“Whatever you build, we’ll burn it down.”

Another incentive offered to developers [in Harlem] was an “arts and culture” bonus, in which developers were similarly rewarded that could be rented as galleries, performance space, studios, or offices for artistic organizations. The representative from the city planning department put it thusly: We’ve been told that arts and culture are important up here, so there are going to be restaurants and cultural venues. A community member in the audience grumbled in response: Arts and culture don’t pay the bills. Another suggested that the arts and culture bonus would lead to a situation was celebrated in Harlem but no black people actually lived there anymore. A long line of residents stood at a microphone to denounce the plan, the testimonies growing more and more heated. One man suggested that there have been riots before in Harlem’s past, and there can be riots again. Another man wore a T-shirt that read HARLEM IS NOT FOR SALE BECAUSE HARLEM’S ALREADY BEEN SOLD. He named the local politicians and businessmen he claimed were responsible, then left the mic to hover close to the urban planners seated at a dais in the front of the room. He looked each in the eye and then said: Whatever you build, we’ll burn it down.

—Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America


Photo of the lot at King Boulevard & Monroe, after the clearing of debris from a fire that destroyed a newly-built apartment complex last August, and view of the house on MLK next door that was badly damaged but appears to be undergoing restoration. Below, the house on Monroe that was burnt in the fire, and has been torn down. The fire was determined to be arson.


Footage of the flames; photos: “The Aftermath.

Reconstruction of the Monroe Apartments is underway – five stories, 46 units.



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