I Hate My NYC Apartment, But I Love My Neighborhood

published May 31, 2019
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In a perfect world, we’d all love our homes and our communities. But when that’s not possible, I choose neighborhood over space, and that’s okay.

For me, people and ambiance make a place homey more than anything, and feeling connected to my community is something that’s important to me. And if that comes at the cost of hating my tiny, fifth-floor walkup apartment (with all the problems that come with NYC rentals), then so be it.

My love for Manhattan stems from growing up in suburban Connecticut, where kids had two activities to choose from: shopping at the mall or catching a movie. But on occasion, my friends and I would trade in our matinee for a train ticket. We always flocked to Times Square due to our ignorance that more existed beyond the flashy screens and chain restaurants—not to mention we were probably too scared to take the subway. While being shoulder to shoulder with strangers, hearing loud noises coming from all directions, and seeing everything happening all at once might seem like a nightmare to some, it was so much like home in my heart. I felt it in my bones: this was where I wanted to be.

Almost a decade later, my fiancé, Sam, and I packed up our small-but-comfortable one-bedroom apartment in Stamford, CT to take a stab at NYC living. We found our new place on the east side, with a joint living room-kitchen situation, a quaint bedroom, and a surprisingly large bathroom. While I wouldn’t say that it was “enormous” like the listing described it, when we walked up those five flights, opened the door, and gazed out the large windows showcasing skyline views, I had all the room I needed. I straight up fell in love.

But our love affair was short-lived. We situated our full-sized bed against the wall in our bedroom—I had to climb over or around Sam regularly—and even then, we couldn’t open our door without it slamming it into our nightstand. Also, the only way to get to the bathroom was through our tiny bedroom, so every time someone stayed over, they had to tip-toe past our sleeping bodies. No one ever said anything, but how could that not be awkward?

Friends and coworkers warned me about the typical NYC apartment woes, too, but I refused to believe that they would happen to us—until they did. (I won’t go too much in detail, but you know… mice, water bugs, broken AC, plumbing issues.) Despite my unpleasant surprise, deep down inside, I knew what I was getting myself into when we moved into a historic building—and we dealt with it as best we could.    

Regardless, I didn’t move to Manhattan to stay inside all day. I wanted to experience the city as a resident: waking up to a city view, running outside, becoming a “regular” in some ways (does CVS count?), and feeling part of a community that I didn’t get when I was working in one place and living in another. And despite what people say about New Yorkers being cold, it’s not true when you respect each other’s space. So I did my best to project a neighborly vibe, and guess what? It worked.  

I developed a regular running route that has me whizzing past the same locals I always smile and say hello to: the man running the fruit stand on the corner, the crossing guard directing traffic, the doorman outside a hotel overlooking Central Park. When I told one of my coworkers about my local posse, they imagined me as the city version of Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” And you know what? I’m proud to say that’s not too far off.

This also might come as a shock to other city dwellers, but I actually like to talk to my neighbors. (Yes, you read that correctly.) A family of four live across the hall from me, and every time I see one of them we greet each other like you might in the suburbs. I’ve ridden the subway with the mom who works at the Whitney Museum, occasionally pass by the dad while going out for my morning run, and I’ve sunbathed on the roof at the same time as their daughters.

Now in our second year of living in our place, I am so proud to say that I feel part of the community. When I walk the streets, I recognize faces and the small details that would otherwise go overlooked. I can happily call it home—even when my apartment leaves something to be desired.

However, this tale ends on a bittersweet note. Sam and I have ultimately decided to move into a bigger space in Astoria, Queens. While we’ve definitely outgrown our fifth floor walkup, the people and community have made it more difficult to leave. Moving to a new neighborhood means starting over, and I can only hope that I develop the same sense of home I’ve been lucky to feel around our first city abode. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll love the inside of my home now, too.