Saturday, July 06, 2013

A weekend in Milan

Miss Self-Important (see what I did there?), others interested in Styles journalism, you may want to bookmark this one.

It has, oh, everything. (I now see Gawker is already on the case, but it's too easy of a target for them.) We've got:

-An Upper East Sider who thinks going downtown is like visiting Milan, which I sure know is how I felt commuting from the UES to high school at the edge of Tribeca. A Northern Italian vacation every day. (Actually, the gym teacher who almost failed me second term senior year had a last name that's also that of a different Northern Italian city, so, perhaps.)

-Another UESer, on dining out downtown: "'You can go out to dinner and you don’t have to be dressed.'” Indeed, it's so bohemian that one can go to restaurants in the nude.

-Another UESer, on why she had to make that pioneering trek:

For Suzanne Cochran and her husband, Robert, a founder of the Build America Mutual Assurance Company, it was a downtown soiree some years ago that persuaded them to buy a pied-à-terre in TriBeCa. “We were at a friend’s party,” Ms. Cochran recalled. “She is a very downtown girl, and it was all my favorite kind of people: artists — cool, hip people. And we were the only ones who lived on the Upper East Side.”
-A whole bunch of uptown residents buying what they call a "pied-à-terre" downtown, troubling both because they think downtown is another city (or country?) and because their little hubs in the Village or whatever are massively out-of-reach to those trying to live in that area full-time. (Beware the pitchfork-wielding NYU grad students.)

-A weird sort of reinforcement of the ridiculous belief many downtown still share, that they're somehow not a bunch of stuffy finance types and trustafarians, even though that's what "downtown" has been for a good long while now, with the exception of the NYU profs in subsidized housing and the rent-controlled stragglers. But the mere existence of an even-stuffier set, for whom south of 59th Street is an adventure, makes them scrappy by default. And there's nothing a "downtown" finance type living in an amenity-filled building-and-area seems to enjoy more than being told he's actually a gentrifying hipster. According to a real-estate developer, downtown “'is much more diverse, it isn’t all fund managers, but artists, literary people, then some Wall Street sprinkled in.'” I kind of think dude's got the proportions wrong. But intentionally so - this is, it seems, what sells.

-There's a cheeky (correct use of British English?) reference to the One Percent.

-There's this bit:
“You are seeing people ask themselves: Do I have an affair, get a divorce or get a downtown apartment?” said Michele Kleier, the president and chairwoman of Kleier Residential, a brokerage with a large uptown clientele. “It has become a very sexy thing to do, especially for those people living a sedate Park Avenue lifestyle.”
-All the more so, this:
Ms. Kleier recently represented two Upper East Side families who are warehousing downtown apartments for their children. One couple bought two two-bedroom apartments for their high school-age children in Battery Park City; the other bought a three-bedroom for their son at 150 Charles Street in the West Village, which won’t be completed until 2015. Asking prices there are averaging nearly $4,000 a square foot. “By that time he will be in college, so he can live there if he’s in New York or they can rent it out,” Ms. Kleier said.
No, readers, you weren't "warehoused" a lower Manhattan apartment. It's fine, me neither. Despite that massive life obstacle, we shall march on.

14 comments:

Petey said...

1) It's an Onion story, not a NYT story. I know lots of folks fell for it, but shouldn't you know better? Did you grow up in rural Idaho or something?

2) Downtown is the new Bushwick!

3) "and the rent-controlled stragglers"

Stragglers? How 'bout the rent-stabilized strivers?

Last time I looked up the figures, something like 40% of the residencies on the Big Island aren't market priced. Which is why the Big Island is still the best place to live in the world, despite all the rich scum who kindly provide a decent tax base. Thank god for Shelly Silver and the good voters of the Empire State. Last place in the country where the middle class actually rule.

And rent-stabilized apartments are available to anyone who bothers to do some homework and footwork. The only folks who pay market price on the Big Island are the rich and the nescient. When I arrived, not all that long ago, and did my due diligence on rent-stabilized homesteads south of 14th, I had a handful to choose from within a few moon cycles. If you will it, it is no dream.

fourtinefork said...

