This NYT article has a hidden joke -- author John Freeman Gill interviews a black person named Keith White and a white person named Jamie Black. The piece is one of many "there goes the neighborhood" gentrification stories the Times has published, but this one hints at something pretty interesting without having the column inches to give it proper investigation.
If every part of New York City has its L.A. equivalent, then the Central Park North and Morningside Heights analog would be Exposition Park/Historic West Adams (where USC is, basically). Central Park's northern border is 110th Street, and much like the 10 freeway out here, it's got a reputation as a cultural dividing line for a lot of people, a Rubicon never to be crossed or even approached. In real life (and to be sure, the real life of 2006), the lines are much blurrier than that. Morningside Heights, to the immediate west of Central Park North, is home to Columbia University and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, while just southeast of CPN proper is Museum Mile (ending at 104th St.).
There's money all over that area, and never in the history of the city has it been considered one of the worst ghettos (the apartment buildings that dot 5th Avenue around Museum Mile cater to some honest-to-god wealth, in fact). But we still see the north end of the park as somewhat sketchy. The sky-high housing projects and impossibly wide avenues give it that awful '60s "urban renewal" feel; however this only represents a couple of blocks' worth of bad planning. The elegance of the mixed-income Morningside Heights, and the Echo Park- like community pride of Spanish Harlem, make this section of Manhattan lots of fun to walk through. The gentrification has happened, but perhaps because of the geography it's happening a little slower than in other 'hoods.
There are very few Manhattan neighborhoods that are still significantly (if not predominantly) lower- or middle-income, and all of them are above, say, East 96th St. On the east side, Manhattan ends around 131st St. and becomes the Bronx, while on the west side, it technically ends on the U.S. Mainland -- a bit north of 225th St. in a Bronx-bounded area called Marble Hill. Harlem, though it's experienced a renaissance over the past decade (Bill Clinton rented office space there!), has such negative associations with its name that it's retained a lingering, South Central-ish stigma. (And Harlem, like the former "South Central," is a whole urban region, a state of mind.)
Doing better in the whitey-reputation department are Inwood and Washington Heights. Economically, the L.A. equivalent might be Venice (stockbrokers and gangbangers side by side), but Inwood and Washington Heights aren't beach-culture trashy (no beach), they're as rocky and cliffy and viewy and far-from-the-madding-central-city as Malibu, and as full of serene, majestic deco-era apartment buildings as the nicer parts of Hollywood and Los Feliz. Apartments are still vaaaaguely affordable there -- people I know who like the area say it's just too much of a commute to midtown and downtown, and people I know who've been there but don't really "get" cities (and will move back to Darien in six months) are turned off by all the Spanish signs and the old guys hanging out on the street. Despite a reported increase in median income, it hasn't lost it's character, and I don't believe it ever will.
Anyway: I'm not predicting the end of the world with this Central Park North condo development. It takes a hell of a lot to kill a strongly settled New York neighborhood these days -- as Bruce Ratner is finding out over in Brooklyn. Angelenos can learn from New Yorkers that one of the best forms of protest is proactivity. If you build a great, solid community that's worth fighting for, the battle will end on your side regardless of the outcome -- even if the bad guys win (and they do win, cuz they've got $$$), they'll look really stupid and the history books will not be kind to them. Compared to Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, this condo is a lone drop of piss in the ocean. Choose those battles wisely.