After living in el barrio for a few months I ventured 2 blocks north of my home one day. I thought I would take a stroll around the block and get to know the neighborhood. It was a different world. I felt so out of place and people knew I did not belong on their block and they let me know it! This is when I discovered your neighborhood could be limited to just your block.
This experience did not make me feel unsafe. It made me realize there was a world beyond my safe haven and the route I took to the train everyday. I had limited experience living in an urban community and I stuck out like a soar thumb. Once I settled in, East Harlem began to settle around me naturally. It just took time.
Today, I am much more comfortable in my environment and know what to expect from my community. I see things on a daily basis that make the reality of living in the inner city disconcerting. Was that a “transaction” I just saw? Did I just see what I think I saw? I am not surprised, but caught off guard. I hope I am never in the wrong place at the wrong time, but couldn't I find myself at the wrong place at the wrong time in SoHo? Or on Wall Street?
Harlem is my home. Six years later I am trying to become more involved in my community. I am interested in making the quality of life better for myself and the people who live here. I do not foresee moving anytime soon. As much as I want to protect my family…I hope karma will keep us safe.
If you are planning on moving to Harlem there is a lot you can do to gain a sense of security about your decision. Here is my short list of considerations:
- Take a walk through of the neighborhood both day and night.
- Simulate your weekday and weekend activities; your route to the train and back home, visit the local grocery store where you will shop, visit restaurants you would like to try and the bodega you would frequent if you suddenly run out toilet paper!
- Become familiar with public transportation, buses and trains.
- Locate your neighborhood police station.
- Speak to local shop owners, especially those located at corner intersections around your home. Ask them to give you a sense of the neighborhood in the evenings and on weekends.
- Note the times various businesses close.
- Research finding a place in your community, i.e. community service or local politics.
- Attend a community board meeting.
- Research museums, parks, exhibitions and attend community events.