the crowded sidewalks of new york
March 9, 2006 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Which part of New York should I move to? I've been on the Upper West side for about two years. I commute to a job in Times Square. I am not happy, but I think the reasons for my unhappiness are not typical for a New Yorker.

Here are the things that I would like to avoid, in order of importance:

a) crowded subways
b) crowded sidewalks
c) crowds
d) small children
e) many cultures, coming together in a beautiful celebration of diversity

Here are the things that I would like to have nearby, or easily available:

f) a gym
g) a decent grocery store
h) a place to have breakfast on weekend mornings (but without small children being there)
i) a restaurant/coffee shop/bar in which one might sit by oneself at a large table for a long period of time, having plenty of room to open up a book, a computer, and if desired, a fucking atlas

Here are the things that might be factors for others, but which don't bother me much one way or the other:

h) roommates
i) "nothing to do"
j) noise, or lack thereof
k) length of commute, so long as it does not include crowds

I take home about $750 per week, and would prefer to spend that much or less on rent. However, for an environment that fulfills every need listed above, I am willing to make sacrifices in that department.

I know that the obvious answer to this question is 'Dude, if that's how you feel, you should just leave New York.' And maybe I should. But I like my job, and am skeptical as to whether I could find one as good (at this point in my life/career) anywhere else. So I'm willing to experiment with the idea that maybe I just don't live in the right area, or have the right commute, etc.

However, I should mention that the Upper West side in itself is not very crowded, sidewalk-wise. But the subway ride to midtown is. Sometimes I take a cab to work just to avoid dealing with the crowds.
posted by bingo to Society & Culture (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know that there's an answer to this question, bingo. The Upper West Side seems like one of the mellower parts of town to me. I don't see how you can have a job at Times Sq and avoid crowds, or a crowded commute. I wish there was a solution; Astoria is driving me buggy these days too--and I do most of my work at home.
posted by muckster at 10:57 AM on March 9, 2006

My GF commuted from Delancey Street on the Lower East Side to Ernst & Young's offices in Times Square till a couple of months ago. The LES has lots of restaurants for weekend brunch (Clinton St. Baking Co., Falai Paneterria) and for work (free wireless at Schillers, teany, Pink Pony), the usual number of grocery stores, and she's fitness-obsessed so there must be a gym somewhere. There's plenty of noise (which you say you don't mind), but streets are not crowded, and as for the crowd on the commute the F is not nearly as bad as the 1.
posted by nicwolff at 10:59 AM on March 9, 2006

PS. Most New Yorkers spend much more than 1/4 of their take-home pay on rent...
posted by nicwolff at 11:01 AM on March 9, 2006

yeah, i would say brooklyn but since you seem to have an aversion to diversity, try the lower east side... not too crowded, and if it is, it's only white people, and definitely not many children, that's more east-village.
posted by yonation at 11:04 AM on March 9, 2006

... and you could walk to whole foods and avoid diversity there, too.
posted by yonation at 11:04 AM on March 9, 2006

a) crowded subways
b) crowded sidewalks
c) crowds
d) small children
e) many cultures, coming together in a beautiful celebration of diversity

I had a friend I used to visit in Murray Hill for a while, and her neighbourhood seemed to lack all of the above. Well except the subways, I suppose, but what neighbourhood has an empty subway line? I'm going to confess I can kind of follow a through d but don't understand your objection to "e" at all, but then I'm one of those nasty immigrants.

Perhaps you should consider some part of Westchester or Fairfield Counties. I lived in Greenwich Connecticut for a while. Nice enough but wasn't for me. It's fairly quiet, has a kickass library and the Japanese community seems to have decreased in recent years so it should be WASPy enough for ya. And depending which time you get the Metro North you'll certainly have "plenty of room to open up a book, a computer, and if desired, a fucking atlas."
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:05 AM on March 9, 2006

