POPULATION: 8,491,079 (city), 20,092,883 (metro) | TIME ZONE: Eastern | CLIMATE: Humid subtropical (cold and damp winters; unpredictable and chilly to warm spring and autumn, usually mild with low humidity; summers warm to hot and humid)
The city so nice that they named it twice. But when they did that, did it take any longer than a New York minute? Did they ever doze off in The City That Never Sleeps? Did they make it there before making it anywhere else? So many questions based on clichés, so little time. But you can be sure that none of these clichés were trotting about in 1626 when the Dutch ostensibly bought the island of Manhattan from an unnamed Native American tribe for $24. Well, by Dutch records, it was actually 60 guilders.
When converted to dollars by 19th-century historians, it came to about 24 bucks. That number has stuck with the world. But when adjusted for 21st century inflation, we’re talking about more like $951. (Not so much of a steal now, is it?) And since nobody’s sure who the Dutch actually bought it from, there’s even speculation that Manhattan was “sold” by a tribe from Long Island that was just passing through and really had no claim to the land anyway. Foreshadowing of New York traditions like selling the Brooklyn Bridge and 3-Card Monte? You decide. Either way, the colorful early history of New York starts to give you an idea of how it all came to be what it is.
At the time of the debatable Dutch acquisition, Manhattan was home to various Algonquian tribes. After that, it gets kinda confusing. The first known European visitor to the area was a Florentine explorer working for the French. His name was Giovanni da Verrazzano, and in 1524, he sailed into New York Harbor and claimed the area for France. The next year saw a Spanish expedition led by a Portuguese gent sailing for the British. Sailing into New York Harbor, he named the big river there Rio de San Antonio. Then, in 1609, while looking for something else entirely, English explorer Henry Hudson (working for the Dutch) sailed into New York Harbor, up the famous “Rio de San Antonio” to what is now Albany, turned around, sailed back to New York Harbor, and claimed the area for his Dutch employer. (Rio de San Antonio eventually became the Hudson River.)
In 1624, a Dutch fur trading settlement was established on Governors Island, which is about 800 yards below what is now Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. In 1625, the Dutch started building a fort and a citadel in lower Manhattan (then called New Amsterdam). Of course, with all the multi-national claiming that had been going on, there were bound to be challenges. And In 1664, Dutch colony Director General Peter Stuyvesant was presented with a demand by the British to surrender New Amsterdam. Which he did.
Immediately, the Brits renamed the place New York for the Duke of York (who later became later King James II). In 1673, the Dutch took a pass at taking back New York and renamed it New Orange. But in 1674, staring down the gun barrels of combined British and French forces, it quickly seemed like a good idea to return it to the Brits. More war followed, as did the inevitable infectious disease. The Lenape tribe of the Algonquins was decimated, with about 200 survivors. Yellow fever epidemics cost about 10% of the European population in the early 1700s.
In 1735, freedom of the press was born in Manhattan. Newspaper publishers had found that the way to sell papers was by writing inflamed criticism of the governor. Readers loved it. Conversely, governors found great joy in jailing newspaper publishers. One such publisher was John Peter Zenger. When Zenger printed an article critical of the (ethically questionable) new governor, the new governor had him arrested for “divers scandalous, virulent, false and seditious reflection.” After 8 months in jail, it took a jury 10 minutes of deliberation to proclaim Zenger not guilty. Zenger lives on as an historical icon for free speech. New York tabloids continue the time-honored tradition of inflammatory headlines to sell papers.
The biggest battle of the Revolution was The Battle of Long Island, fought in 1776 in what is now Brooklyn. The Americans lost, and the city became the royal crown’s command central. Loyalist refugees and as many as 10,000 escaped slaves flocked to New York, joining up with the British who were promising freedom. As the war was ending and the Brits were defeated, they transported thousands of freedmen to Nova Scotia, England and the Caribbean.
Right after the war, New York was designated the United States capital. At Wall Street’s Federal Hall, George Washington was inaugurated as the first U.S. President. The first U.S. Congress got together there. The first Supreme Court was convened there. And the Bill of Rights was drafted in Federal Hall. Among other things. Now, New York was where stuff was happening.
