Safety First: Is Harlem Safe?

If you’re vising or moving to Harlem, you’ll want to know how safe it is and what to expect in the area. A community-oriented neighborhood rich in culture and history, there are plenty of reasons to live in Harlem. Here is more information on this New York City neighborhood to better understand its safety (and more). 

A Brief History of Harlem

Harlem is a neighborhood in the Manhattan borough of New York and is located in most of the Upper Manhattan region. The original inhabitants of the Harlem area include the Native American tribe, the Weckquaesgeek. European settlers then arrived and the Dutch called the tribe Manhattans or Manhattoe. Residents during this time were mostly farmers before Harlem was incorporated under Peter Stuyvesant’s leadership in 1660. 

In the late 18th Century, Harlem was slow to develop since the neighborhood was burned down during the American Revolution. After World War I, the neighborhood was associated with the New Negro movement and attracted many artists during the period that coined the name the Harlem Renaissance.  

Today, Harlem is categorized into Central Harlem, East Harlem, and West Harlem. Central Harlem is a cultural hub with a rich heritage, East Harlem is the largest Hispanic community, and West Harlem is the most picturesque area. 

While it’s tricky to define Harlem’s borders, general agreements are:

  • Northwest Central Park to the south
  • 155th Street to the north
  • East and Harlem Rivers to the east 
  • Amsterdam Avenue to the west 

A Diverse Community  

NEW YORK – 1988: Drag ball in 1988 in New York City, New York. Pictured: Octavia St. Laurent, 1964 -2009. (Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)

Although Harlem is known as the “Black Mecca” and is rich in African-American heritage, it’s a diverse neighborhood home to many races, from Dutch and Italian to Puerto Rican, Irish, and Jewish immigrants. Below are the demographic breakdowns by sub-neighborhoods in Harlem. 

Central Harlem

Central Harlem is the most diverse sub-neighborhood in the area and a popular location for residents. In 2019, there were around 136,351 people in Central Harlem, identifying as:

  • Black: 54.3%
  • Hispanic: 23.6%
  • White: 15.5%
  • Asian: 3.6%

East Harlem 

Although originally an Italian-American neighborhood, East Harlem is now one of the largest Hispanic communities. The area is known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, with lots of Puerto Rican immigrants. You can also find plenty of Dominicans, Cubans, and Mexicans. In 2019, approximately 111,452 people lived in East Harlem and identified as:

  • Hispanic: 43.0%
  • Black: 35.9%
  • White: 14.0%
  • Asian: 5.2%

West Harlem

West Harlem is composed mainly of the Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods. The highest percentage of white people live in the area, however, there are other races as well. In 2019, a total estimate of 132,837 people lived here identifying as:

  • Hispanic: 37.0%
  • White: 35.7%
  • Black: 15.2%
  • Asian: 8.9% 

Real Estate in Harlem

Harlem has plenty of real estate options as one of the most affordable neighborhoods in New York City. This includes blocks of brownstone buildings and increased newly built affordable housing and condos. You can expect an average of $2,160 per month rent in Harlem. The housing market trend to purchase is $950,000. 

Ornate pre-war apartment buildings in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, USA

You want to explore West Harlem for your real estate if you’re looking for rowhouses on tree-lined streets and buildings by the Hudson River. However, the Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights areas in West Harlem will have higher rents than the above average. 

The area with the most public housing is East Harlem. However, the neighborhood is also becoming gentrified and coined as one of the new “hot neighborhoods” to live in Harlem. 

Harlem Educational Options

Harlem has multiple public and private schools with A ratings. For example, the Harlem Academy private school has a Niche rating of A- in academics, A in diversity, and A for teachers. Most of Harlem’s public schools are charter schools, including the Success Academy Charter Schools and the Harbor Science and Arts Charter School. 

Universities and colleges in Harlem or near the area with expansion to the neighborhood include:

  • Columbia University 
  • Barnard College
  • City College of New York (CCNY)
  • Helene Fuld College of Nursing
  • Manhattan School of Music
  • Touro College of Pharmacy

The New York Public Library also has a strong presence in Harlem with ten local branches and the following research library: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Lenox Avenue.

The Politics There

Historically, Harlem was a center for political action and home territory to many African American politicians. Overall the community is mostly liberal, with 86.7% of Manhattan residents voting democrat in the 2020 presidential election. Harlem is located in Community District 10 and part of the New York:

  • 13th congressional district
  • State Senate’s 30th district
  • State Assembly’s 68th and 70th districts
  • City Council’s 7th, 8th, and 9th districts

Is Harlem Safe?

Residents generally feel safe in Harlem, rarely see any crime, and police are always around. A poll indicated 67% stated Harlem is pretty safe, with some crime that doesn’t impact them. A total of 15% say it’s very safe and only 3% indicated it’s not safe. You can also rest assured no natural disasters impact the neighborhood. 

Looking at the sub-neighborhoods of Harlem separately allows you to understand safety in the neighborhood better. 

Is Central Harlem Safe?

