Thursday, October 23, 2008

On picking a Manhattan neighborhood to live in

So...you know you're moving to NYC but have no idea which neighborhood to live in. Common tale. My friend D is strongly considering moving here from Dublin and asked me for advice on where to live. Where to even begin? What follows is my personal, non-expert takes on the nabes starting from the north and moving south:

A loose representation
of major NYC nabes.

Morningside Heights
110th St to 125th St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grant's Tomb, The Cloisters
Examples of mini-nabes within: Washington Heights
I'm not going to pretend like I know a ton about anything north of 125th St. I have a friend couple that lives up here on 118th st in a generously-sized 2 BR with a child. This area seems to be a mix of Columbia students and young families who needed more room than they could afford further south. As such, the nightlife is pretty thin. There are tons of festivals and street fairs, especially ones aimed towards children. There are lots of parks and communal gardens.

The rent up here tends to be cheaper than downtown but that's because it takes a good 30 minutes to get to midtown. One cool thing: the A line runs express from 125th straight to Columbus Circle. If you live and work on the west side that can be a life-saver.

Washington Heights is the area around the George Washington Bridge. This area contains the highest point in Manhattan, which is where George Washington and his troops camped out during the American Revolutionary War. The area is still gentrifying today. Which is a nice way of saying it's kind of a tough place. As a young single woman I would not want to live up there alone.

Harlem
96th St (East Side) to the northern tip of the Island. 110th St in central Manhattan
Examples of landmarks within:
The Apollo, Harlem School of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio
Examples of mini-nabes within: Manhattanville, Spanish Harlem

Spanish Harlem is scary to me after dark, but I love the rest of Harlem. There are tons of beautiful deco buildings up there and I have been to "Showtime at the Apollo" several times. The food is amazing and there are parks a'plenty. The area from 110th St to 125th St on the East Side is probably my favorite. Apartments are cheaper than downtown but they are quickly catching up. The nightlife here is rumored to be great and there are plenty of weekend events.

It is not practical to live on the East side of Harlem if you work on the west side anywhere in Manhattan -- there is only one subway line (the 4/5/6) and the buses are slooooooow. I don't know much about the area west of 5th Ave. There are housing projects in Harlem but overall the neighborhood is pretty safe. Occasionally my friends who live up there have trouble getting a taxi after dark though. The area has a high immigrant population but established couples have been moving up there more recently.

Upper East Side
59th St to 96th St, East Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Museum Mile, Bloomingdales, Gracie Mansion
Examples of mini-nabes: Lenox Hill, Yorkville, Carnegie Hill
I'm totally biased since I live here, but the Upper East Side rocks in so many ways. The area has a great mix of shopping (hello, Madison Ave) along with box stores. You're close to multiple parks (Central Park, Carl Schurz Park for example). The architecture is a mix of skyscrapers and brownstones. The 10021 zipcode is home to the richest New Yorkers but you can find OK deals on apartments if you are willing to live in a smaller apartment. Keep in mind that many buildings on this side are post-war which translates to thinner walls and ceilings. This area, along with the Upper West Side, is the safest area in Manhattan.

This area was the hot youngin area about 10 years ago. Now it's a lot of Park Ave mommies, their nannies, and older immigrant populations. Not as many youngins. Long Island & Connecticut transplants tend to end up here. This makes the area somewhat quieter and means the nightlife is pretty tame. With only one subway line (4/5/6) it's quite a crowded morning commute. Not that many people would know -- this is Towncar central.

Upper West Side
59th St to 110th St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
The Dakota, Lincoln Center, The Time Warner Center
Examples of mini-nabes: ?
The Upper West Side is where most of my friends with children live. It's slightly less expensive to buy here than on the Upper East Side. Plus the buildings are pre-war which theoretically means less noise than in post-war buildings. Like the East Side, there is a mix of skyscrapers and brownstones. Jersey transplants tend to live here.

Brunch is huge on the Upper West Side. There are tons of sidewalk caf├ęs and the shopping is pretty good over here. Uptown has less nightlife than downtown but I have been to quite a few coffee shop events on the UWS. Like on the UES, apartments are small and if you're looking for a deal your best bet is a 5th floor walkup apartment. There are plenty of trains on this side -- the A/C, the B or the 1/2/3. Getting from the UWS to the UES is best accomplished by bus, though in nice weather it's a fun walk across Central Park. This is a fun neighborhood to have your first NYC apartment in.

Midtown East
42nd St to 59th St, East Side
Examples of landmarks within:
the Chrysler Building, Grand Central, the United Nations
Examples of mini-nabes: Turtle Bay, Sutton Place, Diamond District
If you're a fan of tall buildings, then Midtown should be your home. Skyscrapers galore. The East Side is home to many financial corporations, the Waldorf Astoria, great shopping on 5th Ave...the list goes on. Unfortunately, this area is pretty dead at night. Happy Hour is great and then everyone just leaves to go home or party elsewhere.