The city had become bigger than bellwether Philadelphia—which has suffered from a low-grade inferiority complex ever since. (This might help explain the popular T-shirt, “I’m not angry. I’m from Philly.”) Meanwhile in Manhattan, there was a significant and burgeoning free-black population. Important men like Alexander Hamilton and John Jay spearheaded abolition. The African Free School was established to educate black children, and some of its graduates went on to become leading abolition activists. By 1840, 16,000 African Americans were living in New York City.
In the 1800s, trade and immigration changed the city. The street grid system was developed, covering all Manhattan. The Erie Canal made New York more accessible to agricultural and commodities markets. Soon, the Great Irish Famine brought boatloads of Irish immigrants. By 1860, almost 25% of the city’s 800,000 residents were Irish. Germans fleeing revolution also came in waves, comprising another 25% of the population by 1860. This immigrant population helped support the machine politics of William H. Tweed’s Tammany Hall.
“Boss” Tweed was responsible for a huge degree of graft and corruption in both the city and the state. Meanwhile, suggesting that art really does grow from adversity, New York also became a literary center. Many writers ranging from Washington Irving to Herman Melville to Edgar Allan Poe all lived here. New York City also became a Great Migration destination for African Americans leaving the south. Harlem flourished with a vibrant cultural scene.
In the 20th century, New York began evolving as a world center for trade and media. The New York subway opened in 1904. That same year, the steamship General Slocum burned in the East River, killing over 1,000 people. 1911 saw one if the worst industrial disasters of all time, the infamous fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Almost 150 garment workers were killed. The event hastened development of both the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and improved requirements for factory safety. The New York skyline also began developing, with much of what was built then still recognizable today. In the 1930s, New York’s population topped 10 million, making it the first ever megacity.
The end of World War II saw an economic boom. Residential development began in Queens. Wall Street became the center of power for the world economy. In 1952, the United Nations opened, further cementing New York as a global political hub. The 1970s saw economic struggle and rising crime. As the economy improved in the 1980s, crime continued climbing. It wasn’t until the mid ‘90s that new policing strategies, a better economy and gentrification began putting a dent in crime.
September 11, 2001 forever changed New York and New Yorkers. The devastation and loss of life shook New Yorkers to their core. Losing the World Trade Center altered a skyline that had become iconic. One World Trade Center, the new building standing in its place, is the Western Hemisphere’s tallest skyscraper. Additionally, it’s the world’s fourth-tallest building by pinnacle height. The height of the spire is symbolic at 1,776 feet.
New York has always been a major immigration port of entry. From 1892 to 1924, 12 million European immigrants came in through Ellis Island. The Lower East Side of the time, with its dense immigrant population, inspired the now ubiquitous term, “melting pot.” Over one third of New York’s population was born abroad.
Tourism is also huge here, with over 50 million visitors a year bringing over $60 billion into the local economy. A chunk of those tourist dollars go to the 2,500+ galleries, museums, arts and cultural organizations in New York. Broadway has 40 theaters, and the Upper West Side has the Metropolitan and New York City Operas, the New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, the Juilliard School, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Vivian Beaumont Theater and Alice Tully Hall.
The Big Apple
The Empire City
The City That Never Sleeps
The Five Boroughs
The City So Nice They Named It Twice
I [heart] NY
RANDOM SONG ABOUT THE CITY
"New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra
PRO SPORTS TEAMS
New York Giants (NFL)
New York Jets (NFL)
New York Mets (MLB)
New York Yankees (MLB)
New York Knicks (NBA)
New York Nets (NBA)
New York Rangers (NHL)
New York Islanders (NHL)
New Jersey Devils (NHL)
New York Red Bulls (MLS)
New York City FC (MLS)
New York Liberty (WNBA)
Brooklyn Cyclones (Penn League)
Staten Island Yankees (Penn League)
Long Island Ducks (Atlantic League)
New York Sharks (WFA)
New York Cosmos (NASL)
Sky Blue FC (NWSL)
New York Lizards (MLL)
New York Rumble (MLU)
ALSO KNOWN FOR…
Madison Square Garden
The first punk band
The invention of gelatin
New York Times
New York Daily News
New York Post
The Statue of Liberty
The invention of Scrabble
The world's largest monetary-gold depository
A population of which 40% was born outside the U.S.
