Gentrification Process

Morningside Heights was once as a neighborhood that was populated strongly by Hispanics (Dominicans and Puerto Ricans) and African Americans following the aftermath of World War II. But when Columbia University relocated in 1896 to its current location in Morningside Heights, the relocation had sparked a process of gentrification within the neighborhood that continues today.

Morningside Heights in the 1900’s by Edgewater Ferry

Columbia, which opened its campus here in 1897, first began buying buildings in 1919, worried that faculty and staff members could not afford good apartments and did not want to live in tenements. In the 1960s alone, the university bought more than 100 buildings.

Opponents held Columbia responsible for the closing of single room occupancy hotels and the eviction of thousands of poor black and Hispanic residents. Anger rose to a flash point in 1968, when plans to build a gym (“Gym Crow” Protests) in Morningside Park provoked protests and led to a month long student strike that paralyzed the university.

Greater Morningside Heights, the area surrounding Columbia University,  is unquestionably more affluent than it was just a few years ago. Median family income, adjusted for inflation, rose from $33,000 in 1980 to $49,000 in 1990 to $56,500 in 1997, the most recent year for which census data are available. The proportion of families earning above $150,000 a year more than doubled between 1990 and 1997, from 4.5 percent to 11.6 percent. The proportion of professionals and people working in finance, insurance and real estate edged slightly higher.

Morningside Heights Today by Columbia

The new wave of wealth has generated resentment among the Hispanic working-class population east of Broadway. They feel pressure from landlords to move, and they see more upper-middle-class whites moving in. They see trendy bars and restaurants sprouting on Amsterdam Avenue. Due to the process of gentrification, even a new term (social construction) has been adopted when describing the neighborhood, the term “yuppie” (which describes persons of the upper class) is being used more frequently as the neighborhood receives an influx of much more affluent people such as real estate brokers, etc. 


There has also been changes in the types of residents that live in Morningside Heights because of gentrification. There is an influx of Nonhispanics (two or more races) and Asian nonhispanic residents with a change of 27.0% and 26.5% increase respectively (Census FactFinder 2000-2010). In addition, residents from the age range of 20-24 have also begun to move into Morningside Heights with a percent change of 22.3% from 2000 to 2010. As well as “yuppies” or rather more upper class residents, with a percent average change of 26.0% from the age range of 50 to 64 (Census FactFinder 2000-2010). The majority of the population remains to be Hispanic, however there is an influx of white people moving into the neighborhood, those around 20-25 years of age. African Americans are moving out (displaced) within the neighborhood.

Rezoning of West Harlem – Community Board 9 197-a plan

  • Build on the strong social, economic and cultural base of the district through a sustainable agenda that would reinforce and reinvigorate the ethnically diverse and culturally diverse community;
  • ƒEnsure that future development is compatible with the existing and historic urban fabric and complements the neighborhood’s character;
  • ƒ Create the conditions to generate good jobs for its residents;
  • ƒ Provide housing and services that are affordable to the community;
  • ƒ Provide for future growth while preserving the district’s physical and demographic character without displacement of existing residents

Columbia University continues to influence the gentrification that resides in the neighborhood, in fact, Columbia University continues to acquire land and new buildings in order to create more facilities that are associated with the university. In fact, Columbia University plans to acquire approximately 5-6 million square feet of program space within the next 25 years. Columbia University seeks to enforce this plan through the General Project Plan (GPP) by the Empire State Development Corporation which allows for eminent domain. What this means for Morningside Heights and West Harlem is that Columbia University will be seeking to ramp up its gentrification rate by taking property such as housing developments (housing projects) and creating a public facility out of it, this action will displace many lower income residents.

Testimonies from residents of the neighborhoods speak true on the process of gentrification within Morningside Heights, Luis Roman, president of the Broadway Democrats club says that “There are families that have been here 30, 40 years that know this as home but are seeing things shifting all around them.” (Wakin). In fact, “We really could be looking at the last generation of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans living in that neighborhood,” says Roman. 

Altagracia Hiraldo, 42, is part of that generation. She has lived east of Broadway since arriving from the Dominican Republic in 1979. Her husband, Juan, runs Hiraldo’s School Karate-Do, which has become a neighborhood gathering place.

Sitting in the school’s office in front of a picture of Mother Teresa at prayer, Mrs. Hiraldo described how the neighborhood’s family feeling has been threatened by the newly arriving rich. ”This is what we don’t want to lose, our unity in our community, our love for each other,” she said, as thumps and grunts sounded from a classroom. ”This is not a neighborhood that needs rich people. This is a neighborhood that needs people who want to be a part of us.”

Daniel O’Donnell, chairman of the land use committee of Community Board 9, says that “”If Columbia is permitted, along with other institutions in the neighborhood, to build whatever they want to build, the neighborhood will be transformed, it will look like Third Avenue in the 60’s. They are trying to make it more like a mall, more palatable to people who come from outside the city.”

Works Cited:

Wakin, Daniel. “A Vanishing World.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 6 Jan. 2001. Web. 12 May 2014. <>.

Census FactFinder 2000-2010 of Morningside Heights. Retrieved from

City Planning Commission: Zoning Resolution. New York. N 070496 ZRM. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <>

Community Board 9 197-A Plan. New York. N 060047 NPM. Web 21 Apr. 2014.

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Community Board 9 Profile.  U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 and 2010 Census PL Files. Department of City Planning. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <>

Garb, Maggie. “If You’re Thinking of Living In/Morningside Heights; 2 Parks Sandwich Town and Gown.” The New York Times. The New York Times. 21 Nov. 1999. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.


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