By Carol Tannenhauser
There is a small section of the Upper West Side separated from the rest by its City Council district. Located in the northeastern corner of the neighborhood, from West 96th Street to West 110th, Broadway to Central Park West, it is a rectangle on the map, known as Manhattan Valley.
Though geographically part of the Upper West Side (which runs from West 59th Street to West 110th, park to river), Manhattan Valley currently “belongs” to City Council District 7, while the rest of the Upper West Side comprises District 6. District 6 is represented by Helen Rosenthal, and District 7 by Mark Levine, whose reach extends northward from there, along the Hudson River to Washington Heights, around West 160th Street. Rosenthal and Levine will both be term limited out of office at the end of this year.
If you think Manhattan Valley is politically misplaced, note that it is much closer to its corporal self today than it was a decade ago, when it was actually part of District 8 in East Harlem.
Levine explained that, before his two terms, Manhattan Valley was represented by former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito from East Harlem. Manhattan Valley had been placed there, according to Levine “to ensure that communities of color were not disempowered in the Council.”
“Traditionally — and to some extent today, only less so — Manhattan Valley has been overwhelmingly a community of color, with a large African-American community in the upper 90s and, to some extent, the Douglass Houses, and a large Latino community in much of the neighborhood surrounding Manhattan Valley,” said Levine, who is currently running for Manhattan Borough President.
“Then, in 2011, when they were redistricting after the last census, there was a push to make the districts more compact,” he continued. “There are also population constraints to consider. It is around 170,000 people per district. The Upper West Side wanted to keep Columbus Circle as its southern border, and, to do that, there was only so far north District 6 could extend. They decided Manhattan Valley was a better demographic fit for District 7, which comprises West Harlem and Washington Heights.”
That may be changing, according to Levine. “In the last 10 years, there has been an increasing number of Columbia college students moving into apartments in Manhattan Valley. Also, Park West Village (a three-building complex on CPW between 97th and 100th Streets, originally built as government-subsidized middle-income housing) was sold.
“There has been an influx of wealthier people into Park West Village,” Levine said. “Rents and asking prices have soared. Douglass Houses remains, thankfully, affordable, but they’ve been plagued by chronic underfunding. So, it’s a real dichotomy, with parts of the neighborhood thriving economically, and parts, just blocks away, struggling. Gentrification is a real threat to Manhattan Valley,” he added. “Landlords are buying up old tenements to push out long-term tenants, and bring in those who can pay a lot more.”
That is why Levine says he sponsored the “Right to Counsel Law”, which passed in the City Council last week, “guaranteeing legal representation to all low-income tenants in the city facing eviction in housing court.”
So, who do Manhattan Valley-ites identify with: the Upper West Side, or the neighborhoods to the north? Levine sees a third option.
“First off, there’s a very strong local neighborhood identity. I think most people would say, yes, they’re part of the Upper West Side, but they really do consider themselves to be a unique and separate community. It’s wonderfully diverse, with so many great nonprofits, social service providers, active tenant associations, and deep civic engagement that has made it a wonderful place to work. I think that people identify with me as their council member. Whether they’re aware that their district extends to Washington Heights, I think the more politically, civically minded people are.”
Twelve candidates are vying for Levine’s City Council seat in the June 22nd Democratic Primary, according to Levine’s press secretary, Winthrop Roosevelt. City & State reported this week that there are 15 candidates. And amny put the number in April at 14. We are linking to both articles, which contain short interviews with most of the candidates.
Manhattan Valley residents, let us know how you feel about all of this in the comments.