Why I Moved to Harlem Instead of Brooklyn

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Hamilton Heights, Harlem

For the longest time, I was certain I would be moving to Brooklyn. It made the most sense — it was cool, most of my friends were there, it wasn’t too far from the airport, and, well, it was cool. The epicenter of all things cool. And I was cool, wasn’t I?

And so I spent several months checking out Brooklyn neighborhoods, one by one. I had spent most of my previous visits to New York staying in Harlem, where my sister has lived for years. Family members would often ask me if I was planning to live near her.

“There’s not enough places to work in the neighborhood,” I would say. “I work online. I’d become a hermit.”

But then one night I went to dinner with my sister at Red Rooster on 125th St. in Harlem. Red Rooster, the latest restaurant by Marcus Samuelsson, has been enormously popular since its opening in 2011.

It was the atmosphere that struck me. The live music, the chic cocktails, the eclectic Southern fusion menu with Scandinavian touches, the fact that in this restaurant was one of the most diverse groups of people I had seen in New York. Everyone was welcome here. It was a weeknight and yet it felt like a party.

Over sweet potato donuts, I looked at my sister and smiled. “I’m starting to think I was too fast to write off Harlem.”

A few months later, I was settling into my one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Hamilton Heights, Harlem — something I couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago.

Yeah, I might have shocked a lot of people.

“But Kate! You belong downtown!” one friend exclaimed.

“Nobody’s ever going to visit you,” another friend told me.

Still, moving to Harlem was the smartest decision I could have made.

UPDATE (March 2019): Three years later, I’m still living in Harlem and still loving it.

I had to leave my apartment because my landlady sold the brownstone, but I ended up moving into a much larger apartment one block away.

Hamilton Heights has changed quite a bit in the last few years — it’s gentrifying rapidly. It’s now THE queer neighborhood of uptown, especially for nightlife. You see a lot more white kids and older white people than you did in 2016. Adriano Espaillat has been elected our new Congressman, a symbolic move as Harlem’s seat is now held by the first Dominican-American to serve in Congress, and was once an undocumented immigrant.

I wanted to spend a few years getting to know Harlem well before writing an in-depth guide to the neighborhood. As of February 2019, I have finally done that. The post is called 124 Best Things to Do in Harlem, New York City and it includes 50 black-owned businesses — far more than any guide I’ve found online.

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

Understanding Harlem and Brooklyn

First of all, before I write anything more, know this: Harlem is a huge and diverse neighborhood.

I live in Hamilton Heights, which is part of West Harlem. Part of Hamilton Heights overlaps with Sugar Hill, and it borders Manhattanville to the south and Central Harlem to the east. Washington Heights, which is not part of Harlem, is to the north.

The borough of Brooklyn is even more enormous and diverse than Harlem. The neighborhoods I was considering living in were Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill, Crown Heights, and Bushwick.

That said, I’ll be using the terms “Harlem” and “Brooklyn” throughout this post for simplicity’s sake.

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

What I Love in a Neighborhood

In my post-college years, I’ve lived in several different neighborhoods in two major cities, Boston and London, along with some suburban areas. Beyond that, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around other cities and spending short- or long-term stints living like a local. In that time, I’ve learned what works for me in a place to live.

I don’t like living in the heart of downtown. I did that when I lived on the Back Bay/Fenway line in Boston. While there were lots of good things about living downtown, I felt that the residents were an odd mix of the very wealthy (especially men working in finance), college students, and tourists. I preferred the slightly shabbier, more intellectual environments of Cambridge and Somerville.

I like a place with neighborhood pride. I like having good local places at which to eat, drink, and hang out. But I also want to live somewhere where people are happy to live and spend their time, not just grumbling about it until they can afford somewhere better.

Good transit is a major priority. If there’s only one semi-reliable line to my neighborhood, I’m more likely to cocoon and less likely to venture further afield. I like to live somewhere I can get in and out, ideally on a few different transit lines, and somewhere I can get to the airport easily.

Overall, I like a neighborhood that is fun and active but not in the heart of the city. I liked staying in neighborhoods like Northcote in Melbourne, Bronte in Sydney, Nimmanhaeman in Chiang Mai, North Beach in San Francisco, and Shepherd’s Bush in London.

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

Checking Out New York Neighborhoods

My next step was to try out lots of different neighborhoods in New York. Overnight stays were a priority for me, as neighborhoods can feel markedly different at night.

