Spanish Harlem

Spanish Harlem

Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio and East Harlem, is a low income neighborhood in Harlem area of New York City, in the north-eastern part of the borough of Manhattan. Spanish Harlem is one of the largest predominantly Latino communities in New York City. It includes the area formerly known as Italian Harlem, and still harbors a small Italian American population along Pleasant Avenue. However, since the 1950s it has been dominated by residents of Puerto Rican descent, sometimes called Nuyoricans. The neighborhood boundaries are Harlem River to the north, the East River to the east, East 96th Street to the south, [Hinds, Michael DeCourcy. [ "BATTLING TO CONTROL E. 96TH GROWTH"] , "The New York Times", May 13, 1984. Accessed December 5, 2007. "EAST 96TH STREET is not just a dead piece of real estate - it is a socially important corridor," said August Heckscher. "With El Barrio to the north and Yorkville to the south, it could be the meeting place of two cultures, a river into which both flow."] [Lee, Denny. [ "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: EAST HARLEM; A 'Museo' Moves Away From Its Barrio Identity"] , "The New York Times", July 21, 2002. Accessed December 5, 2007. "The neighborhood north of East 96th Street is sometimes called East Harlem or Spanish Harlem, but local Puerto Ricans affectionately call it El Barrio."] and 5th Avenue to the west. The neighborhood is part of Manhattan Community Board 11. The primary business hub of Spanish Harlem has historically been East 116th Street from 5th Avenue headed east to its termination at the FDR Drive. The area is patrolled by both the 23rd Precinct located at 162 East 102nd Street and the 25th Precinct located at 120 East 119th Street.


Spanish Harlem has a population of 117,743 as of the 2000 US census. Over 25% of the population resides in units managed by the NYCHA. East Harlem has one of the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in all of New York City. The vast majority of units in Spanish Harlem are renter occupied. [ [ Manhattan Community District 11] ]


The construction of the elevated transit to Harlem in the 1880s urbanized the area, precipitating the construction of apartment buildings and brownstones. Harlem was first populated by German immigrants, but soon after Irish, Italian, Lebanese and Russian Jewish immigrants began settling in Harlem. In East Harlem, Southern Italians and Sicilians soon predominated and the neighborhood became known as Italian Harlem, the Italian American hub of Manhattan. Puerto Rican immigration after the First World War established an enclave at the western portion of Italian Harlem (around 110th Street and Lexington Avenue), which became known as Spanish Harlem. The area slowly grew to encompass all of Italian Harlem as Italians moved out and Latinos moved in another wave of immigration after the Second World War.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, Italian Harlem was represented by future Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in Congress, and later by Italian-American socialist Vito Marcantonio. Italian Harlem lasted in some parts into the 1970s in the area around Pleasant Avenue. It still celebrates the first Italian feast in New York City, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Some remnants of Italian Harlem, such as Rao's restaurant, started in 1896, and the original Patsy's Pizzeria which opened in the 1930s, still remain.

Spanish Harlem was one of the hardest hit areas in the 1960s and 1970s as New York City struggled with deficits, race riots, urban flight, drug abuse, crime and poverty. Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained and frequent targets for arson. In 1969 and 1970, a regional chapter of the Young Lords ran several programs including a free breakfasts for children and a free health clinic to help Latinos and poor. The Young Lords coalesced with the Black Panthers and called for Puerto Rican self-determination and neighborhood empowerment. Today the Latin Kings are prevalent in Spanish Harlem.

With the growth of the Latino population, the neighborhood is expanding. It is also home to one of the few major television studios north of midtown, Metropolis (106th St. and Park Ave.), where shows like BET's "106 & Park" and "Chappelle's Show" have been produced. The major medical care provider to both East Harlem and the Upper East Side is the Mount Sinai Hospital, which has long provided tertiary care to the residents of Harlem. Many of the graduates of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine make careers out of East Harlem public health initiatives including the battle against asthma, diabetes, unsafe drinking water, lead paint and infectious disease.

Many famous artists have lived and worked in Spanish Harlem, including the renowned timbalero Tito Puente (110th Street was renamed “Tito Puente Way”), Jazz legend Ray Barretto and one of Puerto Rico’s most famous poets, Julia de Burgos among others. Piri Thomas wrote a best-selling autobiography titled, "Down These Mean Streets" in 1967.

The Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts serves as a focus for theatre, dance, and musical performance in the neighborhood, as well as its hosting the annual competition to award the Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship, a scholarship established in Palmieri's memory by Tito Puente for the benefit of intermediate and advanced young (12-25) pianists' study of Latin-style piano. [ Article] on the Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship at]

El Museo del Barrio, a museum of Latin American and Caribbean art and culture is located on nearby Museum Mile and endeavors to serve some of the cultural needs of the neighboring community. There is a diverse collection of religious institutions in East Harlem: from mosques, a Greek Orthodox monastery, several Roman Catholic churches, including Holy Rosary Parish-East Harlem, and a traditional Russian Orthodox church.