I think there are parts of Astoria that are fairly mellow, muckster- I live close to a main drag with a gym and restaurants, but it's probably a little crowded, and I do see a small child every now and again. Another block or two out would probably be quieter.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:06 AM on March 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Frankly, if you can't take the UWS, you're unlikely to find a neighborhood that appeals to you, especially considering you'll have to take the subway from just about anywhere. And $750/mo is just not realistic for most parts of the city (especially the kinds that would satisfy you).

a restaurant/coffee shop/bar in which one might sit by oneself at a large table for a long period of time, having plenty of room to open up a book, a computer, and if desired, a fucking atlas

This just doesn't sound like New York. I think you might have to take more seriously the idea of moving out of town, and look for a job in a place that approximates your ideal. Jobs are a lot easier to come by than uncrowded, undiverse NYC neighborhoods that don't involve a subway commute.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on March 9, 2006

On non-preview: TPS, I love Astoria and it would be suitable in other ways, but he'd have to take the subway, and he doesn't like the subway.
posted by languagehat at 11:10 AM on March 9, 2006

That is true, languagehat- the subway can sometimes be a little crowded (especially to and from Union Square, where I work, during rush hour).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:13 AM on March 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Does the possibility exist to adapt your working hours? If you're getting the subway or walking to work at 6am or 11am (even to Times Sq) the crowds are a lot easier to deal with. Could give you a few hour window to chill out at the coffee shop/bar while the 9 to 5ers are still working too.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:13 AM on March 9, 2006

Hoboken! Commute 12 minutes on a bus to Port Authority, which is a block from Times Square. No lack of gyms, coffee shops, weekend brunches, etc. $750 shares are possible (although not luxurious). Not many kids on the blocks where there are $750 shares. (Although plenty of kids on the richer, or poorer, blocks).
posted by MattD at 11:25 AM on March 9, 2006

My boyfriend lives in Chelsea, and I work in that area... so I've been spending a lot of time in the neighborhood. It mostly meets your criteria, although I don't know what kind of place you could find given your price range. You might be able to find a roommate situation.

Crowds are not nearly so dense as on the UWS, and many fewer strollers to dodge. Lots of restaurants at a decent price point; I brunch there every weekend and seldom, if ever, see kids. Several different train lines run through that neighborhood, so you could take the A,C,E or 1,2,3 and figure out which one is less crowded, or even walk to work. There seem to be a number of diners and coffee shops where you could hang out, at least at off peak times. Gyms and groceries abound.

The cons... it isn't exactly an ethnic melting pot, a although it is a very gay one. This leads to the second con... lots of clubs that can mean lots of sidewalk noise late into the evening. But traffic noise isn't so bad if you live on a Street rather than an Avenue.

A thought occurs to me. My boyfriend pays about what you want to pay for a small 1br, but would really like to be on the UWS. If you might be interested in an apt trade, e-mail me at my profile addy.
posted by kimdog at 11:31 AM on March 9, 2006

I second the suggestion to investigate changing your work hours. My subway ride (F train from Brooklyn) at 11am is heavenly (empty). In fact, 10:30 isn't even that bad.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:40 AM on March 9, 2006

Okay, a bit more about the subways, for clarity...I am aware that you can't really get anywhere in NY fast without taking the subway. I can and do modify my working hours, especially my going-home hours...if I finish work at 5 or 6, I will wait til 7 or later to leave, so that the subway crowds will have more or less dispersed. However, I pretty much need to show up by about 10am most mornings, and I find that, at least on the 1/9 and the 2/3, there tend to actually be more people getting to work between 9 and 10 than between 8 and 9. I could get up at 6, but the reality is that where I work, if you leave before 6pm, you're leaving early, so between getting up early enough to avoid the crowd and staying til 7 to put in a good day's work and avoid the crowd, I would be spending a lot more time at work than necessary.

Anyway, although I'm not crazy about the subway itself, it's more the atmosphere within the subway that bothers me. This morning, for example, I witnessed a typical altercation between my fellow commuters over such issues as shoving, courtesy, etc. I was not involved, but I easily could have been. Also, as I got on, I said 'excuse me' to a passenger who elected not to move, even though there was room to do so, and when I pushed past, she pushed against me in order to make it difficult for me to get to where I was going. This sort of thing happens to me a lot, and I observe it happening to other people a lot. This is the kind of thing I want to avoid...and again, it bothers me whether I'm directly involved or not, so I'm not looking for advice about what I should have done.