I had done many stays with my sister in her current apartment in Hamilton Heights and in her last apartment, further south in Harlem, so it was time to check out other regions. I did multi-day stays in the following neighborhoods:

Brooklyn Heights. If I could live anywhere in New York, it would be Brooklyn Heights. The brownstones here are gorgeous and it’s the first neighborhood over from lower Manhattan. Furthermore, Brooklyn Heights is adjacent to Cobble Hill, which is filled with awesome restaurants and shops, including a Trader Joe’s. Also, everyone seems to have a dog here, including my best friend, who lives there! That said, this is a very expensive neighborhood.

Downtown Brooklyn. I had the best Airbnb here — a studio apartment on top of the Brooklyn Ballet with huge windows overlooking the sunset. (Sadly, it’s no longer available for rent.) Downtown Brooklyn doesn’t have the beauty of other neighborhoods, but if you’re in the southern part, it’s very convenient to Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, and Boerum Hill.

Boerum Hill. Boerum Hill seemed to be the best fit for me — close to Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, and similar in atmosphere and beauty, but further from Manhattan and therefore more affordable. Almost every major subway line in Brooklyn goes through Atlantic Terminal, which is in the neighborhood.

Crown Heights. Crown Heights was probably the best “on paper” fit for me — decent rents, not far from most of my Brooklyn friends, on the A train, an easy journey to the airport, and home to the best coffee shop I’ve worked from in New York City (Breukelen Coffee House).

But Crown Heights just didn’t do it for me. While I never felt unsafe there, I never felt comfortable, either; it almost felt like my intuition was screaming at me for three days straight. I know better than to ignore my intuition. (No offense to my friends who live in and love Crown Heights. I can see why people love living there; it just wasn’t for me.)

Bushwick. Weird as hell. At times, I loved Bushwick madly; at times, I couldn’t stand it. This is the artsiest neighborhood in New York. It’s cheap and full of cool restaurants, galleries, and coffee shops. They’re all spread out quite a bit through a warehouse-filled district. Ultimately, though, I didn’t feel like I would fit in, and deemed Bushwick a fun place to visit rather than a place to live.

Upper West Side/Morningside Heights. I really like this part of the Upper West Side, close to Columbia. I stayed on 109th St. and loved it. Even though, like the chi-chi Brooklyn neighborhoods, it was a bit out of my price range (and not close to an express train besides the 2 at 96th). That’s what ultimately put me off.

Other neighborhoods were jettisoned for various reasons. Rents were rising at an astronomical rate in Williamsburg. Park Slope was too pricey for the inconvenient transportation. Bed-Stuy wasn’t gentrified enough. And as much as I would enjoy living somewhere like Greenwich Village, it would be a similar atmosphere to my time in Back Bay: lots of extremely wealthy people, lots of NYU students, and the only apartments in my price range would be dreadful.

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

So after all that, why did I end up in Harlem?

Because I ran the numbers, compared the neighborhoods, and realized that there was far more value in Hamilton Heights than in any of the Brooklyn neighborhoods I looked at.

After traveling full-time for five years, my primary goal was to have a nice place to call my own. A place that could furnish nicely. A place where I could host tons of out-of-town friends. A place I wouldn’t need to share with roommates. A place, most importantly, I could comfortably afford.

Basically, if I lived in this exact apartment in Brooklyn Heights — a large one-bedroom floor-through brownstone apartment with hardwood floors and an in-unit washing machine — it would cost at least $1,000 more, if not $1,500 more. That’s a huge chunk of change.

Low prices. You get more for your money in Hamilton Heights than in cheaper Brooklyn neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, and Bushwick. You can get a renovated one-bedroom with an elevator, counter space, and a dishwasher for just $1,800. (Yeah, I know. Trust me, this is cheap for New York.)

High quality apartments. From what I’ve seen, most apartments in this neighborhood are either in newly renovated buildings or well-maintained brownstones. There are a few duds, as there are everywhere, but the quality is generally very high.

Excellent transportation. The 145th St. station, in the dead center of Hamilton Heights, has stops for the express A and D lines, which get you to midtown in two stops (!!), as well as the B and C. The 1 runs along Broadway.

