Theharlemre is something sacred about the streets of Harlem, something that no other neighborhood possesses. Harlem has a soul. It is the holy ground for some of the most critical forces to shape Black America. Known by its moniker the Mecca of Black culture, Harlem is where men and women went to find their footing and experience spiritual and intellectual growth. Once the capital of Black America, it played a pivotal role in shaping the African American narrative and produced some of the nation’s most important icons. Malcolm X preached from 125th Street, Langston Hughes read poetry from his Harlem home, Billie Holiday sang at the legendary Apollo. Black America experienced a cultural awakening and found its voice in Harlem. This is the legacy Harlem has given to the world.

Critics of gentrification argue it is this legacy that newcomers and urban developers fail to preserve and appreciate. Gentrification has become an inescapable reality for many urbanites, some calling it a nightmare, others welcoming the changes with open arms. The film Changing Face of Harlem explores the great ambivalence surrounding gentrification in one of the world’s most well known neighborhoods. Featured in the 60 minute documentary are both champions and critics of gentrification. As evidenced through interviews and footage spanning over a decade, the issue is not so black and white. When gentrification came to Harlem, the consequences were especially bittersweet for residents and lovers of Harlem worldwide. Construction cranes, an early symptom of gentrification, have become a normal part of the landscape here, converting blocks into trendy cafes, high-end restaurants, and luxury condos.

Many Harlemites are cautious and apprehensive about these changes, seeing it as a slow and steady erosion of the Black community and culture. For them, gentrification has come to signify greedy developers and wealthier residents crowding out Harlem’s lower-income residents, as rent goes up and costs of living increases. In their view, urban developers and newcomers fail to appreciate Harlem’s rich history and are oblivious to the realities of residents that inhabit Harlem. They argue that while investors, developers and city officials plan the future of Harlem, its longtime residents are being left out of the conversation.

Proponents of gentrification however see it as a powerful force that takes a long neglected community and rehabilitates it. Old dilapidated buildings and abandoned blocks are transformed into new shops, offices, and homes. They argue that gentrification brings with it cleaner streets, lower crime rates, and other quality of life improvements.

The film explores these argument and more and highlights how a community deals with the challenge of maintaining identity while accepting change.

*Stay tuned for more info on the film’s progress and release.

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