Easy commutes, beautiful old brownstones, a vibrant culture and history, the lure of reasonable rents: little wonder that both West and East Harlem have been near the top of everyone’s “next happening” NYC neighborhood list for the past decade or so. And though both communities have seen a welcome infusion of first-rate neighborhood restaurants, cafes, retails shops and services (Red Rooster, Jin Ramen, and the revitalized La Marqueta, to name three solid food choices), the area hasn’t quite exploded just yet, so East and West Harlem rental apartments remain relative bargains. Two recent bit of news seem to indicate that changes are about to happen ever more quickly in this part of town though, so you might want to get in now while the neighborhoods still maintain their present character.
On the west side, the first building in Columbia University’s huge, 17-acre West Harlem (or, as they like to call it, “Manhattanville“) expansion is going up as we speak, and it looks to be a real neighborhood-changer. Designed by starchitect Renzo Piano, the glassy towers will house the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute–so named because of the developer and publisher’s $200 million endowment–which aspires to be a world-class research and education center on human behavior and neural science. Slated to open in 2016, the Zuckerman Institute is only the first of 15 new buildings planned for Columbia’s Manhattanville campus, which they were only able to get started on by agreeing to give $76 million to West Harlem community programs, as well as assisting in opening a local public high school for math, science and engineering.
Over in East Harlem, Community Board 11 approved a zoning change for a big chunk of the neighborhood, a 60-block area along Madison, Park and Lexington avenues between East 115th and East 132nd streets. The proposed rezoning, the first in the area since 1961, would encourage commercial development and taller buildings while ensuring the concurrent development of permanently affordable housing. The goal would be to encourage economic activity in the area–through light industry, commercial, and retail establishments-without displacing the community’s core constituents.
The reinvigorated, five-block-long La Marqueta, with its new kitchen facilities and retail space under the Metro North tracks, was held up as an example on how to change and grow without destroying. As CB 11 Chairman Matthew Washington: “We took a holistic approach and looked at how we could balance goals such as affordable housing while having responsible businesses working with their neighbors and ensuring a high quality of life.”