If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? I’ve always wanted to experience living in New York City. Short of that happening (yet!), I thought I’d give it a three-week try. There were many different NYC microcosms for me to choose from. The historian and author Carla Kaplan, who kindly gave me her book, Miss Anne in Harlem, at a conference several years ago influenced me greatly. That meeting and her wonderful book ignited my curiosity for a special place where so much American history happened—Harlem.
The descriptions of the Harlem homes and apartments listed at SabbaticalHomes.com increased my interest even more. One of these listings was from a contemporary art historian. Setting up a housing arrangement was, as it has always been, easy. We exchanged emails and felt that we kind of knew each other by the time we agreed on the terms. A simple lease to square off the deal and an app called Venmo to take care of the payments, and I was ready to start living in my new “borrowed home.”
I discovered Harlem’s cool vibe. Residents here come from all over the world. Like Europe is to Montreal, there is an acknowledgement to a continent that feels honored and omnipresent: Africa. Walking in Harlem was a pleasure. I could walk slowly with my nose in the air confident that I wasn’t going to be run over by a stressed-out person hurrying to their next meeting. People in the street took the time to speak and visit with each other; they were friendly and welcoming. The pace felt just right.
Harlem is experiencing a transition and gentrification. More professionals are moving in. There are now guided walking and biking tours of the streets and other opportunities for tourists to flood the area—tourists often are, whether we like it or not, the harbingers of change for many places. Harlem is no exception; it’s become a Mecca of restaurants, offering soul food and cuisines from different cultures and dynamic art gallery browsing destination! It is all good and wonderful but one must keep in mind that longtime residents of Harlem may not be able to keep up with the rising costs which accompany these changes.
This was a troubling thought, but I made another discovery. I met a SabbaticalHomes.com member, a longtime Harlem resident, who owns an iconic brownstone walkup. She told me she rents out the middle-floor apartment to traveling academics (through SabbaticalHomes.com, of course) to offset the costs for her other two tenants, whom she’s known most of her life and who can’t afford the rising costs of gentrifying Harlem. Using the middle floor as a kind of organic rent control tool, she is able to continue to offer housing to her low rent-paying tenants. In order words, she is taking care of the people she’s known forever, and able to meet interesting new ones along the way.
I was so thankful that my new friend was personally protecting original residents from her neighborhood’s rising prices they could not afford. I was proud, but not entirely surprised, that a SabbaticalHomes.com member would have the good sense and the ethics to play such a role.
The easy and short-term nature of ‘borrowing’ someone’s home through SabbaticalHomes.com made it possible for me to get a taste of what it would be like to live in Harlem, but maybe more importantly gave me a glimpse of a different way of life from anywhere else I’ve been before. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Founder on the Move is a series written by Nadege Conger, Founder of SabbaticalHomes.com. She created the site in 2000 to help academics worldwide pursue their research by providing a home exchange and rental website. Connect with Nadege on Facebook.