Manhattan, NY


Washington Heights and Harlem Ghetto Story of NYC

The Washington Heights and Harlem ghetto is ironically located in Manhattan, which is New York City’s most famous and luxurious borough and the heart of the city with upscale and high-class apartments, businesses, restaurants, and shopping.

Within the black and Latino communities, most people only know Harlem and Washington Heights, but Manhattan has many old and current neighborhoods of the borough.

One of the first black communities in the city was called Little Africa, during the earliest days of New York City, located in what is now Greenwich Village and the Five Points neighborhoods.**

Another historic area was San Juan Hill, which is now home to the Amsterdam Houses projects. This area did not last long, due to a number of buildings being built in the area, displacing blacks and Puerto Ricans while leaving the only residential area to be the Amsterdam Houses.**

harlem ghetto

Courtesy Bob B. Brown/

The Harlem ghetto is the mecca of all black culture in America while being in Manhattan, across 110th Street.


What began as a large Jewish community slowly became different in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as black residents began to move and live in Harlem. People came to Harlem for better conditions and most started out living around 135th Street.^^

After the 1920s, most Jewish families moved away from Harlem and the area became mostly home to New York City’s black population. By this time, Harlem was famous nationwide for businesses and its nightlife, especially during the days of the “Harlem Renaissance”.^^

By the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood began to decline with the introduction of drugs and other problems, as well as people leaving the Harlem ghetto for other neighborhoods in New York City, with the help of urban renewal construction.

harlem ghetto

Spanish Harlem. Courtesy of Steve Mays

Spanish Harlem or East Harlem became one of the biggest Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the country, between the 1920s and 1950s, after it was an Italian community.^

While today it has a number of Latino groups living in the area once known as El Barrio, East Harlem is still a heavy Latino community, living together with black families.

Just north of Harlem is the Washington Heights ghetto, an old area that was once filled with old European immigrants that began to change in the 1960s, as many began to leave the area.*

At first, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans replaced the older residents, but by the 1970s and 80s, the Washington Heights and Inwood / Dyckman communities became the country’s biggest predominantly Dominican Republican neighborhood in the United States, making up the majority of the Washington Heights Hispanic population.*

washington heights ghetto

Washington Heights. Courtesy Racky Salzman


Strict and extreme New York City laws helped bring a difference to the streets of the Washington Heights and Harlem ghetto, where these areas were once known for the number of street hustlers, especially during the days from the 1970s to the 1990s.

In the 2000s, the streets of Upper Manhattan, maybe not as active as previous years, still have its affiliations and a large number of ‘hoods.

Washington Heights with DDP (Dominicans Dont Play), the nearby Inwood neighborhood with Dyckman City (Dyckman Malicia Family) and Nagle Avenue (Nagle Boyz), or Harlem’s Scrilla Hill, Manhattanville (The Ville), St. Nicks Projects, Grant Houses, and many more.

harlem ghetto

Gentrifying in Harlem. Courtesy Mark Lyon

Similar to the South Bronx and other cities all over the nation, many of the sections in the Washington Heights and Harlem ghetto is having its blocks to be slowly gentrified in the Upper Manhattan communities.

Many people say that there has been a change in the streets from previous years, but the rise in property values and rent is moving many people out of Harlem and parts of Washington Heights.

With Harlem, especially East Harlem, being near the Upper Eastside, where the average home values are around 1 million dollars, the old Harlem will become of the past, similar to when Jewish and Italian families were the majority and relocated into different areas of New York City.


Check out more on Manhattan and New York communities.

Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.
** Mario Charles / Sule Greg Wilson. “San Juan Hill” / “Little Africa”. The Encyclopedia of New York. Yale University Press 2010. 1150 / 757.
^ Michael Lapp. “East Harlem”. The Encyclopedia of New York. Yale University Press 2010. 391
*Snyder, Robert. “Washington Heights”. The Encyclopedia of New York. Yale University Press 2010. pg 1380
^^”Harlem”. The Encyclopedia of New York. Yale University Press 2010. 573-575