On Saturday, April 29, twelve community-based organizations will host a day-long forum titled “Harlem and the Future: Preserving Culture and Sustaining History in a Changing Environment” (“Harlem and the Future”) that will discuss the changes, the best practices, and the imminent challenges that are affecting Harlem’s social fabric, built environment, and cultural heritage. Harlem’s first historic preservation conference comes at a time of change to this iconic neighborhood.
The conference will begin at 9 am at the City College of New York Spitzer School of Architecture (141 Convent Avenue at 135th Street) and will last until 5 pm with a series of events staged throughout the day.
Events include welcoming remarks by Manhattan Borough President Gale A Brewer, a keynote address, three panel discussions, three walking tours, and screening of the film “Gentrification.” Keynote speaker Chris Fair of Resonance Consultancy will speak on “The Power of Place” and local Harlem author and architectural historian Michael Henry Adams will give the closing remarks.
Registration is required and includes lunch as well as a choice of walking tours in the afternoon. Register online here.
Cultural Heritage (10 am)
Harlem is not just a geographic locale in Upper Manhattan, but a diverse African-American community with a rich history represented by a remarkable architectural heritage. While the success of the play “Hamilton” has led to an explosive growth in visitors headed uptown to see the Hamilton Grange historic site, the physical embodiments of Harlem’s cultural heritage have long been simultaneously celebrated and threatened. What would today’s Harlem be if residents had not fought to preserve and nurture the cultural spaces that fostered the talents of Miranda, Strayhorn, Gershwin, and countless others? The continuous changes in the community prompt further questions: Who decides what stories are preserved and retold? How do we prioritize what we want to save to illustrate Harlem’s cultural development? This panel will focus on these questions and look at the cultural brand of Harlem, which has attracted global attention, and reflect on whether it represents the community as a whole.
Moderator: Terrance McKnight, host for WQXR 105.9 FM Radio.
Panelists:Kenneth J. Knuckles, President & CEO, Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone; Karl Franz Williams, CEO & Founder, Good Ice Marketing; Sarah Saltzberg, Co-Founder, Bohemia Realty Group; and Eric Pryor, Executive Director, Harlem School of the Arts.
Built Environment (11:15 am)
Harlem’s built environment, from its ornate brownstones to its human-scale character, tells the story of the neighborhood’s development and evolution. Unfortunately, much of Harlem’s physical fabric has been lost to demolition, both by neglect and redevelopment, over time.
Landmark designation has proven itself to be an important tool in the fight to preserve character and manage change but it may not always be the most effective nor desirable way to protect a neighborhood. As demonstrated by the restoration of PS 186 on 145th Street, community activism and public-private partnerships can lead to positive results even without landmark designation. This panel will look at the ways Harlem residents can reinforce their community’s identity while also adapting to growth and development.
Moderator: Architect Carlton Brown, Architect & Principal, Direct Investment Development.
Panelists: Christopher Cirillo, Executive Director, Lott Community Development; Daniel Marks Cohen, Vice President, Housing Partnership Development Corporation; and Joseph Coppola, AIA Principal, Dattner Architects.
Social Fabric: What’s the New Religion? Churches at Risk (1:15 pm)
The beautiful stone churches of Harlem stand out as landmarks in the neighborhood. While these buildings have lasted decades, the congregants that utilized them reflect the evolving character of the community. Throughout their history, Harlem’s churches have served as a home and well-spring in shaping the neighborhood’s social dynamics. In particular, the role of the church in Harlem’s African American community is evidenced in everything from music to the civil rights movement. Today, technological and demographic shifts, both globally and locally, have reshaped the way Harlemites interact with one another and created new “congregations” outside of religious institutions. These changes leave congregants, preservationists, and residents asking what’s to become of the buildings imbued with historical, architectural, and social value. In seeking to explore, “what’s the new religion” this panel looks to consider how contemporary needs and uses may revitalize and breathe new life into Harlem’s historic church buildings.
Moderator: John T. Reddick, Architectural & Cultural Historian.
Panelists: Rev. Michael A. Walrond, Jr., Senior Pastor, First Corinthian Baptist Church; Rev. Reginald Bachus, Associate Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church; and Ann-Isabel Friedman, Sacred Sites Program, NYC Landmarks Conservancy.
Considering Harlem’s cultural heritage panel, experts will evaluate the cultural brand of Harlem, which has attracted global attention, and reflect on whether it now represents the community as a whole. On the topic of the built environment, panelists will discuss retaining identity and a sense of place, as defined by the physical environment, cultural legacy, and inhabitants, the effectiveness of working with landmarks designation, building community activism and forging private-public partnerships while also adapting to growth and development. And lastly for the community’s social fabric, using the church as a microcosm of a community in transition, leaders from Harlem’s churches will consider how contemporary needs and uses may revitalize and breathe new life into Harlem’s historic church buildings.
For more information on the West Harlem Community Preservation Organization visit their website.
For more information on the Historic District Council visit their website.
Photo: Harlem, provided.