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New York Story: Real Estate Mania

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There is a legendary New Yorker magazine cover cartoon from March 29, 1976 by Saul Steinberg called “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” It comprises a “map” of the world from a “New Yorker’s” point of view. Looking west from 9th Avenue in Manhattan is the Hudson River. Beyond that is a flat plane of land with a few vague rocky landmarks depicting the rest of the U.S. On the outermost edge is New Jersey (from which many NYC workers commute). Also shown are Chicago, Kansas City, Utah, Las Vegas, and Texas. To the left of this is Mexico; to the right is Canada. Then comes the Pacific and beyond that, in the far distance, are a few little lumps of land representing China, Japan, and Russia.

Though New Yorkers may like to view themselves as “worldly” and culturally savvy, the truth is that many residents — especially those in Manhattan — are quite parochial. Aside from the xenophobic notion that New York City is a world unto itself, beyond which lies virtually nothing, many New Yorkers see their own little neighborhood in this fashion. For example, those who live downtown love to say with derisive pride that they never venture above 14th Street. And indeed, each square block is unique in this city. But as far as “snob” appeal, at this point in the city’s history, as long as you live in Manhattan, you are at the top of the world.

There is another New Yorker cover of more recent vintage — March 7, 2005 to be exact — that expresses this sentiment exactly. Called “Unaffordable Paradise” by Marcellus Hall, it depicts a nude “Adam” and “Eve” slouching across one of the city’s numerous bridges leading out of Manhattan. On the left bank is a mini-Manhattan skyline, bathed in light. Across the river is a dark, foreboding hinterland. The hand of G-d is pointing down from the sky toward the outer borough, commanding Adam and Eve to banish themselves to a neighborhood they can afford. Adam and Eve, recoiling in shame, horror, and sorrow at their plight, reluctantly proceed across the river to the darkness beyond.

A prime time version of this horrible plight is familiar to all Sex and the City fans who witnessed Miranda Hobbes’ reluctant exodus from Manhattan to Brooklyn. The reason? In a word, adulthood — in the guise of marriage, baby, and mother-in-law — which translated into the classic “more space” versus “better” location dilemma.

The sharp division between Manhattan and, well, everywhere else is expressed quite clearly by the fact that when New Yorkers say “the city,” they mean Manhattan. And if Manhattanites are divided into little neighborhood camps, the same goes double for those in New York City’s “outer boroughs” (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island) and surrounding suburbs. When I’m hanging out with my boyfriend BG in the Bronx and we want to venture into Manhattan (about a 30 minute ride to midtown), we say we’re going to “the City.” Similarly, when my ex-boyfriend L and I would take the train in from Manhattan to visit his relatives on Long Island — perhaps a 50 minute ride away — everyone there would invariably ask, “How’s the city?” as if we’d just traveled in from a foreign country.

Although I was born in Queens, my parents had both passed away by the time I was 15, and I’d lived with my aunt and uncle on the Lower East Side of Manhattan till I went to college on Long Island. When L and I graduated and moved to the Upper East Side, I had a bit of an inheritance, and we immediately went to work spending it and enjoying the city to the max.

Though it was nice to visit suburbia for family get-togethers, L and I always breathed a huge sigh of relief when, having said our goodbyes, we boarded the Long Island Rail Road back to Manhattan. Forty-odd minutes later, we’d glimpse a bit of the Manhattan skyline on the train as we passed through Queens. We’d arrive at Penn Station, grab a cab, and race through the glittering nighttime city streets on our journey home.

“Home” for us was, for twelve years, the Upper East Side of Manhattan — where some of the most exclusive and coveted real estate in the country is located. Its boundaries run roughly from the East River to Fifth Avenue (which divides the east from the west side) and perhaps East 59th Street to East 96th Street. We lived in the east 80s between First and York Avenues in a fifth-floor walkup. There was nothing glam about the building itself, but the location was heavenly, except for the 15 or 20-minute walk to the subway. At that time, many young people fresh out of college came to live in the upper 80s on the east-east side. Many of the buildings were old six-story structures, and were still affordable–our rent was about $430 when we moved in, in 1979, and some people paid less. It was mostly only as you got farther west, more toward Park and Fifth Avenue, bordering Central Park that the rents got truly astronomical. However, nowadays, the same semi-dilapidated dump we lived in would likely go for three to four times what it went for then — if not more. Even in the Bronx, a comparable apartment might fetch twice that rent today.

