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Gentrification Concerns Arise in Local Neighborhoods

Photo by Christian Roodal

The P&K Grille, affectionately known as Piper’s, is putrid. The wood of the bar and table is rotting, fuming with the smell of the countless beers that have been spilled atop them.

The P&K Grille is perfect.

Piper’s, as Manhattan College students refer to it, is situated just off of Broadway, on 231st Street. It is known for it’s weekend specials—unlimited beer and mimosas for three hours—by locals and college students alike and is run by Joe Kowlaczyk and his wife, Gloria.

“We have owned the bar for three and a half years and I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 20 years,” Kowlaczyk said.

Twenty years ago, he said, the Riverdale-Kingsbridge areas were mostly full of Irish and Italian Americans.

“We had an influx of Spanish people coming in,” he said. “It’s still like that, not like Inwood.”

Inwood is the northernmost neighborhood of Manhattan, teetering the line between Manhattan and The Bronx. Kowlaczyk said he grew up there.

“It has come full circle more or less,” he said. “When I grew up there it mostly was Irish, Italian, Black, some Spanish, and then it went strictly Dominican and now they are gentrifying back to what it used to be.”

Kowlaczyk believes that the Riverdale-Kingsbridge neighborhood will soon also see the same demographic shift.

“I’ve seen things going on in Inwood, those people will be moving up here shortly,” he said. “When people realize that it’s a convenient neighborhood…they’ll be moving back in here.”

The rent, Kowlaczyk said, is set to skyrocket from there.

“The landlords are merciless, they don’t care,” Kowlaczyk said. “They price people out of business.”

Gentrification is a process whereby developers and management companies buy one or two efficiencies in a neighborhood, renovate a building and then raise rent prices that are too high for the current residents, but just affordable enough for the young, urban professionals that can’t afford to live in pricier areas like Manhattan.

Cory Blad, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Manhattan College, specializing in urban studies, says that the key to gentrification is convenience.

“Places gentrify based largely by their proximity to desirable locations,” he said, “The caveat is that you aren’t really looking to benefit the people that are already there, in fact you are trying to create a situation where people with money move there.”

Kowlaczyk said that his landlord has not attempted to price him out, but cites many former restaurants, including Josepina’s, The Golden Gate Restaurant and the Blue Room, all of which were once on Johnson Avenue in Riverdale.

Blad said that another aspect of what makes gentrification happen is its previous history as a low-cost area.

While Riverdale has always been a more expensive neighborhood, The Quadrangle has reported on the economic differences between Riverdale and its neighboring Kingsbridge, which certainly fits that criterion for gentrification.

However, gentrification, which is a highly charged topic of debate for many New Yorkers, has never faired well in The Bronx.

“It’s got the nick-name ‘the gentrification-proof borough,” Blad said. “They tried Kingsbridge a while back, to connect it to Marble Hill and create a sort of artery of wealth, but that didn’t work.”

Blad attributes some of The Bronx’s immunity—at least for now—to the attempts of developers to take over to the difficulty involved in commuting to and from the borough.

“Getting from one side of The Bronx to the other in an east-west direction takes a lot of time,” he said, “So it ends up being that people have to drive.”

The young, wealthy professionals that typically are the target consumers of gentrified neighborhoods don’t like driving, which makes the Bronx less desirable.

Even still, rents in Riverdale and Kingsbridge are already beginning to rise, according to Serin Phillip, a local real estate broker for Rapid Realty NYC.

“The Bronx is one of the last boroughs for this to happen to, but now that it is happening, and it’s a little safer, people are going to start moving here,” he said. “The same one-bedroom I rented seven years ago for $1,050 I just rented for $1,750.”

Phillip has been the broker for Rapid Realty’s Riverdale location for eight years, which has another location in Pelham Parkway, and said the neighborhood is on the brink of seeing a population and commercial shift.