Lots of cool restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops. You won’t find them stacked up end-to-end like in Cobble Hill (except on Broadway between 148th and 149th, which I jokingly call Restaurant Row), but there are lots of good places. I’m thrilled that a bar as cool as Harlem Public is my local. Bono does amazing and well-priced Italian food. The Chipped Cup does fabulous coffee. And more are opening up every month.

I feel safe here. Incredibly safe. Yes, I do get occasional catcalls from men (which is standard throughout New York or any other American city) but I’ve never felt uncomfortable or in danger here.

The main drawback: people’s reactions. “Wow, you’re really far up,” is the usual response. (“It’s-18-minutes-from-Times-Square-and-I’m-a-five-minute-walk-from-the-express” has become my standard reply.)

But honestly, the distance isn’t as big a deal as it looks on a map. It sure hasn’t dissuaded my friends from visiting. My friend Anna even came from Bushwick, almost an hourlong ride away.

I have to be willing to make a long journey to visit my friends in Brooklyn. But that’s fine. I love my friends and I love Brooklyn. (And I take my Kindle everywhere with me.)

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

I find it interesting here.

Harlem is interesting to me in a way that none of the aforementioned Brooklyn neighborhoods are. It’s so different from everywhere I’ve lived so far.

When I travel the world, my eternal goal is to fit in seamlessly. If I can’t pass as a local, I hope to at least pass as a longtime expat. That’s the way I feel about living here.

I love the architecture in Harlem. Hamilton Heights is home to a fantastic historic district (including the Royal Tenenbaums house!).

Being a lifelong R&B and hip-hop fan, I love that this is the music you hear when you’re out and about. (I’m not used to hearing the music I love anywhere!) I immediately sit up straight in shock when I hear Lianne La Havas’s “What You Don’t Do” at the Handpulled Noodle or Miguel’s “Simple Things” at the Sugar Hill Cafe.

That’s the random R&B that I discover on deep cuts playlists on Spotify.

I love being part of a neighborhood with so much history and culture. There’s so much more that I have to learn.

Also, a fact — Neil Patrick Harris lives in Harlem! He’s part of the most famous celebrity family with young kids and two gay dads. They could have lived anywhere in New York City and chose to live in Harlem. I find that so interesting.

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

Most importantly: I’m in Harlem to give, not just take.

I am a middle-class person moving to a historically low-income neighborhood. I am a white person moving to a historically black and Latino neighborhood. I am not forgetting that for one minute.

Gentrification is neither unilaterally good nor bad; to insist so is ignorant. Longtime residents in gentrifying neighborhoods receive benefits like higher property values, more money being spent at local businesses, and a more attentive police force as well as detriments like being priced out of their neighborhoods. That said, for many residents, the bad outweighs the good.

No matter what I do, I’m gentrifying this neighborhood just by being here. But I have a choice about how my actions affect my neighbors. I want my presence in Harlem to make a positive impact.

How am I going to do that? First of all, I’m getting involved with local issues. My friend Maya (whom I profiled in my traveling solo as a woman of color interview) lives and works in Harlem as a community organizer! We’ve already talked about me joining her at the meetings and helping out.

There are times when they’ll need a photographer with a good camera, she told me. There’s a chance they could need help with social media outreach or something web-oriented. Or they might just need another set of hands. Those are ways I can contribute.

Second, I’m perusing the longtime local businesses as well as the hipster ones. Yes, I love my lattes from the cute coffee shops, but I also love the no-frills juice stands up and down Broadway. I love the pappardelle al cinghiale at Bono as well as the tamales from the truck on 145th street. I don’t flee the neighborhood to get my nails done, even though the salons here are on the rough side. Instead of getting everything delivered from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I shop at the discount grocery stores in the neighborhood, along with the local health food store. I’m getting tickets to see the Dance Theatre of Harlem in April.

Third, I’m observing how people behave here and following suit. For example, I’ve noticed that, as in Asia and Latin America, the elderly are given an enormous amount of respect here. More so than in other parts of America. If you so much as grab fruit from the same bin as an elderly person, lord help you. Treat them like kings and queens here.

Fourth, I’m making an effort to get to know my neighbors. Such a small thing, but very important. As an introvert, chatting up strangers in the grocery store isn’t my favorite thing to do, but I know this will have good effects.

Fifth, I plan to write more about Harlem and Hamilton Heights here. If I convince you to come up for a visit — or even move here — that’s a good thing. Maybe I should host some reader meetups at Harlem Public!

