Friday, July 14, 2017

No 'SoHa,' NowOrEver


WHEN I LIVED at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan, it was a hard-won badge of honor. I’d hopscotched around New York City for more than a few years, moving from Hell’s Kitchen (in what is now predominately known as Chelsea, in a victory of urban planners with no sense of urban poetry) to Greenwich Village, and even vacating the city altogether, spending a brief stint in Jersey City.

But when I took possession of my fourth-floor walkup up-uptown, I also took proud ownership of a relationship with an old neighbor, one that began when I crossed Central Park North and walked into the southernmost district of Harlem.

For generations, the history behind this celebrated 3.8-square mile swathe of upper Manhattan has been a source of pride to African Americans — indeed, to any and all Americans with a sense of history beyond the star-spangled pabulum we’ve been fed all our lives. ...

During the 20 years of the Harlem Renaissance, novelists, poets, artists and musicians made the area a vibrant, genially explosive hothouse for some of America’s most powerful and enduring artistic contributions. And the streets and parks of the area have kept the names of the secular saints of black history: Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, Malcolm X Boulevard, Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, Marcus Garvey Park, Jackie Robinson Park. ...

For years now, there’s been a kind of cultural d├ętente at work there, a relationship that saw elements of upscale, privileged, entitled America co-existing with the earthier aspects of Harlem’s more indigenous identity. Even as Starbucks, Old Navy and American Apparel moved into the neighborhood, the older, legendary persona persisted. The lion, it seemed, could lie down with the lamb. Mocha Frappuccino went just fine with sweet potato pie.

Lately, however, there’s been a move afoot to obliterate the name of that iconic district. With one trial balloon or another, real-estate developers and some business owners have undertaken efforts to change the name of at least part of Harlem to “SoHa,” a too-hip-by-half compression of “South Harlem” that borrows the sadly frequent tendency to shorten established neighborhood names to something almost unintelligible (and certainly unintelligent).

The rationale is flimsy at best; the proposed name change is thought to attract more home buyers, or to make the neighborhood more appealing to young, upwardly mobile residents — those with no compunction about changing manifestations of history that don’t personally involve them.

But just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. ...

Read the full piece at Swamp

Image credits: Harlem Renaissance map: Ephemera Press. Harlem subway map excerpt: MTA. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

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