Despite the moniker of "Spanish Harlem" or "El Barrio," the region is now home to a new influx of immigrants from around the world. Yemeni merchants, for example, work in bodegas alongside immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Italians live next to the influx of Central and South American immigrant populations. Other businessmen and local neighbors can be Korean, Chinese or Haitian in origin. The rising price of living in Manhattan has also caused increasing numbers of young urban professionals, mainly Caucasians, to move in and take advantage of the inexpensive rents, relative to the adjacent neighborhoods of Yorkville and the Upper East Side.

In popular culture

It is recognized in the Ben E. King's R & B song, "Spanish Harlem" and in Louie Ramirez's latin soul song, "Lucy's Spanish Harlem.", as well as being the source of the title for the Bob Dylan song "Spanish Harlem Incident." It was also mentioned in Elton John's song "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" and Carlos Santana's song "Maria Maria."=]

Food Access

Access to healthy food causes serious hardships to citizens of Spanish Harlem, a neighborhood considered to be a Food desert. According to an April, 2008 report prepared by the New York City Department of City Planning, Spanish Harlem is an area of the city with the highest levels of diet-related diseases due to limited opportunities for citizens to purchase fresh foods [ [ "Going to Market: New York City's Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage] ] . With a high population density and a lack of nearby supermarkets, the neighborhood has little access to fresh fruits and vegetables and a low consumption of fresh foods. Citizens of Spanish Harlem are likely to buy food from discount and convenience stores that have a limited supply of fruits and vegetables, which are often of poor quality and generally more expensive than the same products sold at supermarkets [ [ibid.] ] . Supermarkets in Harlem are 30 percent less common, and only 3 percent of bodegas in Harlem carry leafy green vegetables as compared to 20 percent on the Upper East Side. [ [ ] ] Without access to affordable produce and meats, Spanish Harlem residents have difficulty eating a healthy diet, which contributes to high rates of obesity and diabetes [ [ Kimberly Morland, Ana V. Diez Roux, Steve Wing, Supermarkets, Other Food Stores, and Obesity: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 30, Issue 4, April 2006, Pages 333-339.] ]

"Residents of ...East and Central Harlem ...are largely limited to fast food restaurants and small bodegas as food sources, which primarily carry packaged foods and have limited fresh produce options. Area residents have also identified the need for more fitness options, particularly for youth and seniors. These inequities have resulted in health disparities and high rates of obesity." [ [ W.K. Kellogg Foundation: New York City - Food and Fitness ] ]

ocial Issues

Social problems associated with poverty from crime to drug addiction have also affected the area for some time. Violent crime remains an obstacle to community security, but crime rates have dropped significantly—around 68% over the past 15 years [ 23rd Precinct CompStat Report] ] [ 25th Precinct CompStat Report] ] . Though crime is higher in Spanish Harlem than in other neighborhoods in the city, crime's rate of decline is roughly equal to the decline in crime seen in the city's more affluent neighborhoods [ 9th Precinct CompStat Report] ] .

Spanish Harlem has significantly higher drop out rates and incidents of violence in its schools. [ NYC Dropout Rates] ] Students must pass through metal detectors and swipe ID cards to enter the buildings. Other problems in local schools include low test scores and high truancy rates. Drug addiction is also a serious problem in the communityFact|date=July 2008. The neighborhood suffers from a high poverty rate, with many persons in Spanish Harlem below the poverty level. [ [ Concentrations in New York City] ] . But since the neighborhood has such a great population density, the neighborhood as a whole possesses strong purchasing power.

The neighborhood's incarceration rate in the area is also very high.Fact|date=July 2008 Many if not most males in the community have been arrested at some point in their lives.Fact|date=July 2008 This has a direct correlation to aggressive policing tactics including "sweeps" due to the area's high crime rateFact|date=July 2008. Spanish Harlem is home to a significant number of inmates currently held in New York state prison and jail facilities. With a decrease in affordable housing, homelessness has become a worsening problem.Fact|date=March 2008 Many families double or triple up in a single apartment, relocate to other neighborhoods, or leave the city completely.Fact|date=July 2008

Urban renewal

After a wave of arson ravaged the low income communities of New York City throughout the 1970's and "planned shrinkage" policies, many of the residential structures in Spanish Harlem were left seriously damaged or destroyed. By the late 1970's, the city began to rehabilitate many abandoned tenement style buildings and designate them low income housing.

Go Green East Harlem! is a collaborative initiative sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s Office. Go Green partners include WE ACT, North General Hospital, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, the City Department of Health, Manhattan Community Board 11, State Senator Jose Serrano, and the Little Sisters of the Assumption. Go Green aims to create community sustainability and is working to address six environmental issues in East Harlem: public health and asthma, parks and open space, sustainable business, farmers’ markets and healthy eating, green building, and transportation. [ [ > Programs > Sustainable Development > Go Green East Harlem ] ] Go Green also recently launched a new East Harlem Green Market, open both Saturday and Sunday, to expand community access to healthy, fresh food.