Finally, I’m here to listen and learn and understand. I’m reading up more on black history and Harlem history. (Currently: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, someone I know very little about despite taking AP US History.) I’m checking out the local meetup groups. I’m honestly game for anything going on in the neighborhood that will help me get to know it better.

Hamilton Heights, Harlem

This is only the beginning.

I’ve only been here a few weeks, in the dreary winter, no less. Only time will tell whether I made the right choice. I will say this, however — I am very optimistic about my future here. Several times a day, my heart feels like it’s exploding with happiness at my new life.

If you’re in a similar position to me and contemplating a move to New York City, know that Brooklyn is not the only acceptable place to live. There are tons of great neighborhoods all over the city and you shouldn’t overlook Harlem.

If you’re looking for an apartment with nice amenities — like a renovated apartment or a dishwasher — or you want more square footage, Hamilton Heights should definitely be on your list. If you want to live alone, I’d highly recommend looking here.

But Harlem is more than just a cheap place to live. This neighborhood is rich in beauty and culture and has so much to discover. I can’t wait to share it all with you.


124 Best Things to Do in Harlem

Why I moved to Harlem instead of Brooklyn

If you could live anywhere in New York, where would you live?

118 thoughts on “Why I Moved to Harlem Instead of Brooklyn”

  1. This is such a thoughtful post. I know very little about NYC (I’ve only been to Manhattan for a single day), and it’s a bit eye-opening to read about how different some of the boroughs are and how far apart they might be. I have the same view of gentrification, and it’s cool to hear how you plan to become involved in your new neighborhood. (And, as someone who’s really close to my sister, I think it’s great you ended up close to yours!)

  2. AMAZING article. Really does justice to the neighorhood and the issues related to living there. If I come by NYC in the near future, I will be sure to drop you a line!

  3. Wow, congrats!

    “You can get a renovated one-bedroom with an elevator, counter space, and a dishwasher for just $1,800. ”

    We’ve lived in and around NYC for 20 years and that just floors me. We come back to New York regularly and would love to keep a place there as a base but it’s hard to justify because of the off-the-charts rents. Have to check out your new hood. πŸ˜‰

  4. I find the choice of Brooklyn neighborhoods that you looked at kind of funny. Most of them are SUPER nice and I I would love to live in them. And then there’s Bushwick. I agree with your assessment. I lived there for a little bit a couple of years ago (after that I lived in Sunset park, a short distance from Park Slope) and knew nothing about it. Turns out…it’s weird. Also, My 3rd floor apartment was robbed twice in one month (probably by the same people) and they never used the door. I think your choice of Harlem is awesome! I had a friend that lived there for a bit and when I visited, I was really impressed. Her apartment was HUGE and beautiful. If I moved back to the city, I would totally check that area out. I look forward to reading your posts about it!

    1. Congrats on your new place! I loved your thoughts on where to live. I visited Harlem on a recent NYC visit, and was blown away by how beautiful it is there. I am planning a move later this year from the Chicago suburbs to Evanston for many of the reasons you mentioned. I love the idea of staying overnight there first. I think I will rent a place for a few days this summer, before I make my final decision.

      1. what street in Hamilton Heights you are living at? My daughter is considering 144th and Covenant Ave.at Hamilton Terrace. Is this a good zone for her? She is 26 yrs. old and will be working at Times square area. Any advice for her will be appreciated!

        1. My street is private.

          Yes, I think 144th at Convent is a great place to live. That’s in the heart of the historic district — most beautiful part of the neighborhood and super close to the trains.

  5. I think it’s important to mention, as you did, the concept of gentrification in any neighborhood you move into. And it’s not that far from Times Square! I took the subway to see my friend, who lives around The Cloisters, from the Meatpacking District and was there in 15-20 minutes. Can’t wait to hear more what you think of it!

  6. Great post Kate! I chose my neighborhood in Chicago for very similar reasons. I’ll never live downtown. It’s just not for me. There is a lot to be said about neighborhood pride and investment!
    I love that you are implementing what you’ve learned and experienced during your travels- a time when the road is home- into the decision of where you would live.