Petey,
Do pretty please tell more about how to get one of these rent-stabilized homesteads. I don't care if it's south of 14th St (I live in Harlem now, and I like it. I But it is far from my favorite bars, if closer to work. I lived in Bushwick before this, and didn't like it.) And I have extremely low standards, apparently, both in men and real estate, but then that's derailing this into oversharing of a different type.

Actually, speaking of which, I'll overshare anyway. I dated a dude who then was all excited by the nightlife he was discovering in Brooklyn with his new girlfriend. (I didn't care. Why would I care what he's doing with some woman who was not me?) Dude lived in midtown, though, so that should have scared me off from the get-go.

Petey said...

"Dude lived in midtown, though, so that should have scared me off from the get-go."

Indeed. Beware romantic partners who are addicted to meth, refuse to tell you their last name, or live in midtown.

"Do pretty please tell more about how to get one of these rent-stabilized homesteads."

No secrets. Just lots and lots and lots of homework and legwork. Do research, tap deep into your social network, scour ads, go meet tons of brokers, go off the beaten track wherever you can, be persistent, etc, etc. (The only thing approximating a 'secret' I came up with is that non-English based brokers are a good resource.)

I treated it as an almost full-time freelance gig for a few months while couch-surfing. It was genuinely hard work, but I thought, and continue to think, that it was a highly worthwhile use of my time. Sweat equity. I like the Big Island, and appreciate having a stable and affordable homestead therein.

"I don't care if it's south of 14th St"

But you should care. The first-up-against-the-wall worthless rich scum have a perfectly decent point here. The Island is a bit more manageable if you can spend as much time as possible south of 14th. It's a nicer life eight different ways to Tuesday.

Phoebe said...

Yes, anything in life can be turned into a research project. For example, yuba, or fresh tofu skin, can be made from scratch in a NJ apartment. But just because it can doesn't mean that those who don't make it are idiots or rubes or I don't even.

No, there isn't some magic parallel Craigslist for those interested in paying $500/mo to live in the Village. When people move to New York, they typically do so for some reason, such as school or a job, and have a really limited amount of time to find a place. Or the rent goes up on one you're in, and same deal. I'm not sure how many friends would react well to learning that their couch-surfer wasn't in a bind, but turning the hunt for the perfect rental into "an almost full-time freelance gig."

And then let's say you do get to live south of 14th Street. Congratulations! You get to live in an area that is now almost identical to the posh neighborhoods uptown. And that, once again, was why that NYT story was so Styles-tastic. Proximity to the Marc Jacobs empire on Bleecker isn't any cooler than proximity to the Ralph Lauren one on Madison.

Petey said...

"Yes, anything in life can be turned into a research project. For example, yuba, or fresh tofu skin, can be made from scratch in a NJ apartment."

But what if you made fresh tofu skin from scratch once, and that one act resulted in you continually having fresh tofu skin for decades? A better analogy, no? Sweat equity doesn't really apply to dinner.

"When people move to New York, they typically do so for some reason, such as school or a job, and have a really limited amount of time to find a place. Or the rent goes up on one you're in, and same deal."

No doubt! The fact that I was able to carefully plan out a way to pour sweat equity into getting an affordable and stable homestead is a form of My Privilege Is Showing, even if it's not trust-fund privilege.

I shall rephrase: the only folks who pay market rate are the rich, the nescient, the lacking free-time, and the lazy.

"I'm not sure how many friends would react well to learning that their couch-surfer wasn't in a bind, but turning the hunt for the perfect rental into "an almost full-time freelance gig."

My friends were pre-informed, highly supportive, and looking forward to being owed a social debt by someone who was going to have a well-located homestead. And I actually had several backup host-amenable friends who were quite enthusiastic about the project. The concept seemed to tickle folks' fancy.

(This is an example of social capital genuinely being a replacement for real capital. Another MPIS, perhaps?)

"And then let's say you do get to live south of 14th Street. Congratulations!"

Thanks! I was beginning to think your comment was merely reverse-schadenfreude bitterness. Glad to be wrong about that!

"You get to live in an area that is now almost identical to the posh neighborhoods uptown. And that, once again, was why that NYT story was so Styles-tastic. Proximity to the Marc Jacobs empire on Bleecker isn't any cooler than proximity to the Ralph Lauren one on Madison."

