Tucked in the northern corner of Harlem, Bradhurst is a neighborhood rich in history, culture, and promise, in spite of economic and environmental challenges. In recent years, the issues of racial justice, the climate crisis, and COVID and public health have been pushed to the forefront of city and national policy discussions, and Bradhurst serves as a microcosm of these challenges. Bradhurst’s development and cultural history has been intertwined with that of greater Harlem since the early 20th century. As a predominantly Black community, Bradhurst enjoyed and continues to celebrate Black cultural expression, but suffered decades of disinvestment due to redlining, the effects of which are still felt today. Bradhurst has been the location of many pioneering housing models, including philanthropically-funded garden apartments, contextual public housing, and Tower in the Park developments for both public housing and middle income co-ops. With lower education levels, lower median household income, and higher single family female-led households compared to Upper Manhattan and New York City, Bradhurst residents face significant challenges to reach economic stability. This is due in part to the neighborhood’s high concentration of public housing compared to other neighborhoods. Despite being located on the Harlem River, residents lack any public waterfront access, and the area currently faces significant threats from rising sea levels and climate change. The local street network’s current underutilization as a means for mobility rather than as a public space resource present opportunities to improve public health outcomes and address the inequitable distribution of city resources. Bradhurst experienced a decline in neighborhood population between 1970 and 2000, but the community has seen population growth in the past two decades thanks in part to infill affordable housing development and community-driven improvement efforts led by organizations like Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement. By leveraging the neighborhood’s communal, cultural, public space, and environmental assets, Bradhurst can overcome its current challenges and begin to correct for the racial inequities, poor public health outcomes, and climate threats that it currently faces. A framework guided by equity, public health, and resiliency provides a path forward. Engaging in thoughtful and equitable planning work at strategic sites in Bradhurst provides a first step. Specifically, three priority projects include the creation and activation of new public space along 155th Street under the viaduct and reconceptualizing the roadway as a space for community placemaking; restoring and softening the Harlem River waterfront edge with a natural shoreline and a new public esplanade along the full eastern length of Bradhurst coupled with flood protection infrastructure; and deploying tactical food and public health placemaking activities in various key streets that will facilitate traffic calming and pedestrian improvements. With these and other new investments, Bradhurst will be in a strong position to take advantage of resources that can protect the existing community and help the neighborhood become more livable, resilient, and sustainable.
Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI) Inc & Bradhurst Community Members