Living the Good Life in Gotham

Manhattan has been my home for over forty years.  After growing up in Europe, I returned to Ohio for my university studies which ended with two degrees, a first job, a first marriage, and then a divorce.  Before moving into the City, I detoured to the Jersey Shore to crash with my parents and recover emotionally and financially.  After six months of a five-hour, round-trip commute, enough money was saved for the first few months rent in Gotham.

I landed in Yorkville, an old-fashioned, upper Eastside neighborhood where half of the residents spoke German or Polish.  My first apartment was a studio with a step-down living area in a newly renovated brownstone. For $354 a month, I had my small piece of paradise in the most exciting city I had ever visited. Fast forward, and now happily remarried, our parking garage costs the same as my rent back in the mid-70s.  Luckily, the apartment space has grown substantially and now there is even a large terrace with many pots where I grow blueberries, herbs, tomatoes and Tuscan kale.

Living and working cheek by jowl with 3.9 million other people (including commuters) in this city of steel and cement is not for everyone.  Daily, New Yorkers contend with obscene housing costs, noise pollution (yes, our garbage trucks sometimes pick up in the middle of the night!), crumbling infra-structure, congested sidewalks and streets, and $50,000 a head private school fees. Nonetheless, most of us feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

To better understand how we survive and thrive, I asked some of my local friends why they elect to live in the most expensive city in America.  Here are top ten reasons:

1.     Endless culture:  No where in this country is there such a robust concentration of museums, art galleries, theaters, opera, jazz, ballet, modern dance and more. We are spoiled rotten with choice.  Sometimes, you feel like a kid in a cultural candy store.  We gobble all our bodies can manage, then brag about what we’ve experienced to our fellow New Yorkers.

2.    Restaurants galore:  People come to Gotham City to eat.  From fine-dining to hole-in-the-wall, ethnic eateries in the outer boroughs, New York can’t be beat.  We are obsessed with being the first to discover a new place before the food critics arrive.  It is considered high sport among local food aficionados.

3.    Central Park-843 acres of Green:  As described by Aileen Robbins, former opera singer and wine publicist,”Central Park brings me back in touch with nature and connects me to the seasons.  It has all sorts of hidden and obvious benefits: a bird sanctuary, lakes, ponds, streams and mini-waterfalls, the statue of Alice in Wonderland, Cleopatra’s Needle, and what seems like endless paths through the Rambles which serve as wonderful dog walks. “

4.    A vast public transportation system: Granted our MTA is long-overdue for a major overhaul, but it does provide a network of subways and buses which connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. When I travel to other cities around the world and see new, state-of-the-art subway systems—usually graffiti-free—it is easy to be envious. That said, I have a bus which stops outside my apartment building and transports me across town to Lincoln Center every fifteen minutes.

5.    Multi-ethnic diversity:  Connie Maneaty, consumer product analyst, says the most appealing aspect of city life for her is the diversity of its people. With so many different nationalities living in one area New Yorkers benefit with a rich variety of distinctive neighborhoods with their own ethnic restaurants and food shops.  When I travel by subway, I often play the game of counting the different countries represented by observing skin tone, accents and attire of the other passengers.  Often, I am the only Caucasian on board.

6.    The electrifying pulse of the City:  Deborah Mintcheff, cookbook editor and life coach, lists the city’s high energy as one of its most compelling features.  Rita Jammet, owner of La Caravelle Champagne, agrees.  “I love the fast pace of New York. I always say that even if you’re not in a rush, you run and rush, as you are carried by the vitality and energy of New York. Of course, you can also stop and smell the roses, stroll in Central Park or discover little streets downtown.”

7.    Great Take-Out:  New Yorkers are addicted to ordering in.  We even order in coffee in the morning, something I thought rather excessive when I first moved here.  Pick up the phone and you can find almost any food at any time of day or night. I asked one of our building’s doormen which type food was most frequently delivered here and without missing a beat, he replied “Chinese and Pizza.”

8.    Food shopping heaven:  In addition to the many green markets dotting the city’s landscape, we have a staggering number of gourmet specialty food stores:  Not one but two Eatalys, Zabar’s, EAT, Murray Cheese, Di Palo, Citerella, Despaña, and the granddaddy of spice shops, Kaluystyans.  And, this is only a short list of what is available in Manhattan.  A food shopping trip to Jackson Heights, home to the largest number of different ethnic groups in New York, is enough to make a foodie hyperventilate.

9.    The City’s walkability:  If you’re in shape and have comfortable shoes you can walk the 13 mile-length of the island from Harlem down to Battery Park in seven hours. While I might not choose to spend my day doing so, I normally clock in at least six miles a day by foot.  In fact, walking is the only reliable way for New Yorkers to arrive somewhere on time.

10. Career opportunities:  As a professional woman, I am grateful for the freedom to pursue a career in such a diverse and exciting business environment.  Working in New York is demanding for both women and men as you need to be at the top of your game.  When you are, anything is possible.

Clearly, I am a microphone for enjoying Manhattan’ lifestyle. As challenging as it may appear living in this adrenaline-fueled city, we can still experience a quiet intimacy in our respective neighborhoods. This is what I appreciate most being a Manhattanite. Every day we exchange pleasantries with our doormen. We gossip with our neighbors in the laundry room. We nod to the dog walkers and smile at the adorable children in strollers. We feel grounded in our community.  After work or play, we find a respite of normalcy in our apartments surrounded by people we see regularly. The Big Apple is our home and we find living here sometimes tart but more often deliciously rewarding.