By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — The increase in population in Central Harlem shown in the US Census is being attributed to a building boom on Frederick Douglass Boulevard and an effort to rebound from dismal participation rates.
Acording to Census data, Central Harlem South saw an 11 percent increase in population. Central Harlem North, which includes the Polo Grounds, saw a 7.5 percent rise.
Those figures put Central Harlem in the same class as a handful of Manhattan neighborhoods that experienced population increases of 5 percent to 15 percent. Manhattan saw a small 3 percent increase, a figure Mayor Michael Bloomberg is challenging.
Most other parts of Harlem saw either a small increase in population — East Harlem North and South saw a 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent increase, and others, like Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville saw decreases of of 4 to 7 percent, respectively.
Paimaan Lodhi, district manager for Community Board 10, attributed the changes in Central Harlem South to the building boom that occurred in the area, especially along the Frederick Douglass Boulevard corridor.
"In 2000, we had way more vacant lots than we do now. The area just south of 116th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard had a huge increase in population," said Lodhi.
The change can be seen in the neighborhood with new retail, bars and shops following the increase in population in the area.
At the same time however, there has also been a demographic shift in Harlem with more whites moving to the neighborhood. Take two Census tracts below below 118th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue for example.
In one tract, the number of black decreased by 2,159 while the number of whites increased by 859. In the next tract, the number of blacks decrease by 1038 or 17 percent while the number of whites went up 639 or 88 percent.
Lynette Velasco, chief of staff for City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, said there is a concerted effort to make sure the new construction includes affordable housing.
"People are moving to Central Harlem because of what we have to offer," she said. "But at the same time, we have to make sure the people that put the blood sweat and tears in can also stay here."
In Central Harlem North, both Lodhi and Velasco said an effort to increase census participation could have helped the numbers.
"We had some of the lowest mail participation rates in 2000," said Lodhi. "Over the past 1 1/2 years we underwent a campaign to try to increase the participation rates."
Velasco said that many felt there area was under counted in 2000 and wanted to make sure that didn't happen again.
"We wanted to get folks familiar and comfortable with the process so we focused on sending out people who are familiar and comfortable with the community," she said.
The numbers mean that Central Harlem can make a case to continue to get the resources it needs, said Lodhi
"The positive thing is that we will get the appropriate amount of funding and that's why we were so upset with the 2000 numbers," he said.