Everything in Manhattan is on a much smaller scale than the suburbs. Our one bedroom abode was, perhaps, 300 square feet (or so L tells me–I’m terrible with that sort of thing) — a size that some realtors would now describe as “huge.” As a result, wall space had to be exploited to its fullest potential. It was quite an art form to try to furnish a tiny apartment and still have room to actually walk through it. This meant one had to think vertically — high bookshelves and wall units were a must. Every square inch counted.

This Lilliputian alternate universe was further reflected in the small scale of virtually everything in the neighborhood. Most Manhattan supermarkets are shockingly tiny compared to suburban ones — the aisles are too narrow to accommodate more than one cart passing through at a time, and even the shopping carts are smaller. But at such mini-supermarkets as the Food Emporium and D’Agostino’s, one could have quite a remarkable shopping experience. In keeping with the demographics of the neighborhood, the shelves were well stocked with expensive “gourmet” items and top cuts of high priced meat. The accoutrements of Manhattan life were both more pricey and exclusive than anywhere else.

As young Manhattanites, we had the typical tiny “kitchen” — no more really than a very narrow little expanse which only one person could pass through at a time. It held a fridge, a sink, and a small stove, with almost no counter space. Pathetic as it was, this was vastly better than studio kitchens, which are no more than tiny areas located in the living room itself. Our “dining” area consisted of a little round cafe table with two chairs in the living room. As a result, we wound up eating out most of the time — and we were hardly alone.

In our own little neighborhood alone, there were several restaurants on every block. We soon became international gourmands as we explored Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, Indian, British, Mexican, French, and Italian cuisines. We had several movie theaters to choose from; Barnes and Noble for books; a Gimbel’s department store; a ton of bars. If we strolled about three blocks east to the river, we could walk along a lovely promenade. If we ventured west, we would hit the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park. On Sunday, we had our pick of brunch spots, or even a good old-fashioned diner.

Nightlife in the 80s was incomparable in New York. Most of the music venues were downtown, so we often whisked down in a cab. I still remember one adventure with one of L’s friends from work who had moved to NY from the hinterlands of Upstate New York.

One evening we took him to the Ritz, a large downtown club. Even before MTV, New York clubs were playing the latest music videos on big screens and monitors, interspersed with the coolest 80s music spun by the resident DJs. The Ritz was a large bi-level club, with a dance floor downstairs. If you got there early, you could go upstairs and find a seat (there were bars on each floor) and watch the action below. When the place got crowded, you could look down and see the hordes dancing and writhing away all night. The bands didn’t come on until well after midnight.

L’s friend was completely awed by the scene. He confessed that this was exactly what he had envisioned New York to be like before he’d ever ventured here — like something out of a movie. (He was at that point living in Queens, so it was up to us “city folks” to show him around. And indeed, those from the outer boroughs or the ‘burbs who ventured into the Manhattan clubs were always referred to derisively as “B and T’s “– or bridge and tunnels, because they had to traverse them to enter the Emerald City.)

Another time an old school chum of L’s who had lived on Long Island (where L was originally from) and had since moved to New Hampshire came to visit for a few days. We decided to wow him with a real Manhattan night out. We fed him pot and booze, and took him clubbing. I recall that at one point he fell out of his chair. Afterwards we went for a bite at a Polish dairy restaurant called Kiev in the East Village. All he could do was gawk at all the hipsters sporting green and purple hair. It was all, simply, too much for him.