    Oh and, pssh whatever Matt! πŸ˜‰

    1. Wonderful well-thought out article. It came as a surprise that you are white. I too had some pre-conceptions about Harlem…then again, I moved out of New York over 25 years ago, just as the developers discovered the beautiful brownstones of 125th Street and began gentrifying that area.
      In the years before that, 145th St. was where we went to score our nickel bags…and it was a dangerous area.
      Heard it got gentrified, and from your article and the comments, Hamilton Hts. sounds like a safe and fun place to live. I just hope the folks who lived there affordably haven’t been forced out of their homes and joined the ranks of New York’s homeless.

  7. I love this post! As a native New Yorker I can attest to the pain of paying rent here. I dreamt of living in Brooklyn since high school, but when I finally saved up enough to move out of my parents apartment after traveling, I just couldn’t stomach the price/quality/lack of convenience of Brooklyn as much as I love it. I just wrote a post on giving up my Brooklyn dreams to move to Astoria, Queens! I highly recommend it as an alternative. Safest in the city, good rent for huge space, and it FEELS like a city near Broadway and 30th ave. Plus, unbeatable commute to midtown. I’d like to explore Harlem more too, but I love exploring Astoria so far.

      1. I realize this was all posted months ago– but I’m moving to New York in a couple weeks and have been looking at places in Harlem. If I’m being honest, I truly don’t know much of anything about NYC. Reading this really encouraged me and made me feel a little less lost about all of this. I’m obviously excited, but definitely nervous. If you guys are doing meet ups, I would absolutely love to join. Having any kind of connections out there would be so appreciated!

        1. Good luck with your move! You’ll figure it out, I promise. Lots of NY newbies end up moving several times in the first few months as they find their place. So don’t worry if you end up choosing something less than ideal. It can be temporary.

  8. When i think of Harlem i think crime, black drug dealers/thiefs etc but your post proves it has a good side

    With how much you are paying cant you get a mortgage? Cant help think paying so much rent each month is just wasted money paying some landlords mortgage

    1. Two things: first, that’s a very outdated view of Harlem. But I can understand why you think that. Tragedy casts a long shadow, and I know people who still associate Croatia and South Africa with their 90s conflicts.

      But a mortgage? Yikes. No way. You need to pay a 20% down payment on a mortgage in NYC, so for a place like this, that would be a minimum of $100,000, not including the extra costs involved in buying a home. It blows my mind that in some parts of the country you can buy a house without a down payment.

    2. When you think of Harlem you think black drug dealers?!!! New York was so much better before all of you racists hell bent of gentrifying came here. Stay in the suburbs for god’s sake!

    3. *deep sigh* harlem has been in the midst of gentrification for the past 20 years… and harlem has always has always had a good side, it just didn’t involve white people so no one cared. arts, music, food and culture have been a huge part of harlem even through the worst of years. ever heard of the apollo theatre?

  9. I’ve been visiting NYC since I was a little girl, and I’ve grown to appreciate all of the neighborhoods more and more as I visit as an adult. Your post makes me want to check out Harlem a LOT. One of my best friends is right on the edge of the Lower East Side and I do like it down there!

  10. I’ve lived in Harlem for 10 years and don’t regret a minute of it! I started off near you, in Hamilton Heights. Hello neighbor πŸ™‚

    I must say that some of these comments made me livid (I’m looking above) and people have a outdated and racist view of Harlem. Harlem is beautiful, friendly and safe. Enjoy it here and maybe we’ll cross paths sometime!

  11. Sounds like a great place for you! I have a friend who lived in Harlem and he loved it. I don’t know NYC all that well, but I would think that would be much more convenient than Brooklyn.

    So many adventures are coming for you in your new home!! πŸ˜€

  12. It’s disheartening to see people who travel refer to unfamiliar places as weird. Those are neighborhoods that raised them, gave the life, taught them lessons, fed them, nurtered them, LOVED them. But because it isn’t what you are accustomed to it’s weird? But you leave your homes searching for “culture”. I dont think you understand what culture is. What culture is not, is entertainment or a bought experience for white people to move into or afford for the moment. It is a way of life that is near and dear to our hearts, our parent’s hearts, our ancestors hearts.
    I challenge you all to be as open to learning as Kate is. I hope that you will visit Harlem and realize as you walk down the street that you are walking the same path that Malcolm X did as he became one of our greatest heroes. That yiu will realize that you are sitting on the same corners that Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston created masterpieces. Understand that the beat in the street is what gave life to their work and still pumps in the veins of their descendats and those influenced by them.
    I challenge you to embrace the culture where you go rather than other it.
    Love and light.

