Exploring the Variety of Housing Options in New York
Since coming to NYU and the Gallatin School, I have on multiple occasions been assigned to write a piece on the meaning of New York City to me. While I appreciate the emphasis the university places on being here, I find the essays very difficult to write. They end up feeling forced and contrived. When I happen to stumble upon a thought that feels true and poignant, the act of writing it out only serves to diminish the feeling. The emotion is no longer real. This said, the forced meditation on life in the city has made me realize a few things in particular that I find exciting, invigorating, and exciting, for example, restaurants and architecture. Focusing on the later, I look to the spaces in which I have spent the most time - my apartments - for meaning. So, without attempting to encapsulate my vast, ever-evolving array of feelings for New York City, I will write simply about the places I have inhabited during my two years here.
Arriving in September 2011, I moved first to the Upper East Side, to temporarily inhabit my sister's sofa. She was living at the time at 307 E. 84th Street, between First and Second Avenues, with her longtime roommate and close friend. They were kind enough to let me stay on the couch while I hunted for a more permanent home. The two bedroom apartment was located on the fourth floor of a prewar walk-up building. The living room window opened onto an air shaft shared with the neighboring buildings. This new situation - a window, a couple feet, a neighbor's window - introduced me to the unique spatial patterns of the city. It felt like an entirely new way of living, and in many ways it has been.
Within a month, to the shared pleasure of myself, my sister, and her roommate, I found an apartment for myself. On the first of October, I signed a lease on a studio apartment at 29 Jones Street in the West Village. I was still unfamiliar with the neighborhood, but the street alone was enough to compel me to move. Jones, along with the adjacent Cornelia Street, is one of the few single-block streets that I have encountered in Manhattan, running between Bleecker Street and West Fourth, just east of Seventh Avenue. The feeling there was more Village than city - no traffic, no crowds of people, no chain stores. The businesses on the street - a cafe, a wine shop, a bar, a butcher, a bodega - were conceivably enough to subside on. Jones Street was the first time I lived entirely on my own, and was certainly a learning experience in that regard. I grew more comfortable with my alone time than I had ever been, and I came to view the apartment as a respite from the city around me. When I had my first feelings of needing to escape, at least momentarily, the city, I knew I had my studio - quiet and exactly how I left it - to go home to. I would have liked to stay longer, but rent was proving to be beyond my capacity to pay while still in school, and I left after my lease expired this October.
My living situation since then is fairly difficult to interpret, and I imagine I will come to understand it fully only when it is long behind me. Since leaving Jones Street, I have lived in four different apartments in four different neighborhoods, none for longer than two months. Generally, during this time, I have shown a preference for excitement over comfort, and have continually sought out new experiences.
After Jones Street, I moved in with an acquaintance at 150 Sullivan St, between Prince and Houston Streets. The two bedroom apartment was tiny, no more than one and a half times my previous studio. The particular layout of the apartment was characterized by two half bathrooms - one with a sink and shower, the other with sink and toilet - on each side of the kitchen. It was a tiny apartment, no more than one and half times the sizes of my previous studio, but the block was great and near to school and work. However, immediately following my move-in, we were informed of an increase in rent to take effect next month. This pushed the apartment past my threshold of affordability and caused a tenuous situation with the roommate, who still lives there. But I left.
I wound up next in Brooklyn, at 960 Willoughby Avenue, in Bushwick, renting a spare room in the apartment of two female classmates at Gallatin. The building was brand new, and outfitted with various amenities including a doorman, laundry, game room, and roof deck. Most other tenants were young and white, like myself, but much hipper. The apartment itself was ok, livable but not exciting, and I made little use of the building's offerings. Coming from Manhattan, the surrounding neighborhood was severely lacking. The massive lots were mostly zoned for industrial uses, and the few scattered businesses consisted of a gas station, a KFC, and a Dunkin' Donuts. The streets were deserted at night, not in a scary way, but an incredibly boring one. After two long, bitter winter months, I moved out.
In February and March, I sublet a room from a co-worker who was spending time traveling. The building, located at 95 Meserole Street in East Williamsburg, was a former warehouse converted into loft housing for seven. To enter the building, one passed through a tall, locked gate, through a lot of junk cars and spare parts, up onto an old loading dock, and finally through the "front" door. The inside was huge and my individual space consisted of two large rooms, and a third lofted area with the bed. The room itself was twice the size of my studio at Jones Street. The vibe was strange, and I never grew close with any of the artist/hipster roommates I lived with. Anyways, this apartment was always finite - my friend came home, and I moved on.
We arrive now at the present, and I write this from my current home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I am living with a friend from work and one other, taking over the third bedroom from a recently departed roommate. The building is similar to that which I first lived in on 84th Street; I am again on the fourth floor of the walkup building. However, there are few similarities beyond that. This building is very cheap, rather rundown, and Greenpoint is hardly the Upper East Side. But the neighborhood is enjoyable, and my room boasts and incredible view of Midtown Manhattan, in a particular the United Nations building just across the river.
I have not signed a lease here, and do not intend to. Sometime this summer, I will move again, hopefully back to Manhattan, and hopefully back to a studio. I miss the comfort of having my own space, and the excitement of walking out my front door onto the streets of Manhattan. I have no clue whether things will work out this way, but I can say for certain that I will remain in the city. Perhaps that is the one thing I can say about this period, that during months of uncertainty and the unabashed search for places new and different, I have never wavered from my desire to be in New York City.