About 14 years ago, L and I moved again — this time to a coop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The neighborhood was not hip back then, but I knew it well because I’d lived there with my aunt and uncle when I was in high school. I was very reluctant to move there because, at the time, the Lower East Side was a cultural wasteland. We were on a waiting list to get into the coop, which at the time was still designed for middle and lower-middle class residents. When we bought the coop, it cost us all of $8,000, with no mortgage. A one-bedroom with a partial view of the river, it’s about 800 square feet — a virtual palace by Manhattan standards. Maintenance, which included gas and electric, cost the same or less than our rent uptown.

Then, gradually and then more rapidly, came the hipster deluge, and rents started to rise accordingly in the area. Bars, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants sprung up in an area that had been run down and even dangerous before, until the neighborhood was proclaimed one of the hippest in the city.

A few years ago, our coop went private, and now prices have gone up to market value. Since we broke up quite a while ago, we’re now in the process of getting ready to sell. The place will probably go for about $450-500 grand — still quite a bargain for Manhattan, where the same space might go for at least a million elsewhere, and that’s a very low estimate. Since I co-own it with L, we’ll split the difference. We should both be able to afford coops in the outer boroughs — he in Queens, and me in the Bronx, near BG.

Over the past few months, L and I have been cleaning out and selling stuff, but it has been a long haul. Part of the reason it’s taking so long is that L has an enormous amount of junk, an inconceivable amount, which we’ve been trashing, selling, or boxing. It isn’t ready for the market yet. But another reason, perhaps, is that the thought of giving up my American dream, Manhattan style, is so very painful to me. The outer boroughs — even the once-notoriously hellish Bronx — have started to become more fashionable, so it’s no shame to live there. Most people can’t afford Manhattan anymore, although, ironically, in the 70s people thought you were crazy and/or hopelessly poor if you lived here. And although I should be able to purchase a bigger place (approx 1000 square feet) with two bedrooms, it is still a tough pill to swallow to realize that Manhattan will no longer be “mine.” Although the Bronx is right across the river — virtually almost close enough to “touch” — for this New Yorker it is, in another sense, an entire continent away.

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About Elvira Black

  • Your comments on Manhattanites being parochial and xenophobic are dead on. What drives me nuts about them is that they refuse to see their parochialism and xenophobia, or if they do, they assume it is entirely justified.

  • Sean:

    I think that native New Yorkers rather than “transplants” may be a bit less likely to be so snobbish. Many (like my aunt) come from humble beginnings, and Manhattan was not always the prime market it is today.

    Thing is, that as Manhattan becomes more and more impossible for the average person to afford, the hipster contingent has spread to other ‘hoods and boroughs once deemed beyond the pale.

    As far as the Lower East Side, ironies abound. Those who moved there because it was up and coming now complain about quality of life issues such as noisy nightclubs disturbing their sleep. Or they bitch that the neighborhood they helped gentrify is now becoming too gentrified and commercial for their liking.

    I am of two minds about all this–I think with each newly burgeoning neighborhood there is a “tipping point” effect. I do not relish the thought of poor New York natives being forced out of their apartments by greedy landlords, but some ‘hoods that were unsafe and neglected have also become revitalized. But gradually the unique character and “neighborhood” feel of an area can be eroded away, and the poor and struggling who toughed it out for ages can be consigned to some other less fashioniable “hinterland.”

  • I grew up in Brooklyn. For three years I lived in a neighborhood in the north Bronx near Kingsbridge Road. For two years I lived in Manhattan. Those two years were the worst in my life. Living on the street in St. Paul was better. Manhattanites had a rep for being snobs – but frankly, I never saw what was so nice about Manhattan to be snobbish about. Manhattanites were cold and distant. The kind of people who were in your face, but whom you wished lived on Pluto – or further away.

    When you grow up in Brooklyn, and you are not overloaded with money, Manhattan (we called it New York) was only a place to go on dates. We’d look at the tourists who gawked at the buildings and thought New York was so wonderful – and shook our heads with amusement.

    We didn’t worry about things like buying houses or coops – excuse me – coöps to live in. In all the time we lived in the City of Greater New York, we rented. We worried too much about “changing neighborhoods” – a nice way of saying blacks or Puerto Ricans moving in – to buy.

