Clifton is a neighborhood in northeastern Staten Island in New York City in the United States. It is an older waterfront neighborhood, facing Upper New York Bay on the east. It is bordered on the north by Stapleton, on the south byRosebank, on the southwest by Concord, and on the west by Van Duzer Street.
The name “Clifton” for the area dates to 1817, when a town by the name, larger in area than the present neighborhood, was laid out along the waterfront. In its early history, much of the surrounding land was owned by the Vanderbilt family. As a young man, Cornelius Vanderbilt established ferry service from the waterfront to Manhattan at the foot of present Vanderbilt Avenue. Bayley Seton Hospital, north of Vanderbilt Avenue, was formerly the United States Public Health Service Hospital and housed the original headquarters of the National Institutes of Health (now located in Bethesda, Maryland). In the 1840s the Townsend family built a huge home that had turrets so it was called the Townsend Castle. It was located at what is now Townsend Avenue and Tomkins Avenue. In the 1870s many roads were built near the water and many large homes were built in the area near the water. The area has many Victorian houses left from the late 1800 in the area from Vanderbilt to Norwood avenues. In 1900 the Fox Hills Golf Club golf course encompassed the entire area of where the park hill apartments are now. There was a big clubhouse on Vanderbilt avenue. Many tournaments were held there until the 1920s when it closed. The land was taken over by the government and uses for military barracks during world war II. By the 1950s, it evolved into a middle-class, multi-ethnic community of civil employees including firemen, teachers, and doctors.
The Park Hill Apartments, a privately owned but federally subsidized low-income housing complex on Vanderbilt Avenue, and also on Park Hill Avenue, became the site of steadily increasing crime and drug abuse beginning in the mid-1960s; by the late 1980s it had gained the nickname of “Crack Hill” due to the many arrests for possession and/or sale of crack cocaine that were taking place in and around the development and the adjacent Fox Hills Apartments to the south. However, crime in this area has dramatically decreased since the late 1990s. Community activists are addressing the ongoing conflict between Liberian and African American youth, primarily between the ages of 10-14. The community organizations run after-school programs to help keep the youth occupied in a productive way. This helps curb gang and street violence. The community tension that occurs in Park Hill is based on poverty and unemployment.
In the 1990s, the neighborhood became the center for an immigrant community from Liberia and West Africa around Targee Street. The residences in the neighborhood are mostly one-family houses, but the last decade has seen the development of many attached homes and duplexes. The neighborhood Staten Island Railway station is three stops from the ferry at St. George. Many members and affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan hail from here, including Method Man,Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, King Just and U-God.
Park Hill has been a predominantly Black neighborhood for a while. However, there is a growing Asian & Hispanic population in the area. Census tract 4 has seen the second-highest growth rate in the Asian population of any census tract on Staten Island (with the tract with the highest growth rate being tract 231 in Mariners’ Harbor). The apartment complexes still have a Black majority, but the surrounding area is mixed with Asians, Hispanics, and Blacks. East of Tompkins Avenue, the White population increases noticeably.
Over the years 2000–2003, average wages in the area declined by 8.7 percent. This was the only zip code in Staten Island which had a declining wage level. Unemployment is increasing. It increased by 3.2 percent by 2003. The closing of Bayley Seton Hospital is disastrous to many residents. Most of the jobs that people in the Park Hill have are in the health care and social assistance. The closing of a major hospital will cause unemployment to increase. From the year 2000–2003, the number of people in this are, working in the health and social assistance field, has already decreased by 5%.
The bulk of the Park Hill neighborhood was built in the 1960s in keeping with New York City’s plan for urban renewalprojects. It consists of 15 acres (61,000 m2) of 6-story brick apartment buildings. The individual apartments contained within are quite large, with many having 2 or three bedrooms. As ownership has passed into private hands, upkeep on the apartments has dwindled, leaving many of them currently in a shabby state of disrepair. The average price of a private house in Park Hill has increased from 2002 to 2007. In 2002, the average price of house was $159,254 and in 2007 the average price of a house increased to $321,426. The Clifton neighborhood consists mostly of one family houses, however, in the past decade many duplexes and attached houses have been developed on property previously zoned for commercial use.
Park Hill/Clifton (along with nearby Stapleton) has the largest Liberian population of any city outside Africa. The Park Hill/Clifton neighborhood of Staten Island has come to be known as “Little Liberia.”, with an estimated 6,000 – 8,000 strong community of direct immigrants in 2007.
The Liberian community in Clifton has been involved in a string of government lobbying campaigns since the 1990s to extend the “deferred enforced departure” (DED) status, which since the Presidency of Bill Clinton has had to be deferred on a yearly basis by presidential order for immigrants who fled the Liberian war without immigration visas. Clifton based community groups like the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA) have become politically active in defending the estimated 3,600 Liberians across the country who are on DED status. This new wave of immigration settled near the first small handful of Staten Island Liberians in the Park Hill Projects (now private apartments). As the civil war intensified, more immigrants followed, creating a vibrant community with African restaurants and businesses, and others working and building businesses across the area, notably in the Nostrand Avenue area of Brooklyn. The wife of soccer star (and former Liberian presidential candidate) George Weah owns a business in Brooklyn and lives in Staten Island. In recent years, Liberian families have been settling in nearby New Jersey, with a large community in the Trenton, New Jersey area. The area has become a regular stop for Liberian politicians and leaders visiting the United States. Local Liberian civic groups organize Liberian-Americans involvement in their homeland, and promote a variety of charitable missions in West Africa.
The Liberian Civil War led to a flight of Liberian immigrants, fleeing ethnic struggles between the Kru, Gola and Grebo communities, corrupt government, and political strife. Beginning in the late 1970s, a small number of Liberians, whose nation was founded by freed American slaves in the 1840s, settled in Staten Island. In the late eighties and early 1990s, Liberian immigrants in huge number fled the country, mostly trapped in the limbo of refugee camps in neighboring country, Cote d’Ivoire. The United States government, always highly involved in Liberian affairs, began to offer refugee status (Temporary Protected Status-TPS) to displaced Liberians, especially those who had family in the United States. Today, the troubles of the Civil War period have been carried into the diaspora; there are thought to be dozens of former child soldiers living in the Park Hill area, and they are often unwilling to talk about past experiences and fear judgment (or prosecution) for wartime deeds. Because of the large population of Liberians in the neighborhood, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission established after the civil war sent a representative to Clifton to collect testimony from Liberian nationals who experienced the Liberian Civil War and who currently reside in the neighborhood.
While there are successful business leaders in the community, the vast majority of Staten Island’s Liberian immigrants are employed in low wage service or medical fields. Many of the current residents of Park Hill are struggling with illiteracy, difficulty in finding employment, and poverty. Liberian immigrants in Park Hill also suffer from the legacy of poverty and violence in the wider community in which they live. While crime in the area has improved over the last 20 years, the reputation of the Park Hill for gang and drug violence has afflicted some Liberian youth, already victimized by the Civil War. Liberian youths caught up in criminal activity, if arrested as refugee status visa holders, face deportation back to their homeland. Friction between the Liberians and some in the local African-American community, over jobs, housing, and culture, has also been a source of tension for an already troubled community.