Aw, c'mon now. Would you really prefer to live uptown on Madison than than south of 14th, given similar apartments? Or even consider them "almost identical" options? As stated, the worthless rich scum actually have a decent point here about the desirability of downtown. I could give you a multitude of reasons why south of 14th (and north of Battery Park City) is a superior solution, but I'm not sure you genuinely believe what you're writing on that point, so I'll refrain...

Phoebe said...

Most apartment searches in NYC are simply not investments in the way you describe. Even someone who will end up living in the city for life may do such things as couple off, have kids. Or simply get a bit older, earn a bit more, and want a larger apartment. But "lacking in free time" isn't some tiny subcategory of apartment-searchers in the city. That's the all-but-universal situation.

But after seeing the city change even just in my own lifetime, I'd have to say that I'm honestly not sure what the great advantage is of downtown (nice dig at BPC, by the way). Whenever I'm back in the city, I end up discovering or being led to interesting places elsewhere (other boroughs or further uptown - have you seen the Japanese restaurants just off Times Square? And it's kind of possible to visit them without entering Times Square), and finding that downtown is useful mainly for its concentration of the better mall stores (Uniqlo, Sephora, Camper, Ricky's). Is there some incredible arts-and-culture scene hidden amidst the fratty East Village bars that are no different from the Murray Hill equivalent? I mean, there's Sunrise Mart, but there's one of those in Midtown as well.

So apart from the West Village townhouses being pretty, and apart from my own enjoyment of some of the current yuppie amenities of that area (Murray's Cheese, various hipster coffee shops that sometimes now - yup - have UES branches), I don't see the difference. The people may seem more artsy, but they're simply European tourists who've gone downtown for Adidas-pas-cher.

So please, do tell.

Petey said...

"So please, do tell."

1) It's easier than having an affair or getting a divorce.

2) Why do you hate Milan, anyway?

3) Walkability

This is a biggie for me. Best place in the city for having lots and lots of places you might want to go within convenient walking distance.

4) Scale

This is even bigger for me; perhaps the biggest. There is something about the low density that makes me feel notably more comfortable. It feels more human, in a Jane Jacobs kind of way.

5) People

You can dismiss it all you want, but in my expeience, I really do find downtown folks more congenial and appealing, to generalize.

6) Price/Value

Things of equivalent value tend to be cheaper downtown, in my experience.

7) Accessibility

Given the way the subway is laid out, it tends to be easier to get wherever you want to go if you start out downtown. (And I know we're just talking uptown vs downtown here, but we all know the biggest problem with living in Brooklyn/Queens: you can't get anywhere else in Brooklyn/Queens.)

8) Social Capital

Folks want to visit you. Folks think more highly of you. I find this nice.

9) Social Cohesion

It really does feel like a village in genuine ways.

10) All the worthless rich scum in their pied-à-terres are gone during the week.

11) It helps prevent your spouse from having an affair or getting a divorce.

fourtinefork said...

I'm not feeling any better about my inability to land a cheap apartment in a more centrally-located neighborhood. :(




Phoebe said...

Fourtinefork,

I wouldn't feel bad about this. The only time I ever lived below-market-rate in lower Manhattan, it was in Battery Park City (which Petey, the self-appointed arbiter of such things, deems insufficiently hip), and it was only because of some fluke where a landlord living abroad had availed himself of the services of the world's most inept local broker (this for a no-fee apartment). But man was that a great apartment. Before that place, I paid very much market-rate, pre-recession, in Park Slope for my half of a top-floor hovel with a carbon-monoxide problem. Realistically, if you're in NYC to do something (work, school), you take the apartment that's ready when you need one ASAP.

Petey said...

"The only time I ever lived below-market-rate in lower Manhattan, it was in Battery Park City (which Petey, the self-appointed arbiter of such things, deems insufficiently hip), and it was only because of some fluke where a landlord living abroad had availed himself of the services of the world's most inept local broker (this for a no-fee apartment). But man was that a great apartment."

You prove my point: if you will it, it is no dream.