Another side effect of being in the land of sidescrapers are the tourists. If your patience for people standing in the middle of the sidewalk, walking aimlessly, stopping randomly or walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk is short DO NOT live here. Tourists everywhere. This is not a great area to have a dog in, in my opinion. There aren't really any parks. Then again, you do have areas like Tudor City...one of the coolest city secrets. Rent is high in this area (unjustifiably, in my opinion) and the people who do live here are mostly 30-something yuppie professionals who sleep at home and that's it. All the trains come through here on their way from Queens downtown so there are multiple subway lines.

Midtown
42nd St to 59th St, Middle of the Island
Examples of landmarks within:
Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall
Examples of mini-nabes: Theatre District
You know how they call New York the City that Never Sleeps? This is the area they were talking about when they said that. I have a friend who works at 4 Times Square and I cannot take visiting his office. Even 30 floors up the lights are incredibly immersive. You just can't look away. Do people actually live in Midtown? I have my doubts. There are tons of hotels and office buildings here. It's full of tourist traps and shopping but I can't imagine trying to sleep there.

This area is full of landmarks but only one park I know of -- Bryant Park. Not a lot of green grass. Many TV studios are here. The very northern tip butts against Central Park. This area is filled with luxury residences. If you're very very very rich you could live there. For the rest of us, it's elsewhere that we call home.

Hell's Kitchen (aka Clinton)
42nd St to 59th St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Intrepid Museum, The Actors Studio
Examples of mini-nabes: ?
The Theatre District kind of runs over into Hell's Kitchen. This area is a lot better than it used to be but can still earn its hard-nosed reputation from time to time. There are plenty of nightclubs and hotspots in this area, plus the Daily Show and the Colbert Report film over here. I spent a great Cinco De Mayo over here.

Living wise, it's kind of a mixed bag. Rent deals can be found but I find this area to be very loud at night. Every time I had a band rehersal in someone's apartment it seemed to be in Clinton. The area seems to filled with actors, dancers, musicians and people who are regularly up until 2 AM. There are lots of warehouse-y type lofts over here but it's a pain to get anywhere because the only subway line is the A/C/E at 8th Ave. If your life is nearby this area could work but if you need to get further out I'd say skip it.

Gramercy/Murray Hill/Kips Bay
14th St to 42nd St, East Side
Examples of landmarks within:
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gramercy Park, Stuyvesant Town
Examples of mini-nabes: Stuyvesant Town
Real estate gets expensive the further south you go. Murray Hill and Kips Bay tend to be less expensive than fashionable Gramercy. In Murray Hill there are rent deals east of 3rd Ave but the tradeoff is you get tons of noise from the Midtown Tunnel. Down here most of the apartments are in high rises on the Avenues and Brownstones on the streets.

There are plenty of great restaurants and decent nightlife, especially along 3rd Ave. Gramercy is an expensive neighborhood in transition. Rentals here tend to be in co-ops rather than rental buildings. While I love Gramercy Park, I find the neighborhood to be lacking. Everything is just OK -- the shopping, the apartments, the nightlife. Stuyvesant Town was a well-known rent stabilized development that was bought by Tishman Speyer, who promptly ruined it and drove out the tenants so it could charge ridiculous rents (how's that going, Tish?). The closer to 14th St you get, the more luxury buildings you will find. As with the rest of the East Side, the 4/5/6 is your only real subway option, though there is also the L which runs along 14th St.

Chelsea
14th St to 42nd St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
The High Line, Madison Square Garden, The Empire State Building
Examples of mini-nabes: The Garment District, Art Gallery District
Chelsea...pretty buildings...pretty hip...pretty expensive. The neighborhood has an incredibly diverse mix of residents and has some amazing nightlife. If you want to party til the wee hours, this may be the neighborhood for you. There's a unique mix of luxury living and cheap apartments that are no bigger than a closet. Your money will not go very far in terms of space in Chelsea. 200 sq feet is about average for a studio.

7th Ave is known as Fashion Ave in the mid-30s to 42nd St with good reason. Plenty of fashion warehouses are here, and there are tons of sample sales. You can do just about anything, from golf to shopping, at Chelsea Piers. The closer you get to 14th St the denser the crowds and the smaller the living space.

Flatiron/Union Square
14th St to 34th St, Middle of the Island
Examples of landmarks within:
Union Square Park, One Madison Ave, the Flatiron Building
Examples of mini-nabes: these pretty much are mini-nabes themselves
The rents are high but the neighborhoods are great! Union Square is a fun NYU hangout area with an awesome Green Market and good shopping. Flatiron is kind of a weird neighborhood. 5th and 6th Ave would be fun to live off of but Madison Ave is kind of a dead zone. I have viewed a few apartments in the area but find it odd that there aren't really any grocery stores in Flatiron. Rents are quite high -- you are mostly paying for views of either the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building. High-rises galore. One of my favorite bars -- 230 5th -- is in Flatiron, and my last job was on 5th Ave at 21st St. My old office was in Union Square and I have a soft spot in my heart for the area. Union Square Park is great and is a hub for subways. The N/R/Q/W, the L, and the 4/5/6 all stop there.

Like Chelsea, the apartments tend to be tiny unless you can afford a luxury residence. You also have to deal with a lot of night noise from the college students out and about. But if you don't want to live in the Village, this area is a nice alternative.

