Harlem is a neighborhood in the northern section of the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is bounded roughly by Frederick Douglass Boulevard, St. Nicholas Avenue, and Morningside Park on the west; the Harlem River and 155th Street on the north; Fifth Avenue on the east; and Central Park North on the south. The greater Harlem area encompasses several other neighborhoods and extends west to the Hudson River, north to 155th Street, east to the East River, and south to 96th Street.
Harlem is located in Upper Manhattan, often referred to as Uptown by locals. The three neighborhoods that comprise greater Harlem (composed of Community Districts 9, 10, and 11) stretch from the Harlem River and East River in the east, to the Hudson River to the west; and between 155th Street in the north, where it meets Washington Heights, and an uneven boundary along the south that runs along 96th Street east of Fifth Avenue, 110th Street between Fifth Avenue to Morningside Park, and 125th Street west of Morningside Park to the Hudson River. These boundaries are also cited by Encyclopædia Britannica, though the Encyclopedia of New York City takes a much more conservative view of Harlem’s boundaries, only regarding central Harlem as part of Harlem proper.
Central Harlem is the name of Harlem proper. This section is bounded by Fifth Avenue on the east; Central Park on the south; Morningside Park, St. Nicholas Avenue and Edgecombe Avenue on the west; and the Harlem River on the north. A chain of three large linear parks—Morningside Park, St. Nicholas Park and Jackie Robinson Park—are situated on steeply rising banks and form most of the district’s western boundary. On the east, Fifth Avenue and Marcus Garvey Park, also known as Mount Morris Park, separate this area from East Harlem. This area falls under Manhattan Community District 10. In the late 2000s, South Harlem, emerged from area redevelopment, running along Frederick Douglass Boulevard from West 110th to West 138th Streets. Central Harlem includes the Mount Morris Park Historic District.
West Harlem is composed of Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights, which collectively comprise Manhattan Community District 9 and are not part of Harlem proper. The two neighborhoods’ area is bounded by Cathedral Parkway/110th Street on the south; 155th Street on the north; Manhattan/Morningside Ave/St. Nicholas/Bradhurst/Edgecombe Avenues on the east; and Riverside Park/the Hudson River on the west. Manhattanville begins at roughly 123rd Street and extends northward to 135th Street. The northernmost section of West Harlem is Hamilton Heights.
East Harlem, also called Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, within Manhattan Community District 11, is bounded by East 96th Street on the south, East 138th Street on the north, Fifth Avenue on the west, and the Harlem River on the east. It is not part of Harlem proper.
Like most neighborhoods in New York, the demographics of Harlem’s communities have changed rapidly throughout the history of New York. In 1910, 10% of Harlem’s population was black but by 1930, they had become a 70% majority. The period between 1910 and 1930 marks a huge point in the great migration of African Americans from the South to New York. This point also marks an influx from downtown Manhattan neighborhoods where blacks were feeling less welcome, to the Harlem area. The black population in Harlem peaked in 1950, with a 98% share of the population (population 233,000). As of 2000, central Harlem’s black population comprised 77% of the total population of that area; however, the black population is declining as many African Americans move out and more immigrants move in.
Harlem suffers from unemployment rates generally more than twice the citywide average, as well as high poverty rates. and the numbers for men have been consistently worse than the numbers for women. Private and governmental initiatives to ameliorate unemployment and poverty have not been successful. During the Great Depression, unemployment in Harlem went past 20% and people were being evicted from their homes. At the same time, the federal government developed and instituted the redlining policy. This policy rated neighborhoods, such as Central Harlem, as unappealing based on the race, ethnicity, and national origins of the residents. Central Harlem was deemed ‘hazardous’ and residents living in Central Harlem were refused home loans or other investments. Comparably, wealthy and white residents in New York city neighborhoods were approved more often for housing loans and investment applications. Overall, they were given preferential treatment by city and state institutions.
In the 1960s, uneducated blacks could find jobs more easily than educated ones could, confounding efforts to improve the lives of people who lived in the neighborhood through education. Land owners took advantage of the neighborhood and offered apartments to the lower-class families for cheaper rent but in lower-class conditions. By 1999 there were 179,000 housing units available in Harlem. Housing activists in Harlem state that, even after residents were given vouchers for the Section 8 housing that was being placed, many were not able to live there and had to find homes elsewhere or become homeless. These policies are examples of societal racism, also known as structural racism. As public health leaders have named structural racism as a key social determinant of health disparities between racial and ethnic minorities, these 20th century policies have contributed to the current population health disparities between Central Harlem and other New York city neighborhoods.
In 2010, according to a regional census, the population of central Harlem was at 115,000. Central Harlem is the most famous section of greater Harlem, and thus is commonly referred to simply as Harlem.
For census purposes, the New York City government classifies central Harlem into two neighborhood tabulation areas: Central Harlem North and Central Harlem South. Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Central Harlem was 118,665, a change of 9,574 (8.1%) from the 109,091 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 926.05 acres (374.76 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 128.1 inhabitants per acre (82,000/sq mi; 31,700/km). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 9.5% (11,322) White, 63% (74,735) African American, 0.3% (367) Native American, 2.4% (2,839) Asian, 0% (46) Pacific Islander, 0.3% (372) from other races, and 2.2% (2,651) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 22.2% (26,333) of the population.
The entirety of Community District 10, which comprises Central Harlem, had 116,345 inhabitants as of NYC Health’s 2018 Community Health Profile, with an average life expectancy of 76.2 years. This is lower than the median life expectancy of 81.2 for all New York City neighborhoods. Most inhabitants are children and middle-aged adults: 21% are between the ages of 0–17, while 35% are between 25–44, and 24% between 45–64. The ratio of college-aged and elderly residents was lower, at 10% and 11% respectively.
As of 2017, the median household income in Community District 10 was $49,059. In 2018, an estimated 21% of Central Harlem residents lived in poverty, compared to 14% in all of Manhattan and 20% in all of New York City. One in eight residents (12%) were unemployed, compared to 7% in Manhattan and 9% in New York City. Rent burden, or the percentage of residents who have difficulty paying their rent, is 48% in Central Harlem, compared to the boroughwide and citywide rates of 45% and 51% respectively. Based on this calculation, as of 2018, Central Harlem is gentrifying.
In 2010, the population of West Harlem was at 110,193. West Harlem, consisting of Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights, is predominately Hispanic, while African Americans make up about a quarter of the West Harlem population.
In 2010, the population of East Harlem was at 120,000. East Harlem originally formed as a predominantly Italian American neighborhood. The area began its transition from Italian Harlem to Spanish Harlem when Puerto Rican migration began after World War II, though in recent decades, many Dominican, Mexican and Salvadorean immigrants have also settled in East Harlem. East Harlem is also known as is today predominantly Hispanic with a significant black presence. The area suffers from the highest violent crime rate in Manhattan.