Monday, January 17, 2011

New York City Apartment Living

Image: Apartment blocks overlooking the Hudson River, New York City
Many years ago I spent a year living in a small apartment in Adelaide, and from memory, I must say the experience wasn’t all that bad – if you discount the neighbors from hell who constantly fought and argued, and who eventually did a ‘runner’ after leaving their rental next door trashed.

I should say, at the outset that Australians are not big on apartment living. Most of us grow up on suburban quarter-acre blocks, with large back yards, covered with swathes of green lawn, numerous trees and shrubs and other vegetation. The idea of living in a multi-storied apartment block with neighbors potentially residing above, below and to both sides of us, does not cause the heart to beat with anticipation and excitement. So it was with a sense of some trepidation that I approached my two month apartment sitting appointment in New York over the summer months of July and August, 2010. However, I needn’t have worried.

While there are no doubt ‘neighbors from hell’ living in New York apartments, the building I was calling home for eight weeks in the upper Manhattan suburb of Washington Heights didn’t include them. In fact, if it wasn’t for the occasional meeting of fellow residents in the building’s foyer or basement laundry, I could have spent two months thinking I had the building to myself. I was aware of no screaming children, no barking dogs, no blaring televisions or music, and no domestic arguments from my neighbors – although from time to time the occupants of the apartment immediately above mine did sound like they were taking part in an exercise class, judging by the thumps and bumps on the floor/ceiling.

Most New York apartments are notoriously – umm, compact. Well, most of them are anyway. Having said that, apartments can range from tiny one bedroom studio units to plush penthouse accommodations that occupy whole floors of new or renovated buildings – as the following image shows.
Yes, folks, that’s a three bedroom apartment each of which has its own en suite bathroom, with a spare fourth toilet for visitors. Needless to say, apartments like these are not for the average working Joe, and the place I stayed at was certainly on the modest size.

However, that doesn’t mean people spend their leisure time cooped up in cramped apartments, sweating away their evenings in front of their televisions. At least not all of them. I soon learnt that apartment dwellers – on Manhattan in particular – love to get out of their cramped digs whenever the opportunity allows to meet their neighbors in local parks, on sidewalks, to walk the dog, or to just rest on benches watching the world go by.

In deed, after going back through my blog entries I am surprised to see just how often I have written about my impressions of New York City park life, including Central Park, Shakespeare in the parks, my New York promenade, and others. Clearly, this notion of 'park life' made a big impression on me, but the popularity and utilization of New York City parks also testifies to the importance they play in the life the city’s residents.
Image: Streetscape of apartments in Washington Heights, New York City
I don’t know if all New York apartments have laundry facilities in their basements, but mine did, and it was a great convenience to not have to go down the road looking for the nearest launderette when washing day was due. In a previous post, I also wrote about the excellent collection of books that could be found in the basement ‘library’ of my apartment block.

Another thing our building contained – as do many other New York apartments – was a fallout shelter. I couldn’t tell if there was a separate space for the fallout shelter, or whether the basement did double duty as laundry and shelter facility. If the laundry does double as the fallout shelter, it is going to be very cramped and uncomfortable down there, as I assume many other similar shelters will be. Needless to say, I hope it never has to be used for the purpose for which it was intended.
Image: Typical fallout shelter signage… ”Duck – and cover!”
Another aspect of apartment living I found interesting was the number of pets that New Yorkers keep in their apartments. I myself was caring for two cats that never leave the confines of the apartment I was staying in, and I’m sure they are not the only house cats that spend virtually all their lives indoors. Dogs on the other hand need more space to run around in, and every evening a motley collection of canines, large and small took to the streets with their owners – or paid dog handlers – in tow to sniff trees and garden beds, and deposit their droppings wherever they saw fit.

Thankfully, most owners did the right thing and collected the droppings their pooches left behind, but some did not, and it was always worth paying attention to where you were walking in case you brought some of the poop back home with you. In deed, a New York aphorism has it that you can always tell the difference between New Yorkers and visitors, because the visitors are those who are constantly looking up at tall buildings, while the New Yorkers are always looking down at the pavement trying to avoid the dog poo!

After two months living in New York apartment I was sorry to go. It was a luxury most visitors will never get to experience, and I am delighted to have had the opportunity of living like a local. It’s an encounter I will treasure for many years.

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