Friday, August 23, 2013

Sharing More About the Search (Part 2)


A couple of days ago I shared some of our narrowing down process that we used before the trip. Today I wanted to write about the visiting and evaluating we did on the trip. For starters, we did not plan ONE thing that we had to do on this trip besides visiting neighborhoods. In other words to all those friends asking us if we saw a Broadway show- we did not.

I had sort of mixed feelings about this. I knew it would help me to keep things minimal, but leading up to the trip I thought we'd do something like that at least one or two nights. [And we did have a couple of nice dinners!] I was just a little sad because I knew that we wouldn't have many, if any, opportunities once we moved because of the childcare situation. I don't care how highly you come recommended, if I don't know you or know someone WELL who knows you WELL, you can't watch my kids. We've had very few non-grandparent babysitters and they are young girls I love dearly and trust completely. However, two days before we left my mom called me about to bust saying she met a college friend and her precious college aged daughter in T.J. Maxx and how she is moving to NYC for school. Minnie was gushing and her momma kept telling Minnie how she was a believer and how she (the mom) had been praying for a family to mentor her and she would love to babysit for us some. Whatever comes of it, it gave me the peace to let go of trying to do a bunch of stuff because THIS IS OUR ONLY CHANCE.

It turned out to be great because we were so tired every night and I wanted to blog and just chill out anyway (I know I'm a weirdo). I love traveling, but sometimes it can be so tiring when you try to pack a lot in. There will be time to see a lot of things, but this was perfect. I can honestly say it was one of the best trips I've EVER been on. I think I loved it so much because pretty much all we did was eat out and talk to people and basically learn their stories. Those are basically my favorite things in life.

Someone asked me how we were doing this- did we have specific plans of places to visit or were we just going to walk around and talk to locals the whole time? Well, sort of both. Peyton and I both made lists of places (restaurants, shops, ect.) that we wanted to hit in each area and a couple of events (the Brooklyn flea and Fort Greene farmer's market, for example) and those were sort of our framework. We punched them in on Google maps in our phones so we could tell how far apart they were and figure out a good order. It was helpful because it just gave us various destinations so we weren't wandering aimlessly, even though the actual places weren't terribly important.

Anyway, here are the neighborhoods we saw (fifteen total) and our overall feelings about them:

Manhattan
There were some great spots in Manhattan that we really liked and some other places that we just didn't feel like we'd fit at all. 

1. East Village
Peyton gave the East Village 7 out of 10 for diversity and friendliness of people. I gave it a 6 out of 10 for the same reasons, plus community resources. However, I felt like the housing stock was a bit lacking. 

One thing about looking back on this is that you realize after having seen it all, you probably wouldn't have scored things the same way you did towards the beginning. We got a generally great vibe about the area and talked to some super friendly people. It seems SUPER laid back for Manhattan and I enjoyed it a lot. I felt safe, but not always right in my comfort zone (there were quite a few homeless people at the park in the afternoon). So I guess our ratings were pretty accurate for this one. That said, there were definitely neighborhoods we liked better. I think some of it, for me, comes down to it just not feeling as "clean" as other places. It was by no means trashed, but it just wasn't aesthetically pleasing. Also, while I think it's about the best we could do, Manhattan-wis (aside from Harlem) to meet our "family feel" qualification and still have some semblance of diversity, areas in Brooklyn seemed much more geared toward our stage of life with two little ones. 

2. Hell's Kitchen
Peyton: 4/10 for lack of attractiveness and community interaction, few young children; however it felt safe
SD: felt safe, however very few things to do, park was dirty, and streets were busy and cluttered

We weren't too impressed with it. It did feel really safe (probably moreso than the East Village), but there just wasn't much to it. We stopped at one park and there was a lot of trash and very few children. In fact, the one family we talked to, the mom was in the area for work. There were lots of auto places (like tire stores)  around and main streets seemed cluttered and not super interesting. I don't know that I would say it's "gritty" so much as "grimey" :)

3. Morningside Heights
Peyton: 6/10 for beautiful sorroundings, serene atmosphere, and community; lacked enough diverity
SD: 6/10 for quaint atmosphere, sweet families, and racial diversity; drawback is lots of college students, not as many families.

I really have this feeling that if we choose Manhattan this will be our neighborhood  See what I mean about the ratings? We gave it the same as the East Village and in my mind it's hands down a much better place for us. I think I'm drawn to it because it feels manageable  The pace is slow and it's beautiful. I told Peyton that in many ways, it feels like a little Brooklyn. I do think we kind of got an unfair picture, though, because all the Columbia students and faculty weren't there yet. And I get how living in the bubble (one we're not really a part of) might get annoying.

