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When I moved to New York in 2005 I lived in a $1,600 per month, two-bedroom apartment on the border of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens, on Carroll Street between Columbia and Hicks. It was one of three units in a very small building. The neighborhood was warm and friendly…a lot of families and, of course, hipster-types scurrying about.
After about five years I felt I needed my own place. I found a one-bedroom apartment in Crown Heights on the corner of Lincoln Place and New York Avenue for $1,200 per month. I lived there for two years before moving with with my girlfriend last year one-bedroom rental in Battery Park City that we got a great deal on.
This neighborhood change was drastic. Crown Heights is completely different than Battery Park City. In Crown Heights, I hated being part of the gentrification. I was able to pay a higher rent, which made it unafforable for families who lived in Crown Heights for generations.
But I appreciated being in a more diverse neighborhood…even if I was an agent of change. I loved being around all types of people from all different backgrounds.
It is certainly less diverse in Battery Park… BUT there are plenty more tourists so you get to hear German and French and Italian spoken on every corner.
Battery Park City hasn't really gone through a change that impacted the residents the way Crown Heights has. BPC seems like it was built for the purpose it is being used for today: A gateway community for affluent families to enjoy manicured parks.
The demographic has pretty much stayed the same. I certainly don't feel like I fit in with the finance guys--but I also don't feel like I'm disrupting or displacing a community by living here.
My old Crown Heights apartment was in a building undergoing "improvements." Many of the apartments were being renovated there so the owners could double or triple rents. My apartment was newly renovated but it was really just smoke and mirrors. A lot of the upgrades were unfinished…they put in a new sink but never sealed underneath it (so I did battle with mice seeking refuge in my apartment.)
I also got stuck with miniature appliances…yes, you read that right. Mini stove, mini fridge. And I'm not a miniature man--I'm well over 6'6" so me standing in that kitchen was pretty comical. Picture Gandolph in Bilbo Baggins' hobbit house.
There was a strange buzzer system that would call your phone, so I would sometimes get random phone calls at odd hours (mostly when I was out of town) from people trying to get into the building to visit other apartments. The buzzers never really worked so I spent a lot of time chasing down the UPS guy.
Transportation to and from Crown Heights was easy. The 2/3 and 4/5 trains are right on Franklin Avenue, which was walking distance from my old apartment. Getting to Manhattan on the weekends was a hassle but I would either hunker down or spend the weekend at my girlfriend's place (where I live now.)
There were great places in Crown Heights for West Indian food, like The Feeding Tree. The only bars I went to were on Franklin Avenue. Franklin Park was one of them. But I was spending all my money on rent so I rarely went out.
Our place in Battery Park is in a doorman building (so no more chasing down the UPS guy or getting strange buzzer phone calls). The rent is much cheaper than my place in Crown Heights. I won't go into detail because there is always a lot of backlash about income-restricted apartments, but the rent is under $1,000 for a one-bedroom. The only reason we live in Battery Park is because of this deal...we would never normally be able to afford this neighborhood.
Battery Park City is beautiful: great water views, beautiful walk-ways and incredibly clean parks. It seems like there are more parks department people dedicated to Battery Park than all of the other parks in this city combined. They clean out the playground sandboxes every day (probably scrubbing each individual grain of sand.) It is pretty amazing. They're in those little dune-buggies driving all around (you can see the smart-phone glow on their faces at night.)
The Battery Park Conservancy offers classes and events for people of all ages. They do a figure drawing class on Wednesdays in South Cove Park that I've been meaning to check out.
BUT! BPC is a pretty homogeneous, wealthy section of the city. It is like the suburbs of Manhattan. It kind of offers the same boring choices that I'm imagining a typical suburb would offer. Like the Bed Bath and Beyond / Barnes and Noble / Whole Foods compound in TriBeCa (OK that's not BPC, but it is close enough.)
The World Financial Center used to have a Sunglass Hut, Banana Republic, Gap and a few other Middle-America mall- style shops. Plus there are a bunch of palm trees in the Winter Garden which remind me of a shopping center in Arizona or something. The WFC is undergoing renovation right now.
Apparently there will be a Chelsea Market-style food mecca there. We are hoping it will be a local farm style selection so the neighborhood can be a little more interesting rather than mass-produced.
The food choices are pretty standard and big-boxy in BPC. There really isn't any grit to this place at all.
I've never been impressed with Merchants River House or South West (it is like an airport bar)... Inatesso PizzaBar is pretty good but pricey, as is Gigino's. And the decor in both of those places (actually ALL of them) is such a snore. I'm not looking for 19th Century garb or complicated medicinal-inspired beverages, but give me an exposed brick or two! Maybe a cool bistro cafe table instead of the tin chairs and modern wall sconces everywhere.
The basketball court in the Hudson River Park is incredible. Everyone says it is five-degrees cooler there because of the breeze off the Hudson River. The courts are the best part of the park.
Now how can I convince my born-and-bred New York girlfriend to pack up and go West (not West Side, out West)? I grew up in Washington State and I really miss the mountains. If I have to live in a more homogenized place I'd at least like to have a breathtaking landscape. New York may have imposing skyscrapers but there's nothing like a vast mountain-range to remind you of how big the world is. Maybe if we get booted from our cheap apartment we'll have no choice!