    Truth be told, I’m glad I’m gone. I miss the corned beef sandwiches and the sound of the subway under my feet, but that’s about it. There are plenty of former New Yorkers who live here. They understand English exactly the way I do. They drop r’s exactly the way I do. And They comprehend very clearly when I say that the Los Angeles Dodgers should only burn in hell.

    And like me, they are home.

  • Great piece, Elvira.

    I’ll take partial issue on one point. In my view, “real” New Yorkers know the value that lies in the outer boroughs. For years now, nearly every friend I know in the “city” has moved to Brooklyn for a host of reasons, and most are thrilled with the culture, flavor, and “real” New York feel that much of Manhattan lacks these days.

    I grew up on Long Island and lived in Astoria Queens for a spell before moving to California. My experience is that the most xenophopic Manhattanites are those who were born and reared outside of New York. Once absorbding the fishbowl universe of Manhattan, they turn up their noses at the outer boroughs, places they’ve never been to and would frankly be scared shitless to step foot on.

  • Ruvy:

    I know the Bronx area you speak of quite well. As you probably know, the whole Grand Concourse area used to be a pretty fancy and predominantly Jewish area–the place folks moved to when they got enough money to get out of the Manhattan tenements–but that was many moons ago.

    Nowadays, the area is primarily Latino and African American, and I must say I feel a lot more of a “neighborhood” feel here than I do in Manhattan. When I lived on the Upper East Side, all but one of my neighbors would look at me as if I was a rapist if I passed them on the stairway. In BG’s area, people are polite and friendly–plenty of families and familiar faces.

    The Lower East Side “coop” I live in now was originally devised by (most probably all Jewish) labor organizations who were trying to provide New Yorkers of modest means with affordable housing they could actually own a piece of. It, too, was primarily Jewish for a very long time.

    The ironic thing is that nowadays if you can somehow get your hands on the money for a down payment, buying is usually cheaper than renting–if you pick your ‘hood with care. The coop I have my eye on includes gas, electric, and basic cable in the maintenance. BG, meanwhile, pays a literal fortune for electric, phone, and cable. I think that these companies deliberately up the prices in poor areas because people here have very little wherewithal to complain, and thus their chances of ever owning a piece of the pie are lowered accordingly.

    Now realtors are calling the South Bronx–which used to be synonymous with hell on earth–“SoBro”, and it has recently been called one of the hot up and coming areas to invest in. The coop I intend to buy has already increased in price several times (probably double, or close to it) and I have to get in now or never if I’m smart.

    I’ve grown quite fond of the north Bronx area, and since I am no longer a twenty-something party girl, I’ll gladly take the space here rather than trying to find a closet to buy in Manhattan–not that I have the money to do so.

    I think a lot of what I’m saying about New York’s changing neighborhood scene is doubtless true of other major US cities as well. Used to be the ‘burbs were the big draw; now everyone wants to live in the city. Go figure…

  • Eric:

    Thank you! You bring up an excellent point. From my observations, it seems like the majority of Manhattanites nowadays are transplants from other areas of the country–often established professionals who can afford the crazy prices–and they know nothing of what New York used to be.

    I grew up in Queens–right near the Queens/Long Island border–and I remember how bucolic it was. In fact when I visited friends who’d moved to the “Island,” their property often looked out over acres of farmland. A century or two ago, the uber-urban Bronx was rural as well.

    I agree with you about the outer boroughs for the most part, though now Brooklyn in particular–or many parts of it–have become almost a “suburb” of Manhattan, if you will. But that’s still cool, since you can often have the best of both worlds there.

    Still and all, I think Manhattan proper is becoming less and less “livable” as the character of old buildings and ‘hoods makes way for sterile skyscrapers and luxe condos. I often feel very out of place there nowadays. The crowds alone can be very off putting, and though tourists are a welcome boon to the economy, it sometimes feels like there are no native New Yorkers left here at all.

    Great to hear from people who’ve experienced the area firsthand and know whereof I speak!

  • It’s much the same in other urban areas of the country. Finding a native San Franciscan in SF is a true rarity, DC is full of people heading in and out, and my new homeland of LA is a chaotic mix of race and ethnicity and backgrounds, people from all over mixed into one cultural brew.