What I want is to stand (or sit!) there with a relatively small group of fellow commuters, all of whom are more or less in tune with my ideas about how a group of people in close quarters should be interacting with each other. And this touches on the 'diversity' thing. I'm not necessarily looking for a WASPy neighborhood (I'm not a WASP, for one thing), but I do like to be in places where the vast majority of the people are in accordance with each other about such concepts as courtesy and personal space. In fact, if they all had the same ideas, and those ideas were not my ideas, I could at least learn to deal with that; it would be like living in another country (which I have done). However, it should cause no scandal for me to admit that it would be nice not to have to go through such motions.

Gays don't bother me, and in fact, in another city, I lived for quite some time in a gay neighborhood, although I am not gay.

Kimdog, I doubt that your boyfriend would want to rent the tiny room that I currently live in, although it does face broadway and is only $450 per month including utilities and high-speed internet.

I'm aware that most people pay much more than 25% of their salary to rent, and I just can't get behind that idea. I guess it has to do with my lack of enthusiasm for the geography. I have, in other cities, lived in plenty of perfectly nice places that cost less than a week's pay, and even after two years, I'm having a hard time adapting to the idea that things are different here. I guess I feel that if you're going to pay 50% of what you make for rent, then you must have made a decision that living in New York is twice as good as living elsewhere, and, having lived many other places, I just don't think that's true.
posted by bingo at 11:55 AM on March 9, 2006

Possibly check out Hell's Kitchen, specifically between 9th and 10th in the 40's. You might be able to find a share in your price range. And walking distance from Times Square removes the subway concerns. Plenty of diners and coffee shops (The Coffee Pot at 9th and 49th is usally a good place to camp out with a book).

The Hoboken idea isn't bad either, if you don't mind living on the other side of the river.
posted by slogger at 12:10 PM on March 9, 2006

bingo -- You sound exactly like me in the years and months leading up to my decision to move out of New York. I, too, lived on the Upper West Side. I, too, worked on Times Square. I, too, longed for (some) of the things you long for. There's a big beautiful world out there of civilized living. Think Atlanta, Charlotte, Ann Arbor, Evanston, Columbus, Pittsburg, St. Louis, Austin -- move to one of these places, and enjoy a quality of life you'll only achieve in NYC if you earn a million dollars a year or more. Nice people out here, too. Get out of New York and LIVE!
posted by Faze at 12:21 PM on March 9, 2006

Yeah, I think the answer is the one you don't want to hear- NYC just isn't the place for you to live. It's just crowded, everywhere, unless you're very rich and/or don't ever need to go into Manhattan. I think you're the kind of person who will find something wrong with every neighborhood you live in, which is one of the huge tell-tale signs that you don't belong here.

Please, don't take that as a slight. It's just that NYC is firmly divided between people who are New Yorkers and people who are Not New Yorkers. Plenty of people are the latter who delude themselves into thinking they can somehow become former, but it doesn't work that way, my friend.
posted by mkultra at 12:37 PM on March 9, 2006

This city's big enough for you to find a niche. Let's consider your factors.

a) To avoid crowded subways, get thee to a lettered line. The 1/2/3 and 4/5/6 lines are smaller than the others.

c) To avoid crowds, go somewhere residential, out-of-the-way, or simply less desirable.

d) To avoid small children, get below 59th Street.

e) I'm going to pretend I misread your e).

As for f-g-h-i) These are all over the place and simply relative to your specific location. You could plunk yourself down off Sixth Avenue in the 50s, midtown boredom, and be within 5 minutes of a gym, a supermarket and plenty of restaurants.

So, where can you go? You should decide which is your bigger foe, the commute or the neighbors, then try one of these on for size (some repeated from others' comments).

