a really good overview of the vibe, diversity of people and housing options, including mention of HDFC co-ops and not overlooking King Towers (with 1872 apartments); NYCHA is often omitted from profiles. Quite a bit about the rich history and prominent people. While it's impossible to encapsulate everything about this wonderful area, some additional places are noteworthy. It's great the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market got a nod - among many African shops and vendors along 116th St. While 125th Street is the center of Harlem life, 116th Street itself has many restaurants and shopping to offer as the heart of this featured neighborhood. Amongst architecture deserving mention are Malcolm Shabazz mosque at 116/Lenox, Amy Ruth's Restaurant, architectural treasures like First Corinthian Baptist at Adam Clayton Powell Blvd (7th Ave), across from Graham Court Apartments (often called the Dakota of Harlem, same architect as Apthorp on UWS). Also at 116/St. Nicholas are Neville & Bagge designed Elmore and El Nido apartments. As far as dining - Red Rooster and Sylvia's offer delicious fare and a memorable experience though both are outside the neighborhood as featured. Two local places worth mentioning are Harlem Tavern at 116 and 8th Ave, an indoor/outdoor biergarten restaurant featuring entertainment (though can be quite loud). Lastly, there's Melba's at 114th and 8th - the food make's you forget Sylvia's - operated by Melba Wilson, who is a neighborhood treasure
Jim (Seattle)
Shaun, I love all the great old buildings in New York so thanks for the mention of those places. I plan to check them out on my next visit (which I hope will be next spring.) I met a friend from Washington, D.C. in New York in 2016 and, on that trip, we went to the Harlem Tavern, sat in the outdoor area and really enjoyed it.
Maestraz (New England)
@ Shaun, totally agree about Melba's!
sojourner (freedom's highway)
@Jim are you also going to visit the housing projects, incongruously mentioned here as if they are a tourist attraction?
Nonnme (California)
Amazing…Someone will actually pay over a million dollars and still share walls, floors ceilings with their neighbors…and they might not even have their own washer dryer! How does NYC convince residents that this is a good deal?
Eliz (WC)
And not only NYC. Pricey condos and coops abound in Hoboken, Jersey City and Westchester.
Suzanne F (Upper Upper Manhattan)
@Nonnme New Yorkers are unlikely to have to rebuild after a wildfire, flood, or earthquake, as you do in California, where prices are as much or more. That's how. Cheers!
E pluribus unum (USA)
Here's how: I can see a Broadway play on my way home from work; I can pop into some of the world's greatest museums and concert halls; I have access to an endless variety of delicious, ethnic foods and cultural offerings thanks to living in a city that welcomes immigrants; I can take the subway to the beach and a bus to the ski slopes; and I can live well without the expense of a car.
See also