    It’s sad in a way, bitter sweet more than anything. It’s always changing. I have a vision of New York circa 1994-1997 in my mind that will never change. The New York I see when I go back to visit is very different. I’m different now as well. That’s just the nature of things, I suppose.

  • Eric:

    It’s interesting to see cities change and evolve, and I suppose the children of those just now putting down roots will be true LA natives, etc, so the cycle and flux goes on.

    What does trouble me–and I’m hearing this happening all over the country–is when natives find themselves displaced and literally forced out of their homes when a city and/or corp decides to build and “redevelop” the area. That’s truly the ugly side of gentrification–and something I plan to post about here in future.

  • It’s a great and important topic that always deserves to be explored. I lived in Berkeley and the East Bay in the late ’90s and there was a consistent lament from locals literally saddened and in some cases devastated by the gentrification throughout vast stretches of San Francisco.

  • Nice piece. I’ve lived in Brooklyn since ’94 and seen things change so much it’s practically unrecognizable. For me, Manhattan has always been a place you went to work, and for cultural events – it wasn’t a place you actually LIVED! Only people who inherited apartments from their parents, or had lived in a rent-controlled apartment for decades, or were extremely rich, actually LIVED in Manhattan – still true, or at least it feels that way to me, and now, the nicer parts of Brooklyn are just as hard to afford.

  • Elvira,

    One of the funny things about New York, to me, is that the part they refer to “the city” is in fact the smallest of the boroughs!

    I don’t live in New York–I live in Washington, D.C.–but I sympathized heavily with this piece. DC real-estate has been insane for a while now, and I’ve just read that the city’s commercial real-estate rates have surpassed Manhattan’s in price per square foot.

    And at the moment we’re in the curious position of having the DC metropolitan area as one of the fastest-growing metros in the nation, but the population of the city itself is shrinking….even as it gentrifies. Strange!

    Residential prices here aren’t to the extreme that they are in Manhattan–I just bought a 700-square-foot condo here for under $350,000. But this is something else I don’t understand about Manhattanites: it seems to be a point of pride that homeowners there pay twice as much money for half as much space as the rest of us! Elvira, can you explain that?

    But I have to agree with you, when you say,

    I think that native New Yorkers rather than “transplants” may be a bit less likely to be so snobbish.

    As a matter of fact, I just talked to a professional contact who grew up in Manhattan, went to college in the Midwest, and is now back in Manhattan…but is happily preparing to move to the Midwest again. The reason, she says, is, “Now that I’ve spent time in another part of America and then come back to New York, I understand that man was not to live like this.”

  • i hate cities.

    just thought i’d get that off my chest.

    thank you.

  • I love this, too:

    It was quite an art form to try to furnish a tiny apartment and still have room to actually walk through it. This meant one had to think vertically — high bookshelves and wall units were a must. Every square inch counted.

    That’s the story of Manhattan, isn’t it? It’s the same reason for the glut of skyscrapers: the island is so small that to fit everything onto it, people had to think vertically.

  • Eric:

    I may be doing a New York Story series here, and if so I will definitely have more to say about the ugly side of gentrification. Even in BG’s Bronx ‘hood, there are some scary pre-gentrification moves by landlords or real estate corps, and residents of at least a few buidings are being displaced already.

  • Jon:

    I adore Brooklyn–the parts of it I’ve been to are gorgeous–no huge skyscrapers to mar the landscape either! I think after the 80s the housing boom really made it very tough to find anything in Manhattan, as you said. It just so happens that since I came back from college in the ’79, and especially since I had some money of my own, I was able to swing it then.

    I also remember telling people in college that I used to live in Queens and now lived in Manhattan with my aunts (when I was home over the summers) and they thought that was very puzzling, since most people then were doing the opposite and trying to escape Manhattan if they could. Imagine that?

    If I were a newcomer to the city I might be heading to the Bronx, since I think Queens is also becoming hard to afford, and Brooklyn is mostly out of the question price-wise now.