800 spoken languages
New York Stock Market – Wall Street
The invention of air conditioning
Pizza, pretzels & pastrami
Bars that are open until 4AM
A 24/7 subway
The Battle of Long Island--the Revolutionary War’s biggest defeat for the Americans
The United Nations
Stephen Sondheim, Bobby Flay, Bea Arthur, Barbra Streisand, Anthony Bourdain, Whoopi Goldberg, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Robert De Niro, Duke Ellington, Judd Apatow, Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay-Z, Humphrey Bogart, Ralph Lauren, Milton Berle, Al Capone, George Carlin, Sammy Davis, Jr.
This is probably the most challenging city in terms of discussing where to live. If you’re with one of the NFL teams, they’re out in New Jersey. That means, if you actually live in New York, you’re going to enjoy a reverse commute from NYC into the Garden State. Once upon a time, it may have been desirable to live in any of the suburban bedroom communities to the northeast, like New Rochelle, Scarsdale or Greenwich. But the I-95 commute has become such an unpredictable morass of bumper-to-bumper traffic, it’s difficult to suggest anything like that. Let it suffice to say that the famous New York bedroom communities along I-95 and up the Saw Mill River Parkway are all still there. They’re all lovely and expensive, and if you’re serious about living there, have at it. We will not dissuade you. For the purposes of this discussion, though, we’re going to look at two places in the main: 1) New York, because for some folks, that’s going to be The Only Place To Live, and 2) New Jersey, because for many, that’s going to be the only place that makes any sense.
If you’re the kind of person who simply has to live in NYC, you’re probably thinking Manhattan. And be prepared, because discussing Manhattan neighborhoods can make your head spin. We’re talking a dense city of neighborhoods. Almost 23 square miles of land mass hosts a resident population of over 1.6 million (which swells to almost 4 million during the business day), and has over 80 defined neighborhoods. And don’t let the $500,000 New York City median home price fool you. Value is all relative here. If you’re playing for St. Louis, half a mil can get you a 2,500 square-foot 3-bad/3-bath on a three-acre lot in Wildwood. In Manhattan, that same half a mil might get you a 600-square foot studio. Granted, that’s in a doorman building with 24-hour security and a live-in super. Sure, for that same 500K, you might luck into a fixer upper 2-bed/1.5-bath with slightly more square footage in a 1910 walkup on the Upper East side. This is just a warning: anything you think you know about real estate prices and value for the dollar goes flying out the window in New York. So, with that in mind, where do you want to live?
Are you young and on a budget and looking for good restaurants, bars, excitement and diversity? The original melting pot, Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has a reputation for energy and dynamism. It’s also an old neighborhood with rundown properties, though gentrification is taking hold. This is considered by some to be the quintessential New York experience. A completely different kind of place is Midtown. During the day, there are close to a quarter of a million people here. At night, you’re looking at about 40,000. Yes, you could assume that a lot of the businesses here are geared to 9-to-5’ers, and they close up when the sun goes down. And you’d be right. You’ll also find some expensive restaurants and slick, soulless pubs. It’s also an incredibly convenient location. Conversely, there’s that bastion of the unhip, Murray Hill. Its lack of hipness makes it more affordable, real-estate wise. Call it reliable and uninteresting. It’s safe with good schools, and offers a mix of surprisingly good Indian, Korean and Chinese restaurants.
For the hipster in you, look no further than the East Village. Great news: you’ll find the highest concentration of bars in New York. The amenities here are great, with much more right nearby. Want nightlife? You got it. Artsy folk? They’re here. Schools? Well, you can’t have everything. But New York University is close by, giving the East Village a degree of wealth and diversity unusual in the city. Got money to burn? Tribeca could be your home. Some folks consider this the city’s best neighborhood. If you’re attracted by the ideal of living in a big, bright loft with the city spread out beneath your window, it’s probably here—if you’re willing to pay the price. The median home price is bumping up against one million—and the prices climb precipitously. (Yes, you really can spend a million bucks on a studio apartment with a half bath.) Low crime rate, high-performing schools, easy access to transit, easy access to the waterfront. Diversity be damned. This is top-echelon New York living of a status that once belonged to the Upper East Side. While still expensive, the UES is slightly less so than Tribeca, not to mention older and more charming. Also, less densely packed with the fun stuff. But still—good schools and low crime.