Hell's Kitchen (Clinton) sounds like it meets most of your criteria. Short walk to the A/C/E, which is not too crowded, and good places to eat, work out, be alone, etc. Not a lot of families in the area, either, afaik. You might even be able to walk to work, although your trip home will be through the theater district, which brings the crowds back into play.

West Chelsea is quiet until dinnertime, when it becomes a scene for diners and clubgoers. That may or may not work for you. The A/C/E line is not too bad in terms of morning crowds. Tribeca, while probably out of your budget, is sparse and on the same subway line.

Murray Hill/Kips Bay is certainly less bustling than the UWS. You'll get plenty of space to move around and some decent local restaurants. You won't get a nice subway, though; the 6 is packed in the mornings. Depending on where work is, you could take a bus, though.

For my (your) money, I'd find somewhere to live along the N/Q/R/W. The N/Q is full in the morning only to 14th Street, and the R/W is downright spacious. You could live in the Flatiron district, which is bustling but not overwhelming, or farther west in the Murry Hill area to walk to 28th and Broadway. You could also try the Lower East Side with a stroll to Canal or Prince to the train.

And then there's Brooklyn and Queens....
posted by werty at 12:40 PM on March 9, 2006

Yeah, I think the answer is the one you don't want to hear- NYC just isn't the place for you to live.

Actually, I have no problem hearing that answer, and in fact, it is the main answer that I give myself. But I don't want to move and then years later decide that I just hadn't found the right neighborhood, or something.
posted by bingo at 1:03 PM on March 9, 2006

I just moved to Jersey City and it sounds like what you're looking for. The path is right near by, but I drive to work in central jersey so I have no idea what the crowds are like.
posted by Brainy at 1:05 PM on March 9, 2006

Not to derail the thread but kimdog, your boyfriend pays $725 for a one-bedroom in Chelsea and wants to move?

If that's true, which it can't be, email me.
posted by lampoil at 1:12 PM on March 9, 2006

Lampoil, it's true. He's been there 14 years and it's rent stablized. For the curious, it's slightly too small for his needs, he has elderly parents on the UWS that need a lot of help, and it's street level and very noisy. But the kicker is that last year he was awakened by the sound of someone crying/pleading. He went to his kitchen window to check it out, and suddenly a body fell from the roof, breaking his window (it's the swing-out kind) and landed about two feet from him. The guy died. It was some sort of a drunken accident/ lover's quarrel. But it was enough to make my BF consider moving. Bad vibes.
posted by kimdog at 1:35 PM on March 9, 2006

bingo -- I've lived in Brooklyn and in most major Manhattan neighborhoods, including Chinatown. Believe me, you're not just missing some perfect neighborhood that's just for you. I think it's the whole New York-iness of the place that's getting to you (I mean, tolerance of diversity is a number-one condition for living there. If don't have that.... sheesh.) There's nothing to be ashamed of. The whole city is a huge real estate scam anyway, the people live like serfs and peons at the mercy of their supers and rip-off apartment renovators. You have no control over your neighbor's stereo listening habits or domestic arguments, every merchant in town in ripping you off, every restaurant is filthy (talk to a health inspector some time), 80 percent of the people your age there are lazy, the other 20 percent are working way too hard. If you are middle class, you deserve to lead a middle class lifestyle -- and believe me, the American middle class lifestyle is the envy of the world. So why pack yourself into the subway every morning and evening? Move. Get a car. Raise a family. Live the life God intented for human beings. You don't want to wake up 40 years old in a one-bedroom, with a car-alarm going off outside, your toilet running, a kitchenette full of roaches, and a bank account drained by monsterous housing costs.
posted by Faze at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2006

bingo, I have the neighborhood for you. You would probably have to find a share, but you said you didn't mind roommates.

This neighborhood doesn't have a name--it's just west of Murray Hill, and south of midtown.

I used to live at 30th and 5th. Just east of 5th in that area is deserted most of the time. Madison is a ghost town on the weekends, and I remember there being a standard-issue Greek diner somewhere around 33rd and Madison or something where you could take over 3 or 4 booths and nobody would bat and eye. Around 3rd is where there are more people, but even then there aren't so many. And I don't recall seeing many kids at all.

