Neighborhood Watch

Courtesy of Frederick Peters, President of Warburg Realty

This past week-end I attended my niece’s graduation at Wesleyan, where, as it so often will on Graduation Day, the talk among my niece and her friends turned to what they will do next, and where. Not surprisingly, many of them plan on coming to New York. But they are struggling, as so many recent graduates do, with how to afford it. Where can they live? What work can they do which will enable them to pitch their tents in a corner of the Big Apple?

When I graduated from college, a friend and I moved into a big two bedroom apartment on 92nd and Broadway – a neighborhood in which I, a gently reared boy from the Upper East Side, had literally never set foot before. When the real estate agent gave me the address and told me to go see the super, I was terrified. 92nd and Broadway? Did people actually survive in that part of town? What I discovered opened my eyes and set me on the journey which led, ultimately, to my choice to sell real estate for a living. I didn’t know a thing about my own city, which was a much more diverse and various amalgam than I had theretofore experienced. 215 West 92nd St was a beautiful prewar building in a busy middle class neighborhood. Many of our neighbors in the building, mostly Jewish people, who had emigrated after World War II, had raised their families there and stayed on. There was an excellent kosher butcher shop, a grocery store right across the street, a bank down the block, the Thalia movie theater three blocks away, and quirky, bibliophilic bookstores all around. Who knew?

Today’s graduates are entering a substantially different world. For one thing, most of the iconic old apartment buildings around town have been converted to co-op or condominium ownership. And I pay more today to park my car than we paid in rent in 1974. That said, the city continues to offer interesting options to renters without preconceived ideas. I am particularly interested in the options outside Manhattan these days. Long Island City is a quick subway ride from Manhattan and remains (relatively) affordable. The same is true of Roosevelt Island. Brooklyn has become so popular that there are not so many inexpensive options, especially if you need to live near a subway or within a half hour of Wall Street or midtown. The further south and east you go, the more options open up. Even in Manhattan, there are still options in Inwood and Washington Heights, which abut two of the prettiest parks in the borough.

New York City has always been a magnet for young people. Artistic license, social tolerance, and a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week lifestyle make it like no other place. As long as recent graduates, artistic hopefuls, refugees from less tolerant environments, and go-getters continue to flock in, the city will have to find places to accommodate them. The Upper West Side on which I rented 1200 square feet for $400 a month may be a thing of the past, but in Jackson Heights in Queens, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush, or Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, there is still good housing which younger people can afford. And while every emerging neighborhood has its challenges, the SRO hotels like those across the street from my 92nd Street apartment, from the entrance of which issued forth a cloud of screaming, bottle-smashing winos every warm evening around 11 PM, are largely a thing of the past.

Moving back to the city in 1974 opened my eyes to the multitude of neighborhoods, ethnicities, and real estate alternatives which surrounded me as long as I was willing to consider them. Today, although more far flung, the same opportunities for unexpected and serendipitous experience still exist. You just have to search them out.

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