Central Harlem has four fire stations and is the neighborhood’s closest major hospital location: NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem. The 28th and 32nd NYPD Precinct serves Central Harlem and have reported a crime reduction between 1990 and 2020 by the following percentages:

Is East Harlem Safe?

Three fire stations serve East Harlem and the Mount Sinai Hospital is also nearby. The 23rd and 25th NYPD Precinct patrol the neighborhood and have reported a crime reduction between 1990 and 2020 by the following percentages:

Is West Harlem Safe? 

There are two fire stations serving West Harlem. The area also has medical centers and the Mount Sinai Morningside hospital. The 26th NYPD precinct patrols West Harlem and the 30th Precinct focuses on Hamilton Heights. These Precincts have reported a crime reduction between 1990 and 2020 by the following percentages:

What About the Food?

You can’t visit Harlem without trying one of their popular soul food establishments. For example, Sylvia’s Restaurant, founded in 1962 by Sylvia Woods, “The Queen of Soul Food,” is a popular location for locals and visitors. 

If you are craving Hispanic cuisine, East Harlem is a place to visit. It has tasty supper club restaurants and various happy hour joints. For instance, the Cantina Taqueria has a happy hour during the week that lasts until 7 pm.

Other notable restaurants in Harlem to try include:

  • Red Rooster Harlem: for upscale comfort food on Malcolm X Boulevard 
  • Harlem Shake: for a diner-like venue with shakes and burgers
  • Tonnie’s Minis: a bakery boutique with plant-based desserts
  • The Noodle: for handmade Chinese dumplings and hand-pulled noodles 
  • Barawine: with french-inspired American food and live music 
  • Bo’s Bagels: for over a dozen bagels made on site 

Transportation Options in Harlem

Harlem is a walkable neighborhood with multiple public transportation options for residents to get around without a car. You can catch the subway, bus, commuter rail, or local routes from the Bronx connecting the two areas.

There are over a dozen bus routes serving Harlem and the following subway lines:

  • IRT Lenox Avenue Line: 2 and ​3 trains
  • IND Eighth Avenue Line: A, ​B, ​C, and ​D trains
  • IND Concourse Line: B and ​D trains

Commute times from Harlem to other areas of NYC include:

  • Financial District: 23 minutes by train and 13 to 30 minutes by car depending on traffic
  • Brooklyn: at least 30 minutes by train and around 50 minutes by car
  • Queens: around 1 hour and 15 minutes by train and 40 or more minutes by car with traffic 
  • Downtown Manhattan: around 20 minutes by train or car
Is Harlem safe? Subway line in Harlem.

What Are Harlem’s Main Attractions?

You can’t visit Harlem without experiencing the neighborhood’s vibrant music scene. There’s something for everyone, from Jazz lounges such as Paris Blues and Bill’s Place to live outdoor music at Jackie Robinson Park. You also have to visit The Apollo Theater that has hosted icons, such as Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, and B.B. King.

NEW YORK – DECEMBER 15: A new marquee and vertical sign for Harlem’s Apollo Theater is illuminated for the first time December 15, 2005 in New York City. The landmark theater is undergoing a massive renovation, and the completed sign and new facade was unveiled December 15. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

The Harlem Renaissance was born in Central Harlem, and this area of the neighborhood is filled with artistic and cultural attractions. You can visit the Langston Hughes’ house, learn about African American art, and enjoy multiple art festivals hosted throughout the year. 

Other notable attractions include:

  • The Schomberg Center’s first Fridays special events and Research in Black Culture events
  • Harlem walking tours, including gospel tours, hip-hop tours, and self-guided tours
  • Museum of the City of New York with exhibits on the city’s culture and heritage
  • The National Jazz Museum to explore the past and future of jazz
  • The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine to see the world’s largest Gothic cathedral

Will the Children Enjoy It Here?

If you plan to move here with your family, you’re probably wondering: is Harlem safe and fun for kids? Harlem is a community-oriented neighborhood with a quiet residential atmosphere where neighbors are friendly, smile, and say “hello.” Like any neighborhood, some areas are less suitable for children (like where addicts hang out), while others are filled with families and activities for children. You can also expect multiple services for kids, including kids’ gyms and kids’ yoga studios. 

Examples of kid-friendly attractions to enjoy in the neighborhood, include:

  • Children’s Art Carnival for Saturday and after-school workshops
  • The Harlem School of the Arts’ Annual Christmas Show
  • Harlem Week (July or August) with dance, music, films, kid’s activities, performances, and more 
  • Grandma’s Place books and toys boutique 
  • Marcus Garvey Park with a pool, playgrounds, bandshell, and an 1856 fire watchtower

Is Harlem Dangerous: What Else is There to Know?

Parking in Central and West Harlem is easier to find than in other NYC neighborhoods. You can also find parking garage options or spaces you can rent for long-term parking. 

While a great place to live, most areas of Harlem are undergoing gentrification and people are finding it harder to buy. Most residents in the neighborhood rent. 

Be mindful of areas with addiction treatment programs, such as 125th Street that can also attract drug users throughout the day.

Every neighborhood has its pros and cons. Knowing this information on what to expect in Harlem allows you to better prepare for your next move or visit.