You would just have to avoid the Empire State Building, Koreatown, and the weekend market around 28th and Broadway.
posted by lackutrol at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2006

Hell's Kitchen is pretty diverse, actually. Less so as time goes on, but it's probably not for you, if the UWS is your current speed.

Sounds like you need to move to Hoboken. Seriously.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:49 PM on March 9, 2006

I have to second what Faze is saying. My last few months in Manhattan were maddening. I hated everyone and everything. But I was reluctant to leave the city for the same reasons you are--I didn't want to give up for fear of not trying hard enough. Finally I hit the breaking point and fled. Since then I've never been happier. Indeed, there is life on the other side of the Hudson. My wife and I wound up in the midwest for her job, and it's great. Sure, the general cluelessness of the average midwesterner can be a bit annoying at time, but it's a trivial inconvenience comapred to grinding through the sidewalks every day and battling to get a few bags of groceries into my apartment. Here, the mortgage on my 1400 sq ft house is half of what I paid in rent, the cost of living is significantly lower, and the restaurants are surprisingly good.
posted by slogger at 2:02 PM on March 9, 2006

The things you say you want were all in New Jersey when I was there (Fort Lee is where I was, but JC and Hoboken are more convenient to Midtown).

Disregard utterly the suggestion of the LES. Any number of Blackamoors, Musulmans, Shaikhs, Hindoos, Esquimeaux or in fact curious ethnographic oddities from all over the globe would be infinitely preferable to the diversity-challenged, when compared with the white tattooed pierced alcoholic twentysomething hipsters that infest the LES.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:07 PM on March 9, 2006

I live in the financial district right now (not my choice, it's an NYU dorm) and I think it could be a pretty good match for you. Not perfect, but as you realize, that isn't going to happen in New York.

a) The subway is only crowded during peak commuting times, and the traffic is all one-way -- into the financial district in the morning, out of it in the evening. You'll be doing the opposite.

b) The sidewalks are only crowded during peak commuting times and maybe lunchtime (when you'll be in Times Square). Even when they're crowded, they aren't very crowded.

c) Crowds: stay away from the tourist trap that is the Seaport. You may want to stay away from the actual Wall Street, too.

d) There are no children.

e) I have no idea what races/ethnicities tend to live here, because after all the office workers go home, it's pretty much deserted.

f) I've certainly seen some, but I'm not sure which chains, since it's not something I look for.

g) a decent grocery store: Not sure what your definition of decent is. In my area, Jubilee is a well-lit, clean, large store with a wide variety.

h) weekend breakfast place (no kids): I'm looking out my window at a diner-ish one; I'm sure you could find one nearby. Again, there are no kids here.

i) You already know this is problematic. You'd have a decent shot at the diner I mentioned, but that's about as close as you're likely to get.

As for the price . . . well, you'll be making a concession there. Of course, it won't be so bad if you have a roommate or two, since you don't have a problem with that.

I'd also like to put in a bid for your current place. Please?
posted by booksandlibretti at 3:09 PM on March 9, 2006

My first thought was Tribeca or the financial district. I guess Tribeca may be too expensive and there seems to be small kids and brooksandlibretti covered the financial district.
posted by mullacc at 3:28 PM on March 9, 2006

Too bad you work so far from the M train; nobody rides that thing. Eh, you might try Woodside, Queens. I used to work in the neighborhood and it's relatively low-crowd (though there are children to be found there, and diverse adults), and if you live near the 61st street 7 stop, it's express to Times Square (plus, there's a decent branch library there, if that does anything for you). The 7 does get crowded, though.
Sunnyside is a smidge closer in, but feels busier (if a little less diverse). Anything closer in to Manhattan on the 7 line might be prohibitively expensive, and anything much farther out will be far too diverse, crowded, and child-filled. Also, you get to have a chip on your shoulder about living in Queens and everyone talking shit about your borough all the time.
posted by willpie at 4:43 PM on March 9, 2006

If you don't like the subway, take the bus.
posted by riffola at 5:20 PM on March 9, 2006