  • Michael:

    Yes, I do think this influx is a huge trend in our major cities. Seems everyone wants to live where they work and enjoy all the advantages of city living, now that the cities are safer and more amenable, I’m guessing.

    I always did find it a point of pride to be able to adapt to small quarters, since it does take some planning and ingenuity. I wasn’t as good at it as some friends who could be very “Zen” about not collecting junk and “baggage.” As a result, I suspect I will always have a love affair with high bookshelves and wall units, even if I won the lottery (which I don’t play) and moved into a McMansion (lol)…

  • Mark:

    I think I can understand the city-hating thing. In fact, some of my friends and relatives who grew up in Manhattan couldn’t wait to get out and move to other areas of the country–or out of the country altogether.

    I suppose if I were rich I’d have a “city” place and a “country” place so I could enjoy the best of both. It’s also interesting to note that some NYC based celebs choose to live in the more “ruralish” areas of Connecticut or New Jersey rather than Manhattan. Though I’m not overly fond of the suburbs, I can see where venturing further out into less developed and more spacious areas would have its definite appeal.

  • Pasadena, just north of LA, is the best place I’ve ever lived. It’s a small city right down the road from Hollywood but which really acts as its own cultural ecosystem. I can walk to shops, restaurants, and parks, the people are friendly and there’s a breathability that kind of allows all comers to coexist. Of course the weather is unbeatable too. Other than the fact that it’s really freaking expensive (and what isn’t these days) it’s the perfect small city.

  • Eric:

    I think your phrase “cultural ecosystem” sums it up brilliantly. When an exurban? enclave develops enough sustainablility so one can get all the amenities one could ask for without living in the big city proper, you have perhaps the perfect situation. But of course, as soon as the amenities start to converge to accommodate and attract new residents, it becomes less and less affordable. Sounds like Pasadena is a great place to live though!

  • That’s a great summing up. Pasadena always had a lot of “old money” but the Old Town area was in bad shape until about 10 or so years ago. It’s a booming area now as is all of the downtown area. We live in a small apartment and pay plenty for it, but I can’t imagine living in a better neighborhood. Lake Street and every kind of shop/restaurant you can imagine is one side (J Lo’s restaurant, Madre’s, is across the street from us but we’ve [proudly] never been), Cal Tech on the other, and the unbelievable homes of San Mareno (houses used in films like Father of the Bride, Mr. and Mrs. Smith within walking distance) are just to our south.

  • Unlike me, cloistered New Yorker that I am (lol), my b/f has lived in a number of cities and always tells me about the (I assume) “old money” houses that seem to adjoin even the most dilapidated of neighborhoods. Amazing how in cities the poor and rich can live cheek to jowl this way. I remember seeing Rodger and Me and frankly wondering why any wealthy folks would still want to live in such a seemingly depressing area as Flint.

    I also suspect that any area that has a good college will be more likely to have (or hold) the promise of significant development.

    Of course, sometimes the very apartments/houses that used to be considered tony are now home to those of more modest means–most often as rentals. This is the case in BG’s hood, where many of the apartment buildings–built in the 20’s/30s–have incomparable Art Deco detailing. BG’s solidly built prewar building is basically good to go as far as “renovation “is concerned. No matter how relatively minor, renovation can of course result in significant rent increases for the next tenant, and so the “upward” cycle begins.

    I’m really happy that you’ve found such an idyllic life in Pasadena. Even this dyed in the wool New Yorker has started to think about what it might be like to live in another city–or even country. Much as I may have resisted the idea in the past, there really IS life beyond New York (lol).

  • Very nice post. Your insight is unparalleled.

    -John Mudd
    “Mr. Real Estate”

  • Great post and comments, Elvira. I’ve been working in “the city” for 6 years now, commuting in via train from LI for 4 and Westchester for 2.

    Many days, I wish I could wake up an hour and a half later and just walk 15 blocks and be at work already. But as you’ve alluded, the price of living has been the roadblock. However, my lease in WC runs out in April 2007, and I’m pondering buying a condo in the city now that my wife and I have enough for a down payment.

