Harlem 125 | Shifting Culture, Shifting Economy, Shifting Urbanity

\”The struggle for power, ownership and authenticity will continue with the players shifting and changing, as new interests find their way uptown and old interests become more entrenched. Harlem is a city within a city that has endured various histories, struggles, triumphs and projections, because like most good myths, it exists to be made up by its inhabitants. A new generation arrives and there is a new Harlem to be built.\”Thelma Golden, Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem Harlem in Perspective What is \”Harlem\” – a metaphor for urban hip-hop culture, the capital of African American cultural arts and history, the neighborhoods above Central Park, or the urban space of 125th Street. Defining Harlem\’s identity has become increasingly urgent as urban revitalization and gentrification threaten to alter the historic, ethnic and cultural use, character and identity of the corridor. Over the last seven years, Harlem has come to represent the \”new frontier\” for commercial retail development, juxtaposing mainstream commercial brands and big-box stores (Starbucks, Staples) against local and culturally-specific establishments (African Vendors Mart, Sylvia\’s Soul Food). Similarly, high ground floor rents create little incentive for the property owners to either develop uses above the first floor that could increase population density or rent ground floor spaces to cultural, entertainment or restaurant tenants – establishments that typically pay far less in rent, but could help attract a more diverse mix of users to the street. Harlem also continues to hold a special fascination among heritage and cultural tourists who visit the neighborhood by the thousands. However today, the area lacks a critical mass of well-developed venues, services and information that are necessary to increase tourism and tourist spending in Harlem.Harlem stakeholders would like to see 125th Street repositioned as a vibrant commercial and cultural and entertainment destination in a manner that incorporates its historic legacy, emerging contemporary cultural trends that now transcend race and class, and the development trends of bringing anchor retailers and new market rate housing to underserved communities. Course DescriptionThe Harlem 125 Studio is an urban planning studio that will explore how historic and changing socio-economic demographics, real estate and market trends, and cultural history and identity inform the strategies city officials, developers and design professional use to shape the physical environment of an urban corridor so richly defined by its cultural heritage. Using Harlem\’s historic 125th Street, stretching 14 blocks river to river in New York City, the studio will use site visits; interviews with public officials and developers; readings; case studies; demographic, economic and development trend analysis; and cultural identity and activity mapping, to propose land use, zoning, urban design and real estate strategies for retaining cultural authenticity and identity, while maximizing opportunities for new commercial and cultural development and broadening the tourism economy. The studio work will be divided into four exercises: Urban Anatomy; Urban Identity and Framework; Urban Concepts; and Urban Strategy.The studio is open to urban planning and urban design students, but encourages all disciplines to participate in this multi-disciplinary problem of land use regulation, urban design and development strategy.