4. Manhattanville (West Harlem)
Peyton: 2/10 because it seemed unsafe but it was very affordable
SD: 1/10 because it felt pretty sketch (NYPD presence at the subway station, lots of graffiti, ect.), no pretty housing, no green space, and it just felt like a concrete jungle

I've got to honest- this was the one area we truly didn't give enough time to. We made it a priority to revisit everything we felt that way about but this one. But Peyton felt slightly unsafe and that's rare and that was enough for me to write it off (and by slightly unsafe I don't mean he felt like there about to be a drive by or a gang rape while we were standing there; I mean I don't think he'd feel comfortable with me and the kids being there alone at night or with himself taking a stroll back from the train at midnight). Columbia has bought up a large chunk of this area though, and I think it's going to change rapidly, if it hasn't already started to. 

5. Lenox Hill
Peyton: 5/10 for safety and affordability, but loud 
SD: 3/10 because it was very loud and overwhelming and it felt so business like

We eliminated this one pretty quickly. It was just so "hustle and bustle" and although nice, it just felt so business-like. One guy wouldn't let Peyton charge his cell phone in a (very casual) restaurant and there were tons of outlets. Not that that is the hugest deal, but it felt a lot like what the unfortunate stereo-type of New Yorkers looks like (busy, rude, only looking out for themselves). This was SO not our experience over all, and I'm sure it could just be a bad vibe we got from the area. The pace alone was overwhelming to me. 

6. Yorkville
Peyton: 6/10 for affordability, safety and accessibility; but lacked cohesive community 
SD: 5/10 because it was family friendly, but not very diverse and I felt like it had aspects about it that were a little pretentious

Yorkville was decidedly better than Lenox Hill, but it still didn't feel like much of a fit. It seemed to be  a pretty good spot for families, but it was definitely lacking the diversity we wanted and I felt like I would struggle with being self-conscious around super wealthy people. 

7. Upper West Side
7/10 for safety, amenities and diversity in some areas 
SD: 7/10 for safety, and accessibility; however there was a lack of a community feel 

It keeps getting better. This is pretty much the Manhattan neighborhood people recommended to us. And I can see why. The park is accessibly, lots of museums. And in some areas it felt more diverse. Then we realized it was because we were getting near some public housing. Which, I'm not saying is just the worst thing ever, but we wanted an area where the diversity seemed more...organic?

8. Harlem
Peyton: 7/10 for diversity, gorgeous buildings, and rich cultural history; however still not a widespread sense of safety 
SD: 6/10 because I love the culture and the history, but (and this varies block to block) I still struggle with feeling uncomfortable, out of place, and unsafe (This one was the hardest to evaluate yet) [P.S. Peyton was upset with me because Harlem has some gorgeous parts and I used a couple of crappy pictures, but to me that's the reality of it.]

This is one of the hardest (if not the hardest) for me to evaluate. There was so much we loved about it. I love the history and the culture and some of the people we met seemed truly wonderful. Salt of the earth kind of thing. But I was a little disappointed I've read Annie several books about this area and it just intrigues me with all it's history and stories. Even though people are kind of shocked we were looking there, I couldn't not.  I  felt uncomfortable in a lot of areas, to be blunt. I was prepared to feel unsafe. But it wasn't always "unsafe" uncomfortable (sometimes it was). It was just that I didn't feel like we'd fit, or that in just a year's time we'd fit. At first Peyton asked me if it just bothered me that we were pretty much the only white people around. It wasn't that. It's hard to explain, but I thought at first there really wasn't much of a sense of community. Then I realized there probably was, we just weren't part of it. People didn't smile and nod at us when we smiled the way they did most other places. I just knew it would be very difficult to assimilate our little white suburban upper middle class family into that environment. For example, some of the areas in Brooklyn where we looked seemed to have a reasonably sized African American population. But it's different to try to fit in with people sitting on their stoops than with people throwing loud boom-boom Summer parties late at night like Harlem is sort of infamous for. Peyton and I talked a good bit about it and it's still an area I'm interested in. If we don't live there, I hope we'll visit a lot because the interactions we did have were some of the best on the trip (but they were in very specific areas of the neighborhood that we had heard were safer) and I do want to try to experience more of the culture. 

Brooklyn

I was kind of blown away by Brooklyn. I really feel like it's where we'll end up. I sort of had a feeling going in that I'd fall in love with it, but I knew Peyton had his eye on Manhattan (and has forever). I'd literally been praying for months leading up to the trip that we'd not only get some clarity, but that we'd be on the same page. I was so terrified we'd love different things. It turns out, though, that we're both leaning pretty strongly toward Brooklyn. 