    I work near the ESB and have seen a half dozen condo skyscrapers go up off 5th Ave, and realize that while these spaces may be smaller, the market value will increase much more than buying a condo in one of the surrounding boroughs.

    I spend $180 every month on train costs, and wonder if my extra space is really worth the hassle. What do you think?

  • John:

    Wow, I feel very flattered, esp since the compliment is coming from Mr. Real Estate! I greatly enjoy your interesting and informative posts here as well.

  • Mark:

    Once again, I’m so flattered that you would ask my advice–wow!

    Here’s my feeling:

    Manhattan may always be a good investment, but I’m beginning to wonder about that. There seems to be so much new construction that there may eventually be a glut there, but who can say? Right now it’s a bit of a buyer’s market, since sales have slowed down at least in some areas.

    As far as return on your investment, it may be that the outer boroughs are the ticket right now. Real estate bigwig Barbara Corcoran, for example, has just named SoBro (the South Bronx) as one of THE places to get in on right now. Here’s the link from the excellent Curbed website. By the way, Curbed is a fantastic site to follow for comprehensive info on what’s going on in the New York market.

    There’s also the question of value and space for the money. I anticipate my one bedroom Lower East Side coop will sell for about $500K roughly–it’s 800 square feet. The two bedroom I have my eye on in the Bronx (approx 1000 square feet) will cost if memory serves about $160K, including gas, electric, and basic cable. It would be crazy for me to rent! Plus, prices have been going up substantially over the past seven years in the Bronx. About 5 years ago, I think you could get the same place for about half what it costs now, though I don’t have the numbers in front of me. In any case, the price has easily gone up by 50 percent, I’d say. That’s quite a jump for a much more modest investment.

    There’s an excellent article from New York magazine which traces the development of once-sketchy and now super trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn– a very short commute from downtown Manhattan. If I were investing in the outer boroughs, having ready access to a major subway line (or two) would be a top priority for both convenience and investment, even if I owned a car. I’ll get the link to the article and post it here shortly–it’s a fascinating and informative read.

    As far as commuting, there are actually some desirable areas in the outer boroughs which are conceivably just as short or shorter than going from one part of Manhattan to another. If you ever change jobs, you might find this to be the case as well.

    Finally, one other consideration might be the quality of construction. My LES coop was built in 1960. The walls are so thin you can hear the neighbors cough; the building’s foundation is crumbling; the garage collapsed and cost a fortune to redo. BG’s Bronx building was built in 1920, and the walls are so thick that you can blast your stereo to volume 11 or more with impunity. The lobby is one of a kind, and if I were the landlord I could easiliy see taking it coop (there are signs of this–or at least renovation of upcoming vacant apartments–going on now).

    Hope this helps–thanks so much for asking!

  • Lesvet

    “Finally, one other consideration might be the quality of construction. My LES coop was built in 1960. The walls are so thin you can hear the neighbors cough; the building’s foundation is crumbling; the garage collapsed and cost a fortune to redo”

    I live in the building you’re describing, I agree with some of your post but not all. In fact the walls at this Co-Op are really thick, not paper thin as you described. When I had to cut through the floor the only way to do it was to use a 5 foot high wet saw. My architects claimed the building was over engineered…

  • Elv: You obviously have a lot of history with NYC, so advice was not out of the question at all. In fact, it was much appreciated. I think I just might stay in Westchester if my checking account lets me. But time will tell.

    Good luck with your sale. See you around.

  • Lesvet:

    Hi, neighbor–small cyberworld! Well, truth be told, my ex-b/f has had more complaints than I about this “thin walls/acoustics” issue. It hasn’t been any kind of huge problem for me most of the time–I love this place and it’s “killing” me to give it up, so from where I stand the walls are just fine and dandy…

  • Mark:

    Oy vey, is it something I said? Manhattan will probably still be a great bet for the vastly foreseeable future, no? I mean, “everyone” still wants to live here, and as long as there’s people who can afford to do so, I’d assume it would be a good investment. Hope I didn’t somehow discourage you…what the heck do I know? I’m just another NY’er with an opionion and a “big mouth” to match.

