Seneca Village: Displacement and Health Impact

In the heart of New York City’s Central Park lies a buried history that speaks volumes about displacement, community resilience, and the overlooked stories of a Black community. Seneca Village, a predominantly Black settlement, stood as a testament to self-sufficiency and community in the 19th century before its forced eradication.

Established in the 1820s, Seneca Village was a thriving community, home to approximately 300 residents, predominantly families of former slaves. The settlement spanned across what is now the park’s West Side, near the present-day location of the park’s reservoir and the Great Lawn.

Seneca Village’s residents were property owners in a time when land ownership for Black Americans was rare. Many of its inhabitants were working-class individuals who bought plots of land, built homes, established schools and churches, fostering a strong communal spirit.

However, the community faced its demise when New York City decided to create Central Park. Through eminent domain laws, the city claimed the land, dispossessing and forcibly displacing the residents of Seneca Village in the 1850s. The acquisition involved seizing properties, evicting families, and dismantling the community, erasing its physical presence and legacy.

The story of Seneca Village serves as a prime example of historical injustice and the systematic erasure of Black communities. The deliberate erasure of Seneca Village from the landscape and the historical narrative of Central Park perpetuated a collective amnesia, burying the memory of a vibrant community for generations. When considering numerous nations and regions globally, it becomes evident that displacement isn’t solely a concern within the United States. Several countries face displacement due to factors such as conflict, environmental crises, or socio-political instability. Among those affected are Palestine, the Congo, Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan, and numerous other nations grappling with similar challenges.

Displacement and gentrification emerge as critical challenges for established and up-and-coming communities (for the sake of this article, I’ll focus primarily on Black communities), often leading to profound public health consequences. Driven by economic and social transformations, displacement of existing residents, altering neighborhood demographics, and reshaping social structures has multigenerational effects.

Displacement of individuals within a community refers to the forced or involuntary movement of people from their homes. Gentrification, characterized by the arrival of more affluent people and companies into historically marginalized areas, leads to increased property values, and forcing out long-term residents. Despite its potential for economic development, gentrification often leads to adverse health outcomes for displaced communities.

The forced displacement of individuals within communities shows clear evidence of:

  • Disruption of established social networks and support systems
  • Heighted stress and anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Declined physical and mental health issues
  • Environmental implications

Displaced populations frequently relocate to areas with limited access to essential healthcare services, leading to reduced healthcare utilization and exacerbated health conditions.

As such, the influx of higher-income residents during gentrification may exacerbate existing health disparities. Health resources catering to the original community might face neglect or closure due to changing demographics and economic pressures. This neglect further widens health inequities and reduces access to crucial services for marginalized populations.

Displacement and gentrification disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities, low-income groups, exacerbating existing health disparities rooted in systemic racism and socioeconomic inequalities. Historical patterns of housing discrimination have perpetuated the concentration of marginalized populations in under-resourced neighborhoods, rendering them more susceptible to displacement during gentrification.

Displacement and gentrification intertwine with health inequities, posing multifaceted challenges for affected communities. The disruption of social networks, reduced access to healthcare, and unequal distribution of resources exacerbates health disparities among displaced populations.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), displacement not only uproots individuals from their homes but also affects health, leading to increased vulnerability and risk of diseases. WHO remains deeply concerned about the health and well-being of these groups affected by displacement, recognizing the profound impact it has on mental health, access to healthcare, and overall quality of life. WHO also acknowledges the effects of displacement and gentrification lead to overcrowding in less adequate living conditions, thus easier to spread infectious diseases and fall victim to food deserts and malnutrition.

To tackle the health impacts of displacement and gentrification, policymakers must:

  • Prioritize affordable housing
  • Enact tenant protection measures
  • Support community-driven development

Collaboration between local governments, community organizations, and residents is important to ensure affordable housing and healthcare access while fostering inclusive economic growth.

Community engagement and empowerment play pivotal roles in addressing displacement’s adverse effects. Strengthening community networks, advocating for equitable development policies, and ensuring community representation in decision-making processes are crucial steps toward protecting vulnerable populations from displacement and promoting health equity.

Seneca Village, the little-known predominantly Black community in Manhattan, displaced due to the construction of Central Park, reflects historical patterns of gentrification and displacement. The forced removal of Seneca Village residents mirrors contemporary issues of gentrification where communities are displaced while overpriced, high rise buildings and establishments are built. The Seneca Village occurrence highlights how such actions perpetuate health disparities by uprooting established communities, disrupting access to resources, and eroding community cohesion, resonating with present-day struggles in combating inequities faced by Black communities affected by gentrification.

Understanding and addressing these historic and modern challenges calls for comprehensive strategies centered on affordable housing, equitable development, and community involvement. Collaborative efforts among policymakers, community leaders, and residents are essential to forge sustainable solutions that prioritize social justice and well-being, ensuring health inequities among the Black communities are not exacerbated.


1. Rosenzweig, R., & Blackmar, E. (1992). The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Cornell University Press.

2. Historical Marker Database. (n.d.). Seneca Village Site. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=111586

3. The New York Times. (2018). New York City’s Other Sounds of Liberty. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/25/arts/design/seneca-village-central-park-african-american.html

About the author

Stephen Earley Jordan II

Stephen Earley Jordan is the lead writer, editor and founder of Elevate Black Health. He has 25+ years in the public health and pharmaceutical marketing industry. He has worked on various public health campaigns for various organizations, including New York City Department of Health. Campaigns include: smoking cessation, healthy children, trans fat, HIV/AIDS, Flu Vaccines, Safe homes, and more. Jordan has worked with multicultural divisions to ensure all literature was translated into six additional languages for the specific targeted demographics. Jordan has also spent time in the pharmaceutical marketing industry, and worked on various marketing campaigns for oncology, rheumatoid arthritis, probiotics, medical devices, facial fillers, thyroid- and dry-eye diseases, and numerous rare diseases. He has assisted in the production of print and digital pieces alike.

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