  13. Congrats on the new place–sounds like you found a great spot! I’ve spent a little time in Harlem visiting friends over the past few years, and it has always seemed warm and welcoming. My friends have found it to be a great value as well.

  14. when i lived in NYC, besides living in the Village for several months
    as well as Upper West and East sides for few months each,
    i spent extended weeks living in Harlem and Spanish Harlem- Wash Heights too;
    when in LA, my last 2 apartments were right on Skid Row (poorer and far more dangerous
    than ever Harlem was)
    were i considering returning to the Big Apple, i would live once again in Harlem
    or Spanish Harlem in a New York minute…

  15. That sounds like a great place to live! I’ve never been to NY, but from the movies, TV shows, books and pop culture, I think Brooklyn or Queens would be right up my alley. Definitely, not Manhattan, much too pricey and over the top for me!

  16. I don’t know much about New York as a place to live in or America for that matter, but the reasons that you moved to Harlem instead of Brooklyn are as sound and valid as they can possibly be.

    I love the description of your apartment and goodness, €1,800 in a lovely part of New York, is cheap as chips!

    I’m a British expat living in Berlin and I know how easy it is to be in an expat bubble, which is why I live in an upper-middle-class East-Berlin German gentrification suburb, instead of the American-British expat suburb, in West Berlin!

    It also gives me the greatest pleasure to be one of the very few people of colour living anywhere in East Berlin!

    I look forward to reading more about the Big Apple!

  17. Next time I go to NY, I will definitely go and see Harlem πŸ™‚ Congratulation with an apartment!! Looking forward to read more about your new neighborhood.

  18. We’ve lived in Hamilton Heights for about 15 years and have brought up two daughters here who are now 16 and 14. Welcome to the neighborhood. It’s a nice place notwithstanding the shadow of hipsterization cast by places like Harlem Public. Just, you know, no need to tell quite so many people about it

  19. It’s great that you’ve found a permanent place! Brooklyn definitely seems to be in the spotlight, but Harlem seems really nice as well. I’ll definitely make sure to check it out the next time I visit New York, and congrats!

  20. Hah, I’m with you on this! My go-to friend in NYC lives in Harlem and that’s where I always stay – a few blocks from you I think! I’ve been spending time in the neighborhood for years and absolutely love it. And I’ve never felt unsafe, even late at night on my own.

  21. Just from watching your snapchats everyday and seeing your excitement over the move, I love how much the move has put you in a happy place. I think it’s great that you are going to engage in the local community, I think in this decade too many people have forgotten about that. At the end of the day, where you live is up to you and it’s wherever is going to work for you.

  22. You’ve definitely done your research!

    I’m going to take your mindset and apply it to my life here in Milwaukee. I moved here in November, and I haven’t really gotten out and explored much. I’ve found a few places near my apartment I’m fond of, but I’m hoping when the weather gets nicer and the days are longer I can treat every day as a new adventure and explore new places. It helps that my mom is originally from here, but even though I’ve known this city my whole life, I feel like an outsider. Looking forward to changing that.

    Enjoy exploring your new home πŸ™‚

  23. I cannot say enough positive things about this article. Bravo all around–and especially on the excellent points about gentrification and your recognition of your ability to make a contribution to your neighborhood.

    Another really awesome neighborhood (and “up and coming” as they say) is my old neighborhood in Astoria. Particularly the area up by Ditmars Blvd is amazing! I lived there for 6 years after the recession went rents were super low. They are still some of the lowest in the city–especially for the extra space you get and the excellent mix of cultures and bars/restaurants. I so rarely felt I had to leave to find what I needed to live and have fun.

    I highly recommend you to take a look over there and pay attention to its wonderful clash of cultures. The area has strong Greek origins mixed with a large Italian and Asian population. You can also check out upper Steinway street to experience New York’s “Little Egypt” – think Mediterranean and hookah bars galore!

