We are living in a time in New York City where the housing options are becoming more and more grim. The borough of Manhattan is not an option for most newcomers or young people - there are no edgy, affordable neighborhoods. Gentrification is like a big iron, and all the edges and wrinkles have been pressed out.
Neighborhoods in the boroughs with dramatic buildings and setting, like DUMBO, have also been gentrified beyond affordability. Areas with historic homes, like Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights, have been pricey for many decades - certainly nothing that anyone would consider affordable. Willamsburg and Red Hook with its industrial buildings are going the way of SoHo.
For the young and/or the artist desiring to be immersed living among those of like mind and spirit, this can be discouraging. The only options left are extremely blighted or working class neighborhoods. Places that have no particular cache. This sometimes means living in an ethnic enclave where, although readily accepted, it is easy to feel like an outsider. More and more, I have seen younger people move to neighborhoods where they feel isolated.
However, many adapt and embrace these areas and welcome the change, new foods and cultural mix. Some revel in the absence of the trendy and chic, places that are real working class neighborhoods, like Astoria, Queens, which has has attracted artists for decades. See my photo gallery here. Many looking for reasonable rents and proximity to Manhattan have found a home in Astoria. On October 9, 2009, the New York Times ran a story of how "a thriving hive of comedians has affixed itself to Astoria, perfectly suited to the particular microclimate there." From the article:
In 2003, ASTORIA, across the East River from Manhattan on the northwest tip of Queens, always has been a neighborhood of affordable beginnings. William Hallet, a 17th-century English immigrant, is said to have secured his 1,500 riverside acres in exchange for 7 coats, 14 kettles, a blanket and some beads. Waves of Germans, Czechs, Irish, Italians and Greeks followed, working-class folk who bought into the American dream and local real estate.
Today, the immigrant pool includes Russians, Arabs, Middle Europeans, South Asians, East Asians, Latin Americans and young Midwesterners who think they have discovered Europe in the coffeehouses and bakeries. Few neighborhoods, even in New York City, have such ethnic diversity.
The slogan ''only 15 minutes from Bloomingdale's'' describes location, not shopping habits. As the essence of a working-class neighborhood in the 1970's, at the height of Greek immigration, Astoria was home to TV's Archie Bunker. Despite an influx of young professionals, musicians and actors seeking refuge from Manhattan prices, and a nudge toward the chichi with two Starbucks with wireless connections, shops like Victoria's Secret and a vibrant night life, Astoria still has blue-collar roots.
Best known for its Greek population, Astoria is named after John Jacob Astor, who was persuaded to make a small investment there but never lived in Astoria. It working class roots go back to Steinway & Sons, home there since 1853. Astoria is also home to the American Museum of the Moving Image and Kaufman-Astoria Studios. You can read more about the area here and here.
But be not misled by a working class neighborhood, a couple of dreary photos, and a few plain looking homes - because in Astoria, as you will see in Part 2, Love is All Around...