NOT HOT: Postcard view (dated 1910) looking south on Westervelt Avenue from Richmond Terrace, St. George, Staten Island. Because this hasn't been a hot neighborhood for slightly more than a century, every building shown in this image is still intact and in a moderately good state of preservation. A portion of our house is shown in the upper left section of the image (notice the double-windowed gable and the spire to its right).
LIVING WHERE THEY WOULDN'T BE CAUGHT DEAD
Despite the sneering disdain of metro journalists who pay two grand a month for a closet in a renovated tenement on Avenue C and Houston Street, it's possible to live where they wouldn't be caught dead and actually like it. On Staten Island, I mean. Specifically, in one of the older neighborhoods on the north shore, near the ferry.
After a while, the plucked-from-the-Midwest streetscapes of Staten Island's north shore stop looking quite as foreign as they did. It starts to seem normal to be able to see the sky without craning your neck. Or to be the only person walking down the street, utterly alone with your thoughts, and not feeling in the least unsafe. You even get used to the quiet.
What You Give Up and What You Get
Don't get me wrong now. Staten Island is hardly Valhalla. We live in a place everybody's heard of but very few actually know--a place routinely overlooked, underserved and dismissed. But there are times when going unnoticed, unacknowledged and underrepresented pays off.
Leaving Manhattan for places like New Brighton, St. George, Tompkinsville and Stapleton gets you twice the space for half the price, give or take a hundred or two. And maybe a view, a garden or a fireplace as well. There's always a seat on the FREE Staten Island Ferry. Always a chair at the barber's. Always a table at a decent restaurant; no reservations required. At public parks, even on the weekend, it can often seem like everybody's left town. Though the north shore's hilly streets are challenging for cyclists, they're one of the best non-park environments I've found so far as a walker.
My neighbor Martha, who moved to St. George from Battery Park City with her husband and two children, is hyper-alert for signs of gentrification hereabouts. She winces whenever she sees positive media coverage of our area, which she's certain can mean only one thing: She and her family, having found a pleasant place to live they can afford, will be forced out by high rents once again.
Given the national economic downturn and the shaky state of real estate everywhere, including Manhattan, I don't think Martha has a lot to worry about for the forseeable.