    Perhaps I’ll catch you down in the NYC area in the next couple of months. I may be moving back very soon! Have fun! πŸ™‚

  24. I won’t be moving to NYC but I’m not at all happy where I live now in Florida (where I moved from Boston – huge culture shock). I”m developing my own list of what I need most in a new city to live in and then hoping to find a place that meets at least the highest priorities on my list. I can’ live somewhere with the politics of Florida – guess I’ll start by looking at blue states! But I want to be able to walk to some sort of town center, to not live in a resort area (as I do now) that is very seasonal and all fairly wealthy old white people – zero diversity. I moved here for family reasons but I don’t need to stay and I’m plotting my escape. Reading about your thoughtful presence was helpful. I hope you’re very happy in your new apartment and neighborhood!

  25. What a great read on the area you are living in! I applaud you for stating that YES you are white person – glad that you are not pretending other wise and will be helping the community there. I hope you do regular meetups in the area.

    It would be wonderful to visit the area and join a meeup!

  26. Such a beautiful post! Really interesting to see your reasons for moving to Harlem & I get it. I live in Shepherds Bush so I get the ‘ah wow, you’re so far west?!’….um, yeah I’m like 10 mins from Oxford Street, fools!

    I’m loving your snaps of Harlem btw πŸ™‚

  27. Congrats on your move to NYC! It’s so great getting your own place and decorating it how you’d like. And Harlem is a fantastic area with many great restaurants, bars and things to do. I think you’ll really enjoy exploring it once the weather warms up.

    I would also agree that there are many nice and more affordable areas in NYC outside of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. For example, I’ve lived in Astoria, Queens (which a few people have commented on already) for years and, compared to Brooklyn and Harlem, it’s a hidden gem (although more people are definitely finding out about it and moving here). Way more space for your money, amazing restaurants (lots of Greek food), not far from the East River which makes for a great run with views of Manhattan, lots of parks and a nice neighborhood vibe. If you ever get the chance, you should check out Queens (the M60 goes from Harlem to Astoria on its way to Laguardia Airport).

    Congrats again and enjoy Harlem!

  28. We would KILL for a 1-bd with all those amenities in San Francisco. (My sister’s studio, in albeit, a very trendy area with NO amenities is about to go for close to $3k). Glad to see there are still pockets on the island of Manhattan that are still reasonable (in my opinion). Good luck!!

  29. Ah, this post has me missing NYC! I left in November to travel, but I don’t think I could ever really say goodbye. The neighborhood you live in is such a personal matter! That being said, Astoria will always have my heart <3 I think it's really important what you said about learning the history of a neighborhood. Us implants have to be respectful of the people who have been living there for decades! Your apartment looks super cute on Snapchat! I love how people call that "so far away" because Harlem is really pretty central to the action! I guess if you live in far out Bushwick it's kind a pain, though..But hey, that's your own fault for paying an arm and a leg to live in Bushwick πŸ˜›

  30. Welcome to the neighborhood. And the best part of Harlem is that it still has its many neighborhoods, despite rising gentrification — of which I am a part. I love stoop-sitting. It’s a time to admire the beauty of Sugar Hill while saying hi neighbors or just passersby. Harlem is a great and variegated place. You will enjoy getting to know its many parts. (And, by the way I lived in Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg, loving them both) But Harlem is the place to call home.

  31. Kate, I really enjoyed reading about your experience. I have a family friend who was in the same situation as you, and she too contemplated living in many different neighborhoods. I appreciate the measures that you are taking to β€œfit in” with the locals. This is such an important thing to do, and, even if it is hard, I’m sure you will get positive results! You briefly mentioned your experience with AirBnB for your visits, and I’m glad to hear that it went well. Personally, I have had uneasy feeling about staying at a stranger’s house, but reading your great review, I think I might reconsider for the future. Do you think that you will ever move to a different part of New York, especially because you like to travel so much?–Naomi

  32. Literally moving to Hamilton Heights on Thursday! So excited to hear what other gems you discover. I love it up there and am so excited for our new place.

  33. Interesting article. I am glad that you addressed the issue of gentrification and you vowed to make a positive contribution to Harlem. I’ve only been to Harlem a few times so I am nowhere the best person to speak about the neighborhood. But it is such an integral part of NYC and I hope it never loses its soul.

  34. I stayed in a hostel in Harlem the first time I went to NYC. The transport was great and it was an interesting part of the city. Thanks for sharing!

  35. West Harlem has definitely gentrified a lot in the past few years and Red Rooster has often been mentioned as a huge factor. I keep hearing that restaurant’s name whenever West Harlem is mentioned and I did walk past it once. And everyone loves to talk about how NPH lives up there too.