In order to address the issues of healthy food access in East Harlem, the East Harlem Supermarket Task Force was created in April, 2008. Spearheaded by New York Senator Serrano and State Assemblyman Powell, the task force includes the Coalition Against Hunger, the Department of Health, We Act, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Council-member Viverito, and the Union of Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500. [ [ The Neighborhood Retail Alliance: East Harlem Supermarket Task Force ] ]


In recent years, property values in Spanish Harlem have climbed along with the rest of the Manhattan and the metro area. Many people priced out of more affluent sections of the city have begun to look at Spanish Harlem as an up and coming area due to the neighborhood's proximity to Manhattan's core and subway accessibility. With increased market rate housing, including luxury condos and co-ops, there has been a severe decline of affordable housing in the community.Fact|date=March 2008 White non-Hispanic young professionals have settled in the newly constructed buildingsFact|date=March 2008. Many believe that Spanish Harlem real estate developers hoping for a wave of gentrification wish to displace current low income and long time residents. This has created tension in the community.

There are some residents who feel the area should be labeled "SpaHa" because of similarities with SoHo and TriBeCa that are emerging in Spanish Harlem. The views of the East River and Queens, and easy access to Central Park is just as convenient, if not more, than areas south. The formal gardens in Central Park, located on 110th and Fifth, are a hidden gem within the park, as well as the less crowded uptown Ice-Skating Rink.

Land use and terrain

Spanish Harlem is dominated by public housing complexes of various types. There is a high concentration of older tenement buildings between these developments. Newly constructed apartment buildings have been constructed on vacant lots in the area. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low income public housing projects in the United States. The total land area is 2.2 square miles.

Low income public housing projects

There are twenty-four NYCHA developments located in Spanish Harlem. [ [ NYCHA] ]
#335 East 111th Street; one, 6-story building.
#East 120th Street Rehab; one, 6-story rehabilitated tenement building.
#East River Houses; ten buildings, 6, 10 and 11-stories tall.
#Edward Corsi Houses; one, 16-story building.
#Gaylord White Houses; one, 20-story building.
#George Washington Carver Houses; 13 buildings, 6 and 15-stories tall.
#Governor Dewitt Clinton Houses; six buildings, 9 and 18-stories tall.
#Jackie Robinson Houses; one, 8-story building.
#James Weldon Johnson; ten, 14-story buildings.
#Lehman Village; four, 20-story buildings.
#Lexington Houses; four, 14-story buildings.
#Metro North Plaza; three buildings, 7, 8, and 11-stories tall.
#Metro North Rehab; seventeen, 6-story rehabilitated tenement buildings.
#Milbank-Frawley; two rehabilitated tenement buildings 5 and 6-stories tall.
#Morris Park Senior Citizens Home; one, 9-story rehabilitated building.
#Park Avenue-East 122nd, 123rd Streets; two, 6-story buildings.
#President Abraham Lincoln; fourteen buildings, 6 and 14-stories tall.
#President George Washington Houses; fourteen buildings, 12 and 14-stories tall.
#President Thomas Jefferson Houses; eighteen buildings, 7, 13 and 14-stories tall.
#President Woodrow Wilson Houses; three, 20-story buildings.
#Senator Robert A. Taft; nine, 19-story buildings.
#Senator Robert F. Wagner, Sr.; twenty-two buildings, 7 and 16-stories tall.
#U.P.A.C.A. (Upper Park Avenue Community Association) Site 6; one, 12-story building.
#U.P.A.C.A.. (Upper Park Avenue Community Association) U.R.A. Site 5; one, 11-story building.

ee also

*East Side (Manhattan)

External links

* []
* [ East Harlem Preservation]
* [ East Harlem Board of Tourism]
* [ Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine]
* [ Association of Hispanic Arts (AHA)]
* [ Young Lords origins]
* [ The Booker T. Washington Learning Center, East Harlem]

Further reading

*Thomas, Piri. "Down These Mean Streets". Random House (Vintage). 1967
*Quiñonez, Ernesto. "Bodega Dreams". Random House (Vintage). 2000
*Bourgois, Philippe. "In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1995 (2002)
*Davila, Arlene. "Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos and the Neoliberal City". University of California Press. 2004
*Cayo-Sexton, Patricia. 1965. Spanish Harlem: An Anatomy of Poverty. New York: Harper and Row.
*Davila, Arlene. Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos and the Neoliberal City. University of California Press. 2004.
*Mencher, Joan. 1989. Growing Up in Eastville, a Barrio of New York. New York: Columbia University Press.
*Padilla, Elena. 1992. Up From Puerto Rico. New York: Columbia University Press.
*Salas, Leonardo. "From San Juan to New York: The History of the Puerto Rican". America: History and Life. 31 (1990).
*Constantine, Consuela. “Political Economy of Puerto Rico, New York.” The Economist. 28 (1992).
*Grosfoguel, Ramón (2003). Colonial Subjects: Puerto Ricans in a Global Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press).
*Heine, Jorge (ed.) (1983). Time for Decision: The United States and Puerto Rico (Lanham, MD: The North-South Publishing Co.).
*Jennings, James, and Monte Rivera (eds) (1984). Puerto Rican Politics in Urban America (Westport: Greewood Press).
*Moreno Vega, Marta (2004). When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio (New York: Three Rivers Press).
*Zentella, Ana Celia (1997). Growing Up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York (Blackwell Publishers).


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