East Village, Greenwich Village and West Village
Houston St. to 14th St

Examples of landmarks within:
Washington Square Park, Tompkins Square Park, Cooper Union
Examples of mini-nabes: Meatpacking District, NoHo, Alphabet City
I will never understand the appeal of living in the Village. The area has tons of character and unique buildings but it is always loud and crowded. As such, my knowledge of the area is limited. The Meatpacking District has many fancy restaurants and cobblestone streets. The East Village has NYU students up the wazoo while the West Village has a very liberal reputation. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Rents have dropped a bit in the village in the last two years but it is by no means cheap. Everyone I know who has lived in the village has had: 1 - roaches; 2 - mice; or 3 - both. You're more likely to find a garden apartment with a backyard down here but you're also more likely to find a shower in your kitchen. If you want to be in one of the social and cultural epicenters, then you should live in the village. As long as you can take the noise.

Soho & Nolita
Canal St to Houston, Middle of the Island
Examples of landmarks within: ?
Examples of mini-nabes: these are mini-nabes
Soho (South of Houston) and Nolita (North of Little Italy) comprise less than 50 square blocks but they are perhaps the biggest neighborhoods, reputation wise. And I am learning that these reputations are well-earned. Filled with shorter buildings and cobblestone streets, the area is reminiscient of Europe. Some blocks have bars, some blocks have shopping and some are quite cute and quiet. Almost every subway line converges in the area, making trips uptown easier.

Unfortunately, the rents here are ridiculously high. I'm looking in this area for my next apartment and it's been disheartening. You get very little space for the money and many of the buildings are older. It's the classic tradeoff: less space for a great location. The good news is that it's cheaper than Tribeca. The bad news is, that's not saying much. If you are not picky about how your apartment is laid out and if you don't mind living in one tiny room you may have luck. But if you like the shower to be in the bathroom with your toilet and sink...well, it's much more expensive.

Lower East Side
Brooklyn Bridge to Canal St
Examples of landmarks within: Manhattan/Brooklyn Bridges, City Hall, Chatham Square
Examples of mini-nabes: Chinatown, Little Italy
The food is great and the rent is cheaper than any of the surrounding areas. Welcome to the Lower East Side. Little Italy is of course famous for the food, but there is also lots of cheap touristy shopping. Chinatown is the next hot spot in my opinion. It's slowly transitioning to youngins who can't afford the neighborhoods nearby. Travel is relatively easy and you can walk to Soho, the Villages or Union Square.

The area can be dicey late at night but it's mostly safe. Every court you could ever want or need is in the area, and if you get married here you'll make a trip to City Hall for your marriage license. The population is diverse and it can be eerily quiet at night. There are a surprising number of skyscrapers. It's difficult to navigate the area by car, but by bike it's quite fun.

Tribeca
Chambers St to Canal St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Woolworth Building, Washington Market Park, PS 234
Examples of mini-nabes: this is a mini-nabe
Tribeca (triangle below Canal St.) is another trendy neighborhood, though its hype is starting to slow. Between this place and Soho you will see many celebrities (though you'd better ignore them, this is NYC after all). This area was very industrial and has been converted into huge, ridiculously expensive living areas. If I'm in the mood for a good laugh I'll cruise Craigslist's apartment listings for the area. It's so expensive it will make a normal person like me cry.

There are a few subway lines -- A/C/E and 1/2/3 -- and slowly the area is starting to get more infrastructure. Groceries and such. The schools down here are famously great. Most people who live down here seem to be rich familes and rock stars. If you're lucky and rich enough to rent down here I am pretty jealous.

Financial District
Tip of the Island to Chambers St/Brooklyn Bridge
Examples of landmarks within:
World Trade Center, Wall St, Castle Clinton
Examples of mini-nabes: Battery Park City
Thanks to the market crash, this area will probably see a rise in vacancy. Battery Park is pretty awesome and you get great views of the Statue of Liberty. The buildings down here are all tall skyscrapers wrapped in glass. Construction of the new World Trade Center slowly progresses. Unemployed white collar employees drown their sorrows on Stone St.

I always heard this area was dead at night but I have to disagree. The Whitehall/Stone/Pearl St. area has quite a few bars and during the summer picnic tables line the streets. Even before the crash the rents were lower down here. You get a bit more space for your money but the tradeoff is that it takes a long time to get uptown -- about 30 minutes to midtown. Then again, Century 21 is down here.


If anything in this post is incorrect, please leave a comment and I will update. Again, some of this information is my best guess.

5 comments:

Kate @ Manhattan Actress said...

We live in Midtown (as do the other 1,000 people in our building), so yes, people do live here :)

Anonymous said...

I found this really helpful. Thanks for your post!

Roxy said...

Glad it helped anon, though this post is a little old at this point. Most of the info stands up...I live in Financial District now (as opposed to the UES when I wrote this) and love it downtown! Much more convenient and green than I thought it would be.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this article -- it's incredibly helpful.

margaretelyse said...

This article was great! I found it very helpful to get opinions on the many neighborhoods. Are there any recent updates you could comment on? :)