Harlem: Dangerous & Desirable.

April 19, 2017

Walking Tour in Harlem, New York
My guide in Harlem
When people think of Harlem they often think of drugs, violence and prostitution. Yeah, that’s right – when you think back to the 70s up to the 90s. But what is Harlem about in 2017? I went there to check it out!


I did not know much about Harlem. Just cliches. So I took part in a walking tour again with wonderful local guide Ryan. He picked us up at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The sun was shining and it was going to be pretty hot that day. No skyscrapers in sight but nice brownstones and red bricks. People were taking their dogs for a walk, drinking coffee and laughing with their neighbors. Very dangerous, huh?


Harlem was a Dutch village founded in 1658. It is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. It’s part of Manhattan and has a large black community. They came as slaves brought by the Dutch and also began to arrive in 1905 as part of the Great Migration. In the roaring 20s everything seems to be okay (although there has always been racism and discrimination through all those years. Even some white people moved out when black people moved in their streets because real estate began to lose its value because of that).


The Eventuful History of Harlem

Street in Harlem, New York with adobe houses
Beautiful adobe houses in Harlem

In the 30s during the Great Depression and World War II many people lost their jobs and the situation changed. But it got worse after the Vietnam War. Many veterans came home broken and traumatized – and as drug addicts. It was because Vietnam was a production area of poppy and so many soldiers came in contact with Heroine for the first time. There were no hospitals in Harlem to help those veterans and the situation in Harlem became terrible. Drug addicts on the street, dealer all around. Violence, prostitution and chaos appeared. Also, the kids of those soldiers got lost in there and Crack came up.


Once a tourist lady went out of the metro station in the 80s another lady pulled her back to the trains immediately screaming “Are you crazy to step out here?” Ryan told us we might have been killed yet in the 80s and 90s. I took a look at the children playing around in the streets and the nice flowers on the stairs of many beautiful brownstones. The houses reminded me a lot of those in Amsterdam with their lower levels underneath the stairs. So what has happened from the 90s up to now?

The National Mall of Washington DC

Welfare Programs & Gentrification

Houses in Harlem, New York
Today expensive and chic: Houses in Harlem

Well, the City of New York put on a big welfare program in the 90s. Houses were restored and the entire area was revalued. But that also causes gentrification now. Old culture vanishes and people have to move because of the increasing rents. A man living in Harlem in the 80s had to sell his two houses for $ 10,000 back then because everyone wanted to leave that awful and dangerous place. When he came back now he saw his houses on sale for $ 4 million and $ 6 million. “He stared to cry”, Ryan remembers.

So what is Harlem all about? I guess it’s about many changes and chances but also full of tears and broken dreams. I’m so happy I’ve been there. It was just as moving as the history of that area.

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