Okay, this one's going to be long...I feel like so many of us repeatedly answer similar questions about Harlem, and I want to provide some personal info that might help.
Jean, Iâ€™ve lived in Harlem for a few years. I moved here in my twenties, I keep late hours, I ride the subway, and I bought my place to live in alone. These are all things that people ask when considering the neighborhood (though really, Harlem is made up of many neighborhoods), but based on my personal experience, Iâ€™m constantly advising buyers and renters to expand their search into Harlem.
As I posted elsewhere, I really love the value and the convenience to transportation. Because I'm situated between the 2/3 train and the 4/5/6 train, I can be almost anywhere in Manhattan within 30 minutes (except for the far west side of Midtown/Chelsea and Inwood, just because of how the trains run). Also, I love walking...I take my two dogs all over the place at night, I trained for two marathons in Central Park after dark, and I have often walked instead of taking the train home from the Theater District. Walking up 5th Avenue (along the park, past the Met) when everythingâ€™s quieted down for the day is so beautiful, and across the street, there's a doorman or two in just about every block. The biggest threat to my safety--and I would stress that I am ONLY talking about my experience here--have been the raccoons clambering around.
Of course, the #1 factor in deciding where to live is your comfort. If you don't feel safe, you won't enjoy your home. I nearly bought a condo in a completely different area--until I did my weekday evening commute as a test run the night before I put down the deposit. I realized the area was not for me, because often I come home after midnight, and I largely rely on public transportation.
Where I live, thereâ€™s been a resurgence of neighborhood pride, as more and more people who are proud to call Harlem home have taken an active role in keeping it clean. My most consistent community are the dog owners in our neighborhood park, who sponsor regular park clean-up days. People bring donuts and coffee, have bake sales to raise money for equipment, and spend hours raking the wood chips that the city drops off. In the summers, some of the outdoor picnics (and the infamous, but IMHO awesome drum circles) can be boisterous, but once you make some friends, it's fun to stop over at the meat market and pick up chicken or ribs to grill.
No neighborhood is "perfect"...I put that in quotes because I doubt we could ever find a consensus on what constitutes perfection. I know that I chose Harlem after an exhaustive search that took me to Williamsburg, Morningside Heights, Long Island City, Bushwick, Battery Park City, Washington Heights, the UES and UWS, and all over Jersey City and several different Harlem neighborhoods. There were things I liked everywhere. Ultimately, I loved my apartment, I loved the value, I loved the comparatively low expenses of supermarkets and other amenities, and I loved the proximity to just about everywhere I wanted to go. Also, I personally chose a part of Harlem that is quieter in the evenings, but there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and other fun stuff popping up all over the place. It's really just a matter of what you want outside your front door.
If you're searching, it is my humble opinion that no matter who you are, Harlem has a lot to offer. Please don't be swayed by family or friends who aren't familiar with the city; unfortunately, there are some powerful stereotypes that haven't gone away...but then again, that's why living here is more affordable than a lot of places!
One more thing: I have a dear friend who moved with her husband many years ago to what is now a very high-end building on Central Park West, near the Museum of Natural History. The terrace that spans the length of their 26th-floor apartment directly faces Central Park. I have another friend who was one of the first people I know to move down to the Financial District. In both cases, my friends were told by well-intentioned people around them that they were crazy to move there, that they were going to get mugged or shot or worse, that they would lose all their money, etc etc etc. Hindsight shows us that those were both very, VERY good investments. So really, I suppose the lesson is to trust your own gut, not someone else's preconceptions. Try out your commute, run the numbers, look all over the place, and compare and contrast what you find.
And if you'd ever like a search, a tour, or a chat, I'd be happy to tell you anything else I can that might be helpful.
Douglas Elliman Real Estate