    I’m on the UWS so lower than you and I do have roommates. But I love my neighborhood, I’m 15 minutes from work on the 1,2,3, near Central Park and Riverside Park and my building had all the amenities we wanted–elevator and laundry in building, dishwasher etc. It’s small but that’s NYC for you.

    I never really got the allure of Brooklyn. My roommates and I tried for a weekend to look at apartments and we just somehow found better deals in Manhattan than Brooklyn, it’s gotten even more expensive than Manhattan in certain neighborhoods. My sister lives in Crown Heights and loves it. I have coworkers who live in Bushwick–never been but from the way you describe it my coworkers probably fit right in as a lot of them are freelance cartoonists and super artsy.

    1. You should eat at Red Rooster sometime! It’s fabulous.

      I love the UWS but I really couldn’t do roommates at this point in my life. Sounds like you’ve got a good deal, though!

  36. A good friend of mine is thinking about moving to this area in the spring! I read this post and sent it to her right away. Thanks for writing such a useful piece about your new neighborhood. I love that you took the road less traveled – even in your choice of neighborhood πŸ™‚

  37. Thanks for sharing your experience, what you’ve learned and love, and your explorations! I really enjoyed reading your words, and your excitement resonates loudly. I have made the decision to move to New York, specifically Hamilton Heights; without ever having the pleasure to visit! I have a desire and need to live somewhere different at this time in my life; somewhere drastically different from other places I’ve ever lived. Reading your blog and the comments of others has made my decision more sweet than bitter.

    Looking forward to moving there and becoming one with the people, culture, and arts. I’m daydreaming about the many restaurant options afforded to me; trying new foods and wines and dancing into the late hours during the middle of the week. I can’t tell you the countless hours I’ve spent exploring pictures posted on Instagram tagged with hastags “All Things Harlem”!

    I stumbles across your blog at the right time and on time. I needed the motivation. Keep writing, sharing, and posting! Gracias Chica!

    1. Oh, please make sure you visit before finding an apartment!! One of the smartest things I did before moving to New York was to spend time in lots of different neighborhoods and see what felt right to me. One place that seemed to be the best fit for me on paper, Crown Heights, was a place where I never felt comfortable, even though I have friends who live there and love it. And I never would have known that without checking it out myself.

  38. I live in the same neighborhood and feel the exact same way. Its awesome to see how the neighborhood has changed

  39. Well this article that i’ve been waited for so long. I need this article to complete my assignment in the college, and it has same topic with your article. Thanks, great share.

  40. Your enthusiasm for Harlem and life is contagious.

    I got a job in Mt. Vernon, two stops away from the 125th St on the Metro North line. Can you help with the east side? I would love to land some place with space and a good neighborhood in that area, I know nothing about it.

    Would love to hear from back if you or anyone has tips on the east side.


  41. Thanks for the thoughtfully written piece. I am looking in Hamilton Heights mostly because of my budget but also because I want to be further downtown and in a neighborhood that has community. I am moving from Washington Heights. I’ve lived all over, East Village, Murray Hill and Astoria as well. Safety is very important. I’ve heard that some blocks are not safe in Hamilton Heights. Is this true? I’m looking at a building on 143rd and Broadway.

  42. Hi I just came across this entry in your blog and wanted to thank you for writing this insightful piece! My husband and I just moved to Hamilton heights a month ago (after the same Brooklyn search experience you went through). It’s definitely a new neighborhood and new demographic for the two of us and I constantly find myself thinking about how the long-time locals perceive two new yuppies walking around their neighborhood. I enjoyed reading your suggestions about how to get more involved with the community. Thank you!

  43. Thanks for this post! I’m moving to New York from Oregon in November (I work online too) and was looking into neighborhoods. How did you find your rental listings? I know that you spend several nights in neighborhoods you’re considering, but do you find actual listings in the paper or Craig’s List or do you just look for “for rent” signs while walking around?

    I keep hearing about people working with brokers like it’s an unavoidable thing. Did you have to pay a broker fee?

    1. StreetEasy.com is the main resource I used. I also used PadMapper. I did pay a broker fee (I lucked out and it was one month’s rent instead of the usual 15% of the year’s rent). Listings without a broker fee do exist, but they are extremely rare. I probably could have found one without a broker fee but it was more important to me to get a nice place. And I love my place.

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