Washington Heights Today: Gentrification

In the past decade, there has been a lot of conversation about the ‘gentrification’ of Washington Heights. These means that higher-income groups, such as whites, are moving into the neighborhood to replace lower-income groups, such as the neighborhood’s large Hispanic population. While this gentrification may indeed be occurring, it is not as profound as some may think.

“Gentrification begins to hit Washington Heights as crime rates go down and real estate

168th Street Starbucks Photo credit: http://thegayrecluse.com/2007/12/26/on-the-2007-winners-of-the-washington-heights-most-improved-corner-of-the-year/

market in New York heats up. The median price of a two-bedroom apartment in 1999 was $180,000; in 2004 it is $460,000” (Francoeur).Most sources agree that the most blatant example of the gentrification and/or ‘hipsterfication’ of Washington Heights is the new eating establishments that are springing up. Most notable among these is a Starbucks near 168th street.  An article from UPTOWNflavor talks about a small chicken restaurant closed down to make way for a “hip new” “lounge style” restaurant.

Manny Fernandez also points out the new SoHO-esque nickname for the neighborhood as WaHI (Fernandez).“In the Heights,” the 2008 Tony winner portrays this changing face of the neighborhood.


A recent visit to Washington Heights proves that the Hispanic population is far from being pushed out. You can hardly walk a block without hearing a conversation in Spanish and almost every storefront has a Spanish sign.
A 2008 version of the Manhattan Times: Northern Manhattan Edition, besides being written half in Spanish, contains the article “Northern Manhattan gentrifying? Study says no.” The article states that the white population has only grown by one percentage point from 2000 to 2005 (Bader). It is difficult to determine a definitive population percentage change amongst Whites and Hispanics in Washington Heights because the 2010 census data only shows the demographics of New York City as a whole at this point.

Exterior of Hispanic Society of America


Again, definitive statistics are not available on the percentages of Dominicans living in Washington Heights, as the United States Census Bureau breaks Hispanics into only four groups: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Other.

Other sources however do give some further insight. Virtually every source agrees that there is a prominent Dominican population among the Hispanic population of Washington Heights. Estimates by Manny Fernandez of the New York Times place the 2005 Washington Heights Dominican population at about 113,000 and the total Latino population at 155,000. Based on these estimates, Dominicans made up almost 73% of the Hispanic population in Washington Heights (Fernandez).

The same article by Manny Fernandez also suggests statistics showing the possible gentrification of Washington Heights. Still, it will likely take decades to see the Hispanic population reach a minority.

From 1990 to 2000, the Dominican population in Washington Heights and Inwood soared, from about 88,000 to nearly 117,000. But in the following five years their numbers dropped slightly, to fewer than 113,000. During those same five years, the total number of Latinos in the area also fell, from about 165,000 to 155,000, while the number of non-Hispanic whites increased from fewer than 29,000 to more than 30,000 (Fernandez).


A trip on the 1 train to 157th Street, the headquarters of the Hispanic Society of America, may as well be a trip to Latin America. On just one street corner, there were about four Hispanic take-out restaurants to choose from, with their signs promoting their choice of empanadas, seafood and batidos, in Spanish. Upon entering one of these eating

Pollo, arroz, y un batido de banana.

establishments, a non-fluent Spanish speaker will find it difficult to communicate. My limited competence in the Spanish language, gained through high school Spanish classes, was about equivalent to the competence in English of those behind the counter.

A similar experience is to be had at the nearby “Saint Rose of Lima Church.” Macaulay Honors student, Brittany Adams, who has lived with a host family in Ecuador confirmed that the interior of the church even “smells like Ecuador.”

Upon approaching the church, a friendly Hispanic woman called out to us “Venga! Venga! Come in!” Again, communication was difficult but possible. We were handed a broacher for the church written in both English and Spanish, on which virtually every mass leader has a Hispanic name. The women who invited us in informed us that she is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This information, although statistically insignificant in being a survey of one, is consistent with the statistics showing a majority of Dominicans among Hispanics in Washington Heights.


Besides Hispanics and Whites, there is also a sizable Black population in Washington Heights. In the 10031 and 10032 zip code areas the numbers of Blacks outnumbered Whites in the 2000 US Census.

Lower Washington Heights is home to The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, which “honors the lives and legacies of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz by continuing the work of Al Hajj Malik, Malcolm X, and Dr. Betty Al-Shabazz through the advancement of human rights and social justice” (The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Educational Center).



Bader, Daniel P. “Northern Manhattan gentrifying? Study says no.” Manhattan

Times: Northern Manhattan Edition 11 Dec 2008.



Bell, D. “The Gentrification of Washington Heights.” UPTOWNflavor 5 April 2007.

< http://uptownflavor.com/2007/04/05/the-gentrification-of-washington-


Carter, Brian. “Rental Dementia: How Long You Lived Here?” New York Press 11

April 2007. < http://www.nypress.com/article-16046-rental-dementia-how-


Fernandez, Manny. “New Winds at an Island Outpost.” The New York Times 4 March

2007. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/nyregion/thecity/04domi.html?_r=1&fta=y&oref=slogin>

Francoeur, Stephen. “A Brief History of Washington Heights.”



The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Educational Center. The Malcolm X &

Dr. Betty Shabazz, Memorial & Educational Center, Inc., 2010.


Nguyen, Pauline, and Josephine Sanchez. “Ethnic Communities in New York City:

Dominicans in Washington Heights.” Voices of New York. New York

University, 2001. <http://www.nyu.edu/classes/blake.map2001/dominican2.html>

Ortiz, Erik. “2010 census shows racial and ethnic shifts in NYC boroughs.” am New

York 24 March 2011. < http://www.amny.com/urbanite-1.812039/2010-


U.S. Census Bureau, 2010. <http://www.census.gov/>


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