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South Harlem to Midtown East: Moving for a great elementary school

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Why would I want to move from a reasonably priced two-bedroom apartment in South Harlem, upstairs from my best friend and her family, overlooking Morningside Park and across the street from a recently built playground?

There was only one reason and it was a powerful one: the opportunity to live across the street from PS 59, one of the best elementary schools in NYC (recently relocated to a state of the art building on 57th between Second and Third Avenues), where my daughter will go to kindergarten.

Leaving our old neighborhood was difficult after seven great years there but my husband and I were game. We agreed that the school was a compelling enough reason to make what was a pretty dramatic change. In many ways, the change was easiest for our 4-year old and she’s the one who has had the easiest adjustment. But the more we explore the new neighborhood together, the more at home we feel.

We moved into our rental in Harlem seven years ago when we first got married--we had been in a one-bedroom apartment and my husband Greg, who is a composer and musical director, needed space for a home studio. The Harlem apartment we moved into was about 900-square-feet with a great view of Morningside Park from every window.

When my daughter Margot was born, we gave her the room where Greg had had his studio and had a small room built in the corner of the living room for him to work. Margot ran up and down the stairs several times a day to have breakfast or dinner or to play with her best friend Gracie, the daughter of my best friend. All pretty great.

When I was on maternity leave, right after my daughter was born, the playground across the street from our building was completed (we watched the year-long process from our perch across the street) and that playground soon became the center of our universe.

It was the neighborhood gathering place for everyone with kids, it made it so easy to meet people. On Saturday and Sunday mornings or after school, we’d all take a cup of coffee to the playground and socialize on the benches while the kids played. There was lots of co-parenting; we all knew each other, all watched out for each other’s kids, got advice from each other and often socialized outside the playground.

The camaraderie of the playground made up for some of the smaller inconveniences of the neighborhood for the first few years. At that time there was no supermarket within an easy walk and not many places to go out to eat or drink just a few blocks from our apartment.

Ironically, by the time we left, all of those things were in place and I have no doubt that in the next five years, there will be even more to choose from. We eventually grew to love Harlem Tavern, a huge family-friendly space that was built on the site of an old car repair business. When the weather was nice it was great to go to the Tavern and sit outside or to Bier, three blocks down, for a cold beer and a quick supper out on the sidewalk. When the weather required eating inside, our favorite was Zoma, an Ethiopian restaurant.

Our apartment was a fourth floor walk up--admittedly pretty miserable when you have a stroller, groceries, suitcases and a baby to lug up.

Public transportation was good in Harlem and when that wasn’t convenient, we’d call Harlem Car Service--everyone’s best friend. You would call them and in about three minutes they’d be outside. We never figured out how they did it.

In Midtown, everything is very, very different. We now own our apartment, a co-op in a pre-war building with 20 floors. It's about 1,200-square-feet and has been completely re-configured and renovated.

We’ve made our space into four smallish bedrooms which gives us a room for a baby we’re expecting in the fall and a studio for my husband. The open kitchen/living room space is great and Greg, who does most of the cooking, loves it.

I admit that every time we come home now with packages or suitcases, we are thrilled not to have to climb four flights of stairs. Having a doorman is nice, too. It’s a first for Greg.

Our immediate neighborhood is sandwiched between the essentially commercial, bustling piece of the block west of Lexington and the posh, quiet piece east of us toward Sutton Place.

Although we miss the old playground (which we still visit as often as we can) we’ve found some play spaces for Margot. There’s one at 60th and the East River and we take a crosstown bus to Central Park and have joined the children’s zoo there.

We’ve heard, too, that there’s a waterfront park that is planned for Sutton Place on property that once belonged to a co-op. A recent discovery for us is the Y on East 47th Street, where Margot takes swimming lessons.

We figure that once Margot starts to go to school across the street, we’ll meet lots of new neighborhood families and once the huge condo being built right next to the school is finished, there will be more families moving in to the block.

Transportation from here is good for Greg especially. Since a lot of his work is in the theater district, the 57th Street crosstown is perfect and stops right in front of our building. For me, it now takes me 30 minutes to get to work in the Financial District; it used to take an hour.

We have a Whole Foods across the street from us and three or four other supermarkets to choose from.

In general, the cost of living here--food, dry cleaning, restaurants--is not surprisingly higher here than in Harlem. We’ve managed to find a few casual eating spots that we like--in particular Hide-Chan Ramen, a noodle place that’s on the second floor on East 50th Street. We go early, by 6:30 or 7, because after that there’s usually a line out the door. It’s a lively, affordable spot.

For special occasions we go to our favorite New York restaurant, Cafe Joul, at 58th Street and First Avenue.

Do we miss the old neighborhood? Sure. But we go back often to visit. We’re happy about our move and looking forward to living here with our soon-to-be-expanded family.


Transitions highlights New Yorkers’ first impressions as they transition from one  neighborhood to another. Want to tell us your transition story? Drop us an email.

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