Neighborhood Intel

Why one life-long New Yorker is thinking about leaving it all behind

By Toni L. Kamins  | February 3, 2014 - 1:01PM

Let me get my New York City bona fides out of the way:  I was born and grew up in Queens. My father and his parents were born and lived in Manhattan before decamping for the Bronx.  My mother came here from Europe in the early 1930s when she was nine, and she died at 85 a devoted New Yorker, never having lived anywhere else in America.  

And let me also say that I know I am in an enviable position: I own the one-bedroom West Village co-op that’s been my home for over 20 years, my mortgage has been paid off, and my monthly maintenance doesn’t come close to what I would pay in rent for lesser digs anywhere in the five boroughs.  

Yet now, at a certain age, as they say, I am seriously considering leaving New York, and I don’t mean for the weekend.  

Longing for more amenities

Having grown up in an apartment, I take small living spaces for granted.  When I married my husband we lived in a studio until we finally moved to a bigger place.  I love seeing how I and others make such creative use of small, mixed-use rooms. 

At least I did until I started visiting friends and family in other parts of the country and the world.  Now I long not so much for the extra space, but for a few more amenities without having to take out a home equity loan or a new mortgage.  I’d love to gut renovate my bathroom, and I’m jealous of friends in other parts of the country who’ve done it at a third of the cost to bathrooms four times the size.  When I remodeled my kitchen some years ago, I saved several hundred dollars by simply going to New Jersey for the tile.

Homogenizing is something you do to milk

And there’s the homogenization.  The borough that captivated me when I was child--my dream was to quit Queens for the Oz across the river--has become a kind of architectural and commercial prison.  Even when I leave to travel, my enthusiasm for coming home evaporates soon after I put away my suitcases. 

The Manhattan I know and loved doesn’t exist anymore and now more closely resembles the Las Vegas version.  The individual shops that gave each neighborhood its character and personality have been replaced by chain stores; one neighborhood feels the same as another. 

It’s gotten so that Bleecker Street, once reliably and comfortably grungy, might as well be renamed Marc Jacobs (or Ralph Lauren) Avenue.  And I wonder, too, why my West Village neighborhood is so crowded with tourists.  Of course it stopped being bohemian long ago; I knew that when I moved here. But why shop at the Coach, Yves St. Laurent, and Betsy Johnson here when you can buy the same things anywhere?  And don’t even mention those cupcakes.

A realization: There's nothing keeping me here

It’s probably a little bit of everything: overcrowding, quality of life, the cost.  I’ve thought about moving to another part of town, but moving around and/or moving up just is not doable anymore unless you’re rich.  Ultimately it’s finally recognizing that I’m living in a shockingly overpriced, fairly dirty shopping mall. 

Even as I sit writing this in my favorite (non-Starbucks) coffee shop, I am jammed in with other creative types pecking away on laptops and weakening the Wi-Fi signal.

In fact, there is nothing really keeping me in New York.  When I divorced several years ago I thought it would be a great opportunity to leave.  As a writer I can work and get a job pretty much anywhere.  But then my parents became ill.  Now they’re gone and I have yet another opportunity. 

The basics of an escape plan

Just for fun I’ve stayed up late and checked out the real estate websites of places I’ve visited and tried to imagine what it would be like to pull up stakes.  Though the locations vary depending on my mood, there is a common theme--a smaller city with a university, changing seasons, access to good healthcare, and proximity to a good airport. Portland, Seattle and Boulder frequently come to mind.  I marvel at how (relatively) little it would cost. 

I could sell my apartment, buy a nice apartment, furnish it, buy a car, and still have plenty to add to my retirement fund, which frankly could use a boost.  I’ve even considered places where the cost of living would be just as high as New York, like Paris or San Francisco. 

It’s still just a series of thoughts, but at this point it’s become the basics of an escape plan.  I’ll probably miss New York for all sorts of intangible reasons--it’s in my blood and it informs some of who I am. And then there's eating at Ukranian restaurant Veselka at  3 a.m.  just because I'm up and I feel like it; the smell of wood smoke on a chilly evening in the West Village; the Cloisters and the Little Red Lighthouse; Central Park and both Mets (for art and opera). 

People will miss me, but the city won’t, and I’ll be easily replaced.  For a native New Yorker like me that’s very sad. But just look at the line of prospective buyers who'd jump on my apartment...


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