Chiming in to second Westchester and CT. There are towns that skew 'older' so that the children won't be a factor (Bronxville, for instance), and you can ride beautiful Metro North from the comfort of your own seat every morning and evening. Arrive at Grand Central, and walk to work. I used to work at 45th and Broadway and always had a crowd-avoiding route from the train to work. (Be on the lookout for the many cut-through hotel garages in the area.)
posted by xo at 6:38 PM on March 9, 2006

up by Columbia, or Washington Heights/Inwood (but that's more diverse)
posted by amberglow at 7:31 PM on March 9, 2006

or Carnegie Hill, near the 92nd st. Y and east of there.
posted by amberglow at 7:33 PM on March 9, 2006

If you don't like the subway, take the bus.

Oh, I do sometimes, but the bus is so slow, and sometimes almost as crowded as the subway.

I think I'll go take a look at Hoboken tomorrow...any advice on what to do when I get there (I don't have a car right now)?

Also, if I lived in Westchester/CT, how long would my commute be? (I know I said I didn't mind a long commute, but my midwestern mind is saying 'hey, that's another state!')
posted by bingo at 7:38 PM on March 9, 2006

Actually, the commute from Westchester is great if you live along the Hudson. I lived for a year in Peekskill, at the northern end of the county, and at first I was worried that an hour was a long commute, but I quickly discovered that an hour spent in a comfortable train seat with a gorgeous view of the Hudson right out the window was a hell of a lot more pleasant than a half hour on a crowded, noisy subway (plus you don't have to remember to get out at the right stop or change trains; they throw you out at Grand Central).

If you live south of Peekskill, obviously, your commute is less, but your cost of living is more. I suggest you visit the river towns and see what you think.
posted by languagehat at 8:06 PM on March 9, 2006

When I lived in CT it was about 40/45 mins in from Port Chester or Greenwich to Grand Central. Which meant I had a shorter commute than some coworkers living in Brooklyn. We moved to Queens fairly quickly though - the downsides to that commute were the less frequent trains & that they don't run all night; and sometimes they were dodgy in the snow although I think they've bought new trains . . . . And we wanted the diversity, crowds, etc that you don't like!
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:08 PM on March 9, 2006

e) many cultures, coming together in a beautiful celebration of diversity

This strikes me as more of a complaint about density and noise, rather than skin color, but I could be wrong. Are some cultures quieter than others?
posted by craniac at 9:19 PM on March 9, 2006

Upper Eastside. As white, isolated, boring, and quiet as you can get in Manhattan. During the day if you want to get out you can go to the museums, the movies, 86th street ("The Broadway of the UES"), and the parks. The 6 is a little crowded, but the stations themselves aren't bad at all. I grew up on the UES, and while I hated the lack of neighborhood feel, it might be right up your alley. Plus I have to admit that there was something cool about coming home from a late-night at the bars or some such and being the only person on the street for blocks and blocks.
posted by Cochise at 11:31 PM on March 9, 2006

Forgot to mention that due to the influx of trophy wives and young execs, there are gyms galore, and more groceries stores than you could shake a stick at.
posted by Cochise at 11:33 PM on March 9, 2006

I like the UES very much, but I don't think I can afford to live there on $3k/month.
posted by bingo at 7:32 AM on March 10, 2006

You'd be surprised. The UES actually had the lowest growth rate for rental prices in all of Manhattan, and much of Brooklyn as well.
My brother is paying more for his bedbug-infested East Village place than he would've paid had he moved back to the UES. But, cost of living (groceries, laundry,) are definitely more up there, so it probably evens out.

Fun fact (of sorts):The zip code I grew up in, 10021, has the highest single female population of any zip code in the country.
posted by Cochise at 11:35 PM on March 10, 2006

My condition e) about diversity etc. was a flippant remark meant in the way that craniac took it, to wit: I was feeling unhappy with the general hustle and bustle of NYC, and was longing for someplace quieter. Please do not take my remarks as an indication that I have a problem with some culture in particular.
posted by bingo at 11:19 PM on March 4, 2007

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