“It’s definitely more diverse, high-income, high education people who eat sushi, who eat Indian food and want to get a drink every now and again,” he said, “There’s not really that much to do around here right now but I’m already doing some leasing for clubs and bars on Riverdale Avenue.”

The model of gentrification is that it constantly pushes people outward. Professionals can’t afford Midtown so they move downtown, then they made their way into Brooklyn. When Brooklyn became too expensive, gentrification moved them to Queens and now The Bronx.

However, gentrification doesn’t just move the rich or upper middle class. Gentrification also moves the poor further and further away from their jobs and lifestyle.

Before Williamsburg became a trendy, high-priced neighborhood for college graduates it was a very tough, very dangerous neighborhood that, despite the crime, had housed the same families for many generations. When developers bought up all the buildings and priced them out, they were displaced in a way that has only worsened as gentrification has spread.

Now, with the construction of three separate strip malls—equipped with BJ’s, Target, Starbucks, Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings—Kingsbridge faces that same fate.

“I’ve seen a dramatic change,” Phillip said. “They’re kicking away the small, ‘mom-and-pop’ stores, so they are making it friendlier with big corporate companies to move into the area.”

Laron Duncan, a salesperson at Rapid Realty, said that most private landlords have turned over their properties to management companies.

“The landlords have turned over the day-to-day operations to the management, as far as client screening and things like that,” he said.

Ricardo Dello Buono, Ph.D., is the department chair of Manhattan College’s sociology department, and he said that gentrification is one way that world factors have a tangible impact on social structures.

“Gentrification is a great example of how social structures literally shove people around and move them around geographically,” he said. “Gentrification is basically a process where a historical pattern is disrupted by building economic forces that start to alter an established pattern.”

Dello Buono recalled his search for apartments in New York City when he first came from Chicago to teach at MC.

“The kinds of places that we were being pointed to—you know, professional, high-income—were these glitzy, glossy high rises in the middle of what was, otherwise, a very depressed part of Harlem,” he said. “That’s the pattern of gentrification.”

For now, at Piper’s, Kowlaczyk says he is not worried about his restaurant being driven out of business, even in the wake of a new Buffalo Wild Wings opening up a few blocks north of him.

“The people that like to come to a pub like this will still be there, because a place like Buffalo Wild Wings is very corporate,” he said. “There are going to be people to try it out, but when they get a taste, they will come back.”

About Anthony Capote (44 Articles)
I am the Assistant News Editor for the Manhattan Quadrangle and a project manager for the Erik Spoelstra Basketball Academy

1 Comment on Gentrification Concerns Arise in Local Neighborhoods

  1. Spent 21 years with NYC’s, HPD. Almost 18 in Neighborhood Preservation. There was a time folks, not that long ago, when those of us who worked with HPD’s Bronx planning section joked that the South Bronx would stop when it reached the Canadian border. Seriously though, in one of my first Washington Heights-Inwood community board meetings as an HPD rep. I remember an old resident bemoaning the lack of stable young families staying in the area. “It was because of poor housing” he said. My non PC answer to him, having just found a great 2 BR apartment in an Art Deco building for the bride and I was, ” The three things that stop people from moving to a neighborhood and staying there are: perception of safety, dirty streets and bad schools”. Once the City solved two out of three, Washington Heights- Inwood became a mecca as it was in the ’30’s when my Dad moved there (twenty minutes to midtown on the A train”. As much as I bemoan the changes and the loss of what was a middle class working neighborhood with a few rich and a few very poor, it is a hell of a lot better to see the neighborhood survive even if I can’t afford it anymore.

    As an aside, a few years back, the twin building from where we lived on 204th Street went co-op. I clipped an ad from the paper and showed it to the wife. Approaching retirement, I quipped to her, “Look Denise, if we sell our suburban house, add $ 100,000, we can move back to where we started at only $ 763.00 per month maintenance!”

    Someday, the City will sink again, it is the nature of things and the neighborhoods will again decline. As Dad said, “A neighborhood can go up, uit can go down, what it cannot do is stay the same”>

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