  • Mark:

    PS–great looking website…I’ll come visit again.

    I’m still trying to figure out what ESB, your job locale, is. Help me out here, wouldja?

  • Sorry for delving too deep in NYC acronyms. That’s the Empire State Building that I was referring to. I bet you just went “Oh yeah, that ESB.” Or to be more accurate, right here.

    Glad you dug the site. It’s my humble creative life as interpreted and performed by dancing pixels of light. I’m actually supposed to update it soon, but it’s buried on the project list. Oh well. Cheers.

  • This is an excellent article. Very well written memoir.

  • Mark:

    I never would have guessed what ESB is if you hadn’t revealed it–thanks! Love the pic too.

  • Ms. Berry:

    Thanks so much! I really appreciate the compliment–glad you enjoyed it.

  • Francios Jones

    Nativism is the new fascism.

  • Francois:

    Thanks for the…um…interesting and somewhat mystifying comment. Nativism generally refers to a defense of the native born, supporting an anti-immigrant sentiment, so I’m trying to discern what your one-line zinger really refers to.

    If you mean that native New Yorkers don’t want newcomers to encroach on their territory, I don’t think that is true. New York has been home to countless immigrants–my grandparents being among them–and folks from every state and every country come here to visit and live. The melting pot analogy is quite apt, and thus I think there is a level of cultural tolerance here that one might not find everywhere else where the populace is more homogenous.

    Perhaps you’re referring to my theory that native New Yorkers may sometimes be less snobbish than transplants, and feel that that in itself is a snobbish commment to make.

    But more likely than not, you just wanted to throw in a gratuitious and vaguely derogatory comment which I’m spending way too much time trying to mine for meaning here. Or you might have picked the wrong post to comment to, if the immigration controversy is your thing. What-evah…

  • I grew up in Bay Ridge Brooklyn in the 70’s. Back then everyone just wanted to get out of New York. When I returned from college in the late 80’s Manhattan was blossoming as people were returning. I lived in Manhattan for 18 years until I left 2 years ago for Brooklyn. Why? The Chelsea neighborhood I grew to love had become really crowded and noisy. When I would leave my apartment to go shopping, I felt like I was merging onto a croweded highway. And frankly I had done everything I wanted to in my neighborhood. I didn’t want to go to yet another West Chelsea gallery with crummy and expensive art. Nor did I want to go to the latest club, bar, or Restaurant because I didn’t want to drop a pound of cash. After my favorite local hangout, The Chelsea Commons, shut down and was replaced by an expensive chic restaurent, I was long gone. Now that I’m 40 and partnered, I prefer the quiet that Brooklyn has to offer. We don’t go out much. Our Manhattan friends are delighted by the chance to come out to the outer boroughs for Sunday brunch. As for the snob appeal of Manhattan, I’ve been there, done that.

    I disagree with comments about Manhattanites being parochial because most of what people see of the city is from two perspectives: when they’re at work and when they’re at home. So people’s worlds are small because we work so hard. To venture out of our home and work neighborhood requires effort and money.

    If you’re young, fairly wealthy, and go out often, Manhattan is the place to be. If your middle income, past 30 and are partnered, the outer boroughs make more sense.

  • Bartman:

    I think you’ve pretty much said it all. In fact, several people I know have recently expressed the “been there, done that” sentiment about Manhattan–when you’ve walked down the same streets hundreds of times, the novelty does start to wear off, especially when the area that you used to call home is no longer very home-like. I worked in the Village for over twenty years, and now I almost hate that neighborhood. Plus, it seems like there’s noone there over 25 nowadays.

    I, too, had a favorite dive-ish bar. When they closed their doors, I was heartbroken.

    As you said, when you get older and more settled, quality of life issues can become more important. If you’re single and looking, bars can be a big attraction. But now I find bars boring and depressing.

    And the outer boroughs have retained the sort of charm and integrity that Manhattan now lacks. It’s terribly crowded, and the whole town seems like one big soulless skyscraper.

    That’s a great insight about the home/work enclave. And thanks for the terrific comment.