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Inwood Is Actually Two Neighborhoods Divided by Race, Class and Broadway

By  Nigel Chiwaya and Carolina Pichardo | July 19, 2016 11:24am 

INWOOD — When it comes to debates over life in Inwood, where you stand on the issue often comes down to what side of Broadway you live on.

For decades, arguments have played out on everything from controversial bars and nightclubs and the noise they spawn — as seen by the explosive back-and-forth over a recent op-ed on noise issues along the Dyckman Street club corridor that was widely panned as racist.

While debates over noisy bars and restaurants are in no way unique to Inwood, the latest battle over Dyckman Street has once again drawn back the curtain on the racially tinged rhetoric sometimes used to describe the situation.

The street — which tends to draw a largely black and Latino crowd into the statistically more white, more affluent side of Broadway — has been the subject of numerous crackdowns by the NYPD and is a constant source of 311 noise complaints and diatribes to Community Board 12 about the crowds, who are described as disrespectful to the community and dangerous to neighbors and fellow patrons.

But defenders of the Dyckman stretch west of Broadway say the bars and restaurants bring jobs and have cleaned up a desolate part of the area, adding that some of its detractors are white gentrifiers who are trying to change the character of the neighborhood.

These arguments have played out again and again, but they're symptoms of a much larger issue in the area: Inwood is actually two distinct neighborhoods with very different racial, economic and housing make-ups, setting the stage for constant friction, locals say.


Inwoodites have long complained about different worlds existing on the east and west sides of Broadway. The line of demarcation, which separates the low-income, heavily Dominican east side from the whiter, co-op-filled area west of Broadway.

According to U.S. Census statistics, 77 percent of households earning more than $100,000 live west of Broadway. Almost symmetrically, 77 percent of households that earn less than $20,000 are in East Inwood.

While both sides of the neighborhood are predominantly Latino, close to 90 percent of the area's white population lives in West Inwood. Whites make up just about 3 percent of the population in East Inwood, while accounting for 34 percent of West Inwood. No other race comes close to having such an imbalance.


There are also big differences between the two sides in terms of what language is spoken at home.

Hispanics are the largest racial group on both sides of Broadway, but only 40 percent of West Inwood homes speak Spanish at home, compared to 84 percent of East Inwood homes. Furthermore, 40 percent of East Inwood households are limited-English Spanish-speaking homes.

The disparity also plays out in the housing stock available. According to Cole Thompson, an Inwood historian and real estate agent at New Heights Realty, anyone looking to buy a home in Inwood will have to make their way west.

"The bulk of the housing stock east of Broadway is rentals. West of Broadway is about 50-50 between co-ops and rentals," Thompson said.

While rentals are historically more popular in transient neighborhoods, both sides of Broadway are home to people who are equally rooted in the neighborhood — 82 percent of East Inwood households moved to the neighborhood before 2010, nearly identical to the 80 percent of those in West Inwood who have lived there since before 2010, Census data shows.

These differences have real-world effects on the day-to-day life of those who live in Inwood.

Residents east of Broadway have said for years that they face serious impediments when it comes to accessing information, police attention and other resources — which they blame on race, language and class differences with their western counterparts.

For example, while Community Board 12 meetings are often given in English, making it easy for English-speakers living west of Broadway to be kept in the loop about community developments, Spanish-speakers east of Broadway are left to struggle to understand. DNAinfo recently revealed that the Community Board has struggled to afford translators, despite having equipment that would allow attendees to listen in.

Candida Uraga, who has lived near Sherman Avenue and Ellwood Street for 24 years, said news about everything from proposed zoning changes to citywide policies trickles slowly to those who live east of Broadway.

"I saw a flier on the streets near the train about a project about changes in the community. I have to go see what’s happening," said Uraga, "I have to go, because I don’t know anything.”

Those who live east of Broadway have also complained about what they see as a lack of attention when it comes to the NYPD.

For example, the family of college student Anthony Ureña, whose body was found in the Hudson River months after he went missing in Nov. 2015, said police failed to properly take down a missing person report or issue an alert days after their son’s disappearance. It wasn’t until State Sen. Adriano Espaillat met with the family, and organized a search with the local precincts involved, that the family was able to attain more information, they said.

Reyna Mercado, a 14-year resident who lives near Vermilyea Avenue on Inwood's east side, said the differences can sometime become entrenched as a way of life.

She said she worries that those who live in the west side of Inwood have developed an incorrect assumption about her and her neighbors.

"They think poor people living in this area are living off the systems and don’t deserve help," she said.

"There’s a lot of classism," Mercado added. "With people in this area and the poor community — they’re always classified as less-than."