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On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

Is Harlem the New Brooklyn?

Robert Manni - Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Image courtesy of David.R.Carroll

Seems like every five years or so another undiscovered, gentrified neighborhood emerges from the scrap heap of old-school construction, independently owned shops, and a bouillabaisse of ethnicities. For the past decade it’s gone section by section through Brooklyn. From Brooklyn Heights to The Slope to Billyburg, and more recently a resurgent Bushwick, Brooklyn has become the place to live in New York.

While Manhattan gentrifies with a Baby Gap, Starbucks, and Duane Reade on every corner and the usual suburban white table cloth restaurants like Olive Garden and Chuck E Cheese showing up for the tourist and even some tri-state inhabitants,  Brooklyn has been a beacon to disgruntled Manhattanites fed up with the homogenization of its once proud neighborhoods. And, although many real estate experts are touting Midtown West Side as the next place, I can tell you first hand that it is noisy, increasingly expensive, and clogged with traffic.

So, if you don’t want to move to Bushwick or Sunset Park, where can a New Yorker go to get that neighborhood feel, a culture hodgepodge, and access to the greatest park in the world?

I moved to Harlem, or as they call my “new” neighborhood, SoHa. I live off Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which I had no idea where it was until I took the C train uptown to check out the hood. FDB runs north past Central Park, picking up where Central Park West ends at 110th Street. SoHa, on the West Side at least, runs between 110th and 125th. There are lots of surprises in store if you decide to check it out. First, one of the best things about Harlem is that there are no true high rises so there is lots of blue sky, sunshine, and great views.  Depending on what avenue you live on, there is almost instant access to Central Park and Morningside Park. Columbia University is right up the hill and St. John the Divine is a breathtaking piece of architecture. There are wild peacocks roaming freely on their grounds, too.  Subway access is great with the A, C, B, and D all within a short walk and the price of real estate per square foot is about sixty percent of that which is ten blocks south and west.

But the real allure to SoHa is the exquisite mix of people and cultures and businesses that make it feel like a real New York neighborhood. My neighborhood is a mix of Senegalese, African Americans, Europeans, Asians, Latinos, and an endless wagon train of Upper West Siders and families fed up with the prices and congestion in their former neighborhoods. FDB has a string of restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating and of course now Starbucks has planted its flag with a sprinkling of shops.

So, do you really need to move to Brooklyn to experience that local neighborhood flavor? Let me know. I’m off for a run in Central Park.
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