It's not easy to find rent-stabilized apartments on the Big Island, but it really is possible.

fourtinefork should keep her eyes open, and treat it as a long-term project. With such a large percentage of the housing stock regulated, it can be done. Again, I'm not saying it's easy, but unlike Phoebe, I consider the advantages of rent-stabilization to be so utterly overwhelming on so many levels that the hoops are worth jumping through, assuming you think you want to plant stable roots here. (I can list those advantages too, but I do think they're mostly obvious.)

"Realistically, if you're in NYC to do something (work, school), you take the apartment that's ready when you need one ASAP."

Sure. But like I say, you prove my point. You were here to do something, but you still managed to eventually get yourself off market-price, prior to absconding the Big Island. (I came here to do something too. I just was able to execute on a plan to arrive a bit early specifically to have the free time to find an optimal regulated homestead.)

And FWIW, I'm anti-BPC not out of "hipness" concerns, but instead because it's a bit too isolated and distant for my personal preferences. Inner-ring suburb, indeed. But I'd still choose a regulated place in BPC over a market-priced place elsewhere, were those my only two choices.

Phoebe said...

OK, we're missing the big picture here, though, which is that if the Village (and SoHo, Tribeca, etc.) is a place where it requires a major research project/pseudo-full-time-job that few are able to do to get a middle-class-rent apartment, that tells us something about the area.

I mean, say one does win whichever lottery and get a one-bedroom in the West Village. (I'll take three, please.) Then what? You'll find yourself living in an area not meant for people with your budgetary restrictions. You'll spend every day passing by interesting-looking restaurants and bars that you can't afford. You'll be near some cutting-edge fashion, like that whole Howard Street corridor just above Chinatown, but to what end? No, not everyone's in finance, but a lot are people playing at being bohemian, but with family money you can only infer from how often they can afford to go out. Yes, the people will be more attractive than your average suburban supermarket shopper, but that's because they're the rich offspring of rock stars and supermodels, or people who've come to the city specifically for the kind of work where being blessed in this way is essential. It's all very pretty to look at, but you live with this sense that you have nothing to do with any of it.

fourtinefork said...

Phoebe's got a great point about being surrounded by all kinds of delights you can't afford. And also, my experience when visiting friends who have managed to find somewhat affordable apartments in desirable/expensive neighborhoods is that their apartments have been kind of awful. I imagine even if I could find a $1,200 studio in the East Village
it would be disgusting. An ex-boyfriend has a very large, below market 1BR in brownstone Brooklyn (2 blocks from a subway) but it is an absolute shithole. The appliances date from the 1960s (seriously-- I checked), the refrigerator doesn't have a functioning freezer, and no amount of scrubbing will ever do anything to that bathroom. But it was around $1,700 a month (probably a little more now: we broke up a while ago.) I doubt he'll ever move.

So that's one of the things that led me to Harlem: I pay exactly the same (for a room in a house) that I paid in Bushwick (for a room in a loft), but my space is much, much nicer. I have a ceiling fan! It's clean and recently renovated! Plus, nobody laughs at me when return my seltzer bottles for my 5 cent deposit (that adds up when you drink as much seltzer, and beer, as I do).

Petey said...

"I mean, say one does win whichever lottery and get a one-bedroom in the West Village. (I'll take three, please.) Then what? You'll find yourself living in an area not meant for people with your budgetary restrictions. You'll spend every day passing by interesting-looking restaurants and bars that you can't afford."

Well, if we're going to discuss microclimates...

I did purposely steer well clear of the "cute" West Village due to these type concerns. Massively over-gentrified, to my particular taste. Go east, or south by southeast.

But if it had come down to a binary choice of "cute" West Village vs uptown, I'd have taken "cute" West Village. The beauty of downtown is that you can walk a few blocks and be in a different microclimate.

-----

Also, I've always been baffled how humanity has been around for 70,000+ years, yet from the fossil record we can see that seltzer appeared quite recently. I'm not quite sure how the tribe survived prior to the appearance of that basic human necessity. You'd think the use of seltzer would've been contemporaneous with the use of red ochre.

Phoebe said...

I think we've arrived at our answer. Everyone needs a seltzer maker. Saves the trouble of returning bottles, and distracts you from your surroundings, which will be either too suburban for Petey's taste or too run-down for me or Fourtinefork. (That, btw, is an angle of this that came up in an offline discussion of this very topic: below-market-rate can mean you get the location but a terrible apartment otherwise.)