If you want to get a dose of reality about our ever surreal city, there's no better person to talk to than an urban planner. For this latest round of our Due Diligence questionnaire, we caught up with planner and writer Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association, an expert on issues like zoning and preservation, and perhaps most important, a decades-long New Yorker.
Read on for her thoughts on the charms of the Upper West Side (and its finally-blossoming restaurant scene), what she'd bring back from 1970s NYC (and what she'd leave there), and why a well-adjusted upbringing is far from required for anyone moving here:
1. What neighborhood do you live in?
Upper West Side.
2. Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in?
The UWS is my dream nabe. It has everything: great people, great architecture, great parks. After decades as a food desert, it now even has great restaurants.
3. Do you own or rent?
4. How’d you find it?
My editor had my husband and me to dinner in 1975 and we said, as anyone would, this is where we want to live.
5. What’s the one thing you love the most about it?
I love everything [about my building], but the courtyard is a fabulous start. Coming home from another NYC neighborhood or a trip abroad, and seeing our beautiful iron gate (modeled on Buckingham Palace's) and the beckoning interior courtyard, I feel at peace every time.
6. If there’s one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be?
Nothing—higher floor, maybe, but it seems churlish to complain.
7. In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in.
Spacious, gracious, urbane (Chicago's South Side).
8. Do you dream of old New York or prefer the 2015 version?
I like them both but would definitely mix and match some elements if I were king. New York in the 1970s was on its knees from the fiscal crisis, having barely averted bankruptcy, and was being batted around by moral low-lives like Gerald Ford. And it was filthy and dangerous and chaotic with a subway system that barely ran, but oh, the intellectual charge of it all! It was crazy but exhilarating, and a time like that will probably never come again. Today, we have a much safer New York, and I applaud the decline in crime combined with the huge influx of youngsters that has allowed all sorts of neighborhoods to flourish, but it’s all a little less fun.
9. Tell us about the favorite apartment you’ve ever had.
This one—private rooms on the courtyard so we fall asleep to the sounds of the fountain, public rooms on the street, splendid European layout, huge windows, country kitchen, wonderful neighbors, kind doormen.
10. And the worst?
I never lived in a bad apartment but my husband's hovel in Hyde Park, Chicago, when we first met, was a true deterrent to dating, much less marriage; it actually had good bones but the guys were slobs and left their daily ration of NYTs and WSJs on the floor until some mother or girlfriend complained.
11. Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without.
12. What's your favorite spot in the city?
Most any spot on the Hudson. I'm enamored at the moment with Harlem's Hudson.
13. Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo?
Brooklyn brownstone, hands down.
14. If you could live elsewhere, where would it be?
I would never leave NYC, but if I were kicked out of the city, London.
15. Any advice for a recent New York transplant?
Nothing in your upbringing or your previous life will prepare you for New York. In fact, a good upbringing may be counterproductive, hindering your ability to make New York work for you. You have to be open every day to new possibilities and constant change and the assumption—nay, the truth--that you're probably wrong about a lot of stuff.