New York, New York © 2007 Peter Tooker
New York, New York “it’s a wonderful town”. I lived and worked in New York for thirty years and left the island of Manhattan behind me five years ago when I “retired” from banking. A good friend, who loves the city and has always wanted to live there, asked me a while ago, “Don’t you miss the city?” To which I responded, “Only when I’m there.”
I spent a couple of days in the city this week and I truly missed the city while I was there. “The City” is what New Yorkers call New York because there just isn’t another one like it. It is one heck-of-a town, and honestly, when you live there it does feel like your town and that’s everything to do with your neighborhood.
Your neighborhood – that’s where you live … where you know the name of your dry cleaner, you smile at the gal who checks you out at the grocery store, the owner of the liquor store will hold the last bottle of your favorite wine for you, and restaurants will “squeeze you in” because you’re local. Neighborhoods all have different characters – some center on ethnicity, some revolve around culture, some have evolved from a concentration of immigrants, and some have developed because of trends.
When I first lived in New York I lived in an area along 86th Street known as Germantown. The area was being “yuppified” by the likes of me back then but remnants of its historical concentration of German-Americans still existed like the fabulous German butcher, the annual Steuben Parade, and some wonderful German restaurants where we enjoyed spätzle, schnitzel, and strudel all in a beer garden.
Later I moved west along 86th Street, just around the corner from a neighborhood known as Museum Mile. “The Mile” was spread along over twenty blocks of Fifth Avenue - to the north was the Museum of New York, to the south was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim, a favorite, was in the middle. One of the best aspects of this neighborhood was its proximity to Central Park. Just across the avenue, we enjoyed the park in winter, spring, summer, and fall.
These neighborhoods were both on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan and are known primarily as residential areas. Our next move was to an area that had not been considered residential for generations – the Financial District downtown. This was attractive to us because it meant that my commute to work went from a 45 minute bus and subway ride to a five minute walk. As many financial companies consolidated and looked for less expensive places to do business, building after building south of Fulton Street became vacant. We first lived in a building on John Street, four blocks east of the World Trade Center, that had previously housed a large insurance company. Designed by the same architects who created the Empire State Building, this building was solidly built with windows that were meant to keep the sounds and soot of the city out, and thankfully so as we were living there on 9/11.
It was a challenge to stay downtown after 9/11, but we did and over the years that followed we watched downtown literally rise from the ashes. A love of New York brought businesses like Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant, and De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival, and financial incentives brought building opportunities. A brand new apartment building was built on a formerly empty lot kitty-corner to the Fed on Liberty Street, and a year after they opened we moved in to an apartment on the 33rd floor from which we could see all the way uptown to the Empire State Building and the midtown basin.
Midtown Manhattan © 2007 Peter Tooker
A residential infrastructure wasn’t completely in place when we moved downtown, but year after year more arrived, like grocery stores, dry cleaners, and restaurants that stayed open on the weekends. One of the greatest advantages to living downtown was the ease of access to every part of the city and all of its boroughs because almost every subway passed under our feet, and all three metropolitan airports, even Newark, were within easy reach. One of the best things about living downtown was the proximity to water – the East River, the Hudson River, and New York Harbor were all just a few steps away – with their ferries, water taxis, and wonderful vistas. It was great being among the first to call the Financial District home – we felt like pioneers and like we had the inside line on a new trend in the city – which in fact we did. The conversion of the Wall Street area to a residential neighborhood continues to this day. I even heard that One Wall Street, the landmark, art deco, headquarters for the banks I worked at for those thirty years, may also be sold to become condominiums. The ever-changing landscape and neighborhoods of New York, makes it a dynamic and memorable place to live. I miss those dynamics and all the character that comes with them – but I miss them “only when I’m there”.