Yesterday I talked with my summer school class about a story that Carol Brown alerted me to from the New York Times back in July 2008. It deals with a drum circle in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, which has been performing in the park on Saturday evenings in the summer for decades. Even before I lived in Harlem, which means we're talking about a long time ago.
The drummers maintain that their presence has improved the neighborhood and also is part of building their community. By all accounts, the drummers are loud and neighbors who live in a luxury co-op are angry. This raises all sorts of great questions around nuisance -- including the neighbors took the property with notice of the nuisance; whether they perhaps paid less for the property precisely because this nuisance exists; whether the nuisance is so great that in this case the "notice" may not matter. Oh, the cool things to talk about!
USA Today had a story about it in 2007 and here's another story. I'm particularly interested in an article from 2007 on the beatonthestreetharlem website, "Ask Not for Whom the Drum Beats: It Beats for Thee." Consider this excerpt from the story:
[N]ow that residents of the recently completed 2002 Fifth Avenue have moved in, they want the park drummers to move out. Stand back, they're use to getting their way. Besides consuming a vacant lot, the condo complex also demolished a historic brownstone, the former 2002 Fifth Avenue (identical to its remaining neighbors) to make way for what is their architecturally undistiguished building. Now it's on to removing any pre-existing culture and its accompanying audience if it so displeases them.
One commenter, known as "Harlem Observer," wrote this:
Next they will change the name of Marcus Garvey Park. Arrogant whites and their negro appeasers who hate their neighbors and welcome the "new settlers" in with open arms. The wholesale of Harlem and the ethnic cleansing of long time harlem residents is happening now. Are you a participant in the cultural and people removal or supporting a Harlem where fairness and unity can prevail. There is no reason why projects, low income housing and luxury housing can exist in Harlem. Unless you are the type that do not want to be around us long time Harlemites and have a distain for the culture and want it to be just like below 96th street.
How's that for more talk of renaming? Well, I'm guessing the Marcus Garvey name is safe. But I was interested to learn that the name was changed to "Marcus Garvery Park" from "Mount Morris Park" relatively recently -- by Mayor John Lindsey in 1973. I was intrigued to see that the Times refers to it at the Mount Morris Park -- and I'm now wondering the significance of that. The USA Today article notes that real estate agencies still often use the old name, rather than Marcus Garvey Park. And here's a recent blog about the drummers' circle. Next time I'm back in Harlem I definitely want to take in the park.
The building at issue here, 1481 Fifth Avenue, has seen its share of lawsuits -- including a ILSA case that it won -- and controversy, such as the 2009 bankruptcy of the building's developers. But as of April of this year, the building ("Fifth on the Park") seems to be doing well.