1. Fort Greene
Peyton: 8/10 for beautiful architecture, open sky, and weekly markets
SD: 9/10 for gorgeous housing, tree lined streets, and young families. It seemed pretty hipster but we loved it

We really liked Fort Greene. It was the first neighborhood we saw in Brooklyn and I just adored it from the start. We stepped out of the train station and it was like another world- a really lovely world. The skyline is obviously lower and it just felt like a good balance. That's how I came to see Brooklyn in general- a perfect middle ground between "the city" and home. It just seemed so manageable. Fort Greene specifically had a lot to offer- super accessible to Manhattan, it's own park in addition to Prospect Park, and the farmer's market and flea market on Saturday. Just a lot going on! 

2. Clinton Hill
Peyton: 8/10 for lots of friendliness, diversity and safety. 
SD: 9/10 for a "neighborhood" feel, friendliness, huge smiles and lots of little ones. 

By the end of the trip we established that Clinton Hill was our favorite neighborhood and it's where we'd really like to live. Probably the thing that set it apart more than anything else was the way that its residents touted the community feel- several used the word "neigborhood-y" to describe it. Additionally, it was the most diverse of the areas that we still felt very safe in. NOW, when I say we felt very safe- there are areas of the neighborhood I wouldn't be comfortable in. Gun violence is not entirely unheard of. It's surrounded by some neighborhoods that we decided we needed to stay away from. But the neighborhood  itself, for the most part, seems safe. It feels just far enough outside my comfort zone to be okay. 

3. Prospect Heights
Peyton: 7/10 for library and park access. 
SD: 7/10 for the same reasons and nice, well kept housing.

There is a lot to love about this neighborhood  the library, the park, the zoo within the park. Just so much great stuff. That said, I think we maybe rated it a bit too high. There were a lot of other areas of Brooklyn that we just felt a more cohesive community vibe and honestly, in the ones we are looking at, the park and library are pretty close anyway. 

4. Prospect Lefferts Garden
Peyton: no score because we didn't have time to revisit and our visit was super short 
SD: 3/10 because I've heard some good things and prices were reasonable but overall I didn't like how urban it felt and the streets we saw didn't seem very family friendly. Proximity to the Botanical Garden is pretty cool, though!

Peyton: 6/10 for beautiful houses and friendly people; probably where we'd go if we were buying, but not the best neighborhood for kids 
SD: 5/10 loved the homes and people, but few restaurants and groceries aren't easily available; also, I was a bit nervous on the main commercial street 

We didn't give this one a fair shake the first time, so we went back and revisited on a day when we had more time and weren't so exhausted. We still felt a little weird on the main street, not as unsafe as the first visit but I wasn't entirely comfortable. We talked to several residents (one who invited us into her home!) and got a better feeling for it and honestly, in some ways we were drawn to it. It has a big West Indian population and for some reason, I think it would be easier to assimilate in that community than one that's almost exclusively African American. I think some of that is my own prejudice and some is the actual nature of the culture or what we heard about it. Either way, I don't think we'll wind up here. It's still just a bit too far out of my comfort zone, the feeling (of being safe) varies block to block, and honestly the lack of grocery/restaurant access would be rough. 

5. Park Slope 
Peyton: 7/10 for safety, beauty, and wonderful restaurants and shops, but pretty expensive and less diversity than some neighborhoods 
SD: 7/10 for gorgeous brownstones and fun shopping and proximity to Prospect Park; drawbacks same as Peyton's 

This one is *the* neighborhood for young families in Brooklyn. We liked it, there were beautiful shops and great restaurants  But again, we didn't get the community vibe we had elsewhere. It seemed like people were busier running errands and such and it didn't seem to have the diversity other Brooklyn neighborhoods had. I will say that one thing that draws me away from it is similar to what draws me away from living in Manhattan. While I know that if we live in Brooklyn we will go into the city frequently, I don't know that the reverse would hold true. It just seems weird to live on "the island" and say hit up the Fort Greene farmer's market on Saturdays. In a similar way, I can see us enjoying all that Park Slope has to offer (playgrounds, restaurants  ect.) while living elsewhere. But we probably wouldn't live in Park Slope but venture out to say Cobble Hill to wander and talk to people in that neigborhood. 

6. Carroll Gardens
Peyton: 8/10 for somewhat diverse, well developed neighborhood and beautiful homes 
SD: 8/10 because I love the front gardens (funny because our yard in Mississippi looks like Hell) and friendly people 
I just adored the front gardens. I think this is my runner up behind Clinton Hill. Really Fort Greene would be, but it's much more expensive than any other Brooklyn neighborhoods we looked at, excepting Park Slope. 

7. Cobble Hill
There wasn't anything super distinctive about this one, but we got a good feeling. There was pretty, affordable housing and friendly people, so we liked it. 

That's everything we saw, fifteen neighborhoods in total. I feel like we have a pretty good feel for things and have some options. We're so excited about seeing where we'll end up. 












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