Getting out of Manhattan and into the boroughs, Brooklyn’s Park Slope has lots of fans. Gentrification? Check. Great schools? Check. Affordability? Mmm…well, let’s just say it’s not Tribeca. You might find a nice 2-bed/2-bath co-op for under 800,000. And going back to that whole low-crime thing, add lots of green space, along with restaurants, bars and retail—not to mention a significant population of artists and creative people—and Park Slope is nifty. Take all those artists, add a healthy dose of investment bankers, downgrade the neighborhood somewhat, and you get Long Island City. With the diversity of nearby Queens and easy access to the buzz of Manhattan, this is a place to stretch your housing dollar a bit further as long as you don’t mind the risk of somewhat more crime and you don’t have kids in public school. The Queens neighborhood of Sunnyside has been referred to as a hidden gem. Hugely diverse, with residents from the near east, far east, eastern Europe and South America, this is a safe, quiet neighborhood with decent schools where your dollar goes a lot farther. Well, by the standards of NYC anyway.
One of the most interesting success stories of recent memory is Hoboken. A name that definitely enjoys a status as an easy punchline, Hoboken is known as the Mile Square City, (debatably) as the birthplace of baseball, and (definitely) as the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. With easy access to Manhattan, Hoboken has evolved into a surprisingly gentrified neighborhood with good restaurants and nightlife, and decent schools. Real estate here isn’t quite as expensive as the city, and residents love it.
Once we step out of New York City and into the land affectionately known by the New Yorker pejorative, “Bridge and Tunnel,” things change. For one, you’re much closer to both the Jets and the Giants. For another, the existence seems somewhat less like dystopian insanity. Don’t get us wrong: we love New York City. But after you live there, and then step back outside into almost any other part of the country with grass and trees where people aren’t living stacked on top of each other, there is a propensity to ask, “What was I thinking?” With that in mind, welcome to Fair Lawn. With a population around 30,000, think: small town with big amenities. (Bonus: 16 pizza joints!) The schools here are pretty good, and your housing dollar can go a ways further. The 300K that might buy you a really nice, 500-square-foot studio by the U.N. could nab you a 2-bed/2-bath house of about 1,000 square feet with a small yard. Got twice as much to spend? As much as double the size of the house. (OK, that might be stretching things a little. But that kind of value doesn’t happen in Manhattan.)
With an even smaller population, Westfield comes with somewhat higher home prices, excellent schools, and a virtually nonexistent crime rate. Great amenities abound, and fans describe Westfield as cozy, with a bucolic, small-town charm and ambience that seems from a different time. Somewhat more from the sprawl model of suburban New Jersey is Wayne. A town of 57,000 that has appeared on the Money magazine list of best places to live, Wayne is not exactly the punchline to a joke. But this is the town that gave its name to the power-pop band Fountains Of Wayne (inspired by a now-defunct Route 46 lawn ornaments store). And Hans & Franz of SNL fame once claimed they were going to open a gym in Wayne. All that said, this one-time farming community gradually turned into a summer vacation retreat for wealthy New Yorkers. In the 20th century, the summer cottages evolved into full-time homes as folks realized what a pleasant place it is to live.
Like Victorian, Tudor or Roaring-20s architecture? You can find some of those old gems in West Orange. Somewhat smaller than Wayne, West Orange has a reputation as a lovely town surrounded by two large parks. The nation’s first-ever planned community is here, Llewellyn Park—a Victorian-architecture enclave that was once home to Thomas Edison. Located in the First Mountain neighborhood, you can find older homes and estates here, some with sweeping vistas of the New York skyline. North Bergen Township is somewhat more culturally diverse, with a large Hispanic population, and more geographically diverse, located as it is on the Hudson Palisades. It’s known for having more hills per square mile than any town in the country after San Francisco. Add water views, cliffs and meadowlands to eclectic and attractive old neighborhoods, and it can be a charming town. It can also be a great place if you want a sizeable, million-dollar condo with a view of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline, and quick drive to Giants stadium.