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On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

Why I Live in Harlem

Robert Manni - Friday, June 13, 2014


Growing up in suburban Bergen County, New Jersey, I never thought I’d live in Harlem.

That was then, but this is now. Having migrated to the city back in the eighties, I’ve see our metropolis transform its once tattered landscape into what many refer to as the “capital of the world”.  And as a result, as the years flew by too many Duane Reade, Chase, The Gap, and now even Seven Eleven stores have replaced the quirky independent businesses and local flavor that made up its neighborhoods.

Brooklyn is the latest victim. What was the coolest nabe on the planet just a decade ago has seen its real estate prices go through the roof while its streets got jammed with baby strollers and urban woodsman. We can only hope that the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island can hold back total gentrification for another decade or two. But there is some good news.

Harlem is in Manhattan and it’s become a really cool place to live. The once downtrodden 125th Street now has a Gap outlet, DSW and Joe’s Crab Shack, but thankfully most of the big brands have limited themselves to this main thoroughfare. Most of the Harlem’s sprawling landscape is checkered with brownstones and small independent business that have only recently set up shop. Sounds like Brooklyn circa 2000? Maybe, but Harlem has been a tough nabe to crack. And I’ll say it again—it’s still in Manhattan.

Here are a few reasons why almost four years ago your Guy’s Guy chose to move to Harlem and has never looked back.

Proximity.

Might as well finish this thought first. I live in the Morningside area so all I need to do to get into “the city” is hop on the B or C train and boom; I’m there in ten minutes. That’s a lot better than squeezing in to a G train filled with twenty-somethings in Williamsburg or taking an hour on the F from Park Slope. Bay Ridge? Great place, but it’s a serious commute.  Guy’s Guys like to stay out late so while my friends are either waiting for a train at Port Authority or taking the subway to an outer borough, I’m already home and snuggled in bed. Yes, lots of people still live all over Manhattan, but the rental and purchase prices are now skewed to one-percenters or foreign money.  That’s just the way it is. So if you don’t mind paying $4000 or more to rent a 800 square foot one-bedroom in a walk up or the same for a  studio in a high rise, then you’ll love overcrowded Midtown.

The Parks.

Many Guy’s Guys enjoy sports and exercise, although it’s certainly not a mandatory requirement for the GG moniker. I’m a runner and it’s great if you live in south Harlem. I walk five blocks and I’m in the serenity of Central Park, a respite from urban life that keeps improving with age. And, if I want to stay closer to home, I put my infant son in his stroller and within two minutes we’re walking along the path around a pond in Morningside Park, watching the turtles sun themselves on the rocks. There is also Riverside Park, Marcus Garvey and many other well-maintained parks strategically located throughout Harlem.

The People.

Of course there is always an understandable push back against gentrification, but what I’ve noticed in my nabe is a lot of new jobs and business opportunities for the folks who lived in the area prior to the changes. And for the most part, most of the businesses are independent and privately owned and operated, which is a good thing. Hopefully, that will hold true for the foreseeable future. There is also a diverse mix of race, creed, color, sexual preferences, nationalities, and students.  That is what New York is all about. And from what I’ve seen, everyone seems to see the glass as half full as the communities evolve.

The Culture.

 Harlem has gone through so many changes over the last century that it has authentic culture. We all know the wonderful Apollo Theatre and the jazz clubs, but now there is a growing foodie movement led by hot chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and his always packed Red Rooster. They now refer to Fredrick Douglass Boulevard between 110 and 125 as Harlem’s Restaurant Row. To be honest, it’s happening, but slowly. Using that name is putting the cart in front of the horse. The good news is it’s a reflection of optimism and hope.

The Cost.

Like Brooklyn, Harlem real estate prices are going up, up, up. That said, there are lots of buildings and a massive stretch of blocks between 110th and 165th Street, so depending on where you look, you can find a bargain if you put in a little footwork. If you were fortunate and smart enough to buy between 2008-10, your average cost per square foot has increased by over thirty percent. If you are considering Harlem, my suggestion is to start looking now.

So if you are Guy’s Guy who doesn’t mind living in a quickly evolving area that might still be a little rough around the edges, a “middle class” family that has been priced out of the Upper West Side, or a student or artist who needs to keep their living costs in check, Harlem may be just the place for you. It’s the last affordable outpost in Manhattan and it will keep you close to the action—which is probably why you moved to New York in the first place.

Are you ready to make a move uptown?


This week's Guy’s Guy of the Week is the famed magician, Harry Houdini, who lived in Harlem at 278 West 113th Street for many years. There is still a plaque in front of the brownstone.

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