Exploring the path of community change in East Harlem, 1870-1970: A multifactor approach

Robert Charles Freeman, Fordham University


Using the multifactor model for the study of community change proposed by Richard Taub and associates (1984), this research explores reasons why Manhattan's East Harlem neighborhood has remained among New York City's poorest district for a full century despite near-complete ethnic succession, extensive residential redevelopment, the commitment of millions of dollars in public funding, and the good intentions of a host of community and municipal leaders, some of whom were native sons of the neighborhood. This study examines a wealth of existing data in pursuit of an answer to this question, including land value maps; the 1900 and 1910 manuscript census and later census tract data; school enrollment reports; New York City Housing Authority surveys; housing project newsletters; summaries of meetings between community groups and municipal agencies; the published findings of civic groups; reports of the New York City Planning Commission, Slum Clearance Committee, and Tenement House Department; newspaper accounts, and the papers of former East Harlem congressman and New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, former East Harlem congressman Vito Marcantonio, and former East Harlem high school principal and educator Leonard Covello. The model developed by Taub, et al., posits three kinds of pressures that interact in determining the pattern of urban neighborhood change: ecological facts, institutional and corporate decisions, and the decisions of individual residents. The data presented here illustrate that while all three types of community change factors have interacted in shaping East Harlem's path over the past century, the decisions of corporate and institutional actors have loomed especially large in influencing both ecological patterns in the neighborhood as well as the perceptions and behaviors of individual residents, and thereby have had a particularly profound effect on the neighbornood's direction. The demonstrated importance of corporate and institutional actors in determining East Harlem's outcome illustrates the necessity of taking extracommunity ties into account in explaining neighborhood change.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Demographics|Urban planning|Area planning & development

Recommended Citation

Freeman, Robert Charles, "Exploring the path of community change in East Harlem, 1870-1970: A multifactor approach" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9509749.