Is This How You See Us?

By “us” I mean both NYC in general and the Upper East Side specifically. By “you” I don’t really mean you, but rather people outside of New York as a group. It’s been a long time so I can’t really remember what my ideas of New York City were before I moved here. I know that a lot of what I thought about the UES was based on Sex and the City and Carrie’s completely impossible apartment. (Everyone on TV conveniently has an in to a rent-controlled place.) 

Anyway, I was just walking D\ in the stroller for his nap and came across a couple with their grown son talking to a woman walking her dog. From what I could gather, the son was looking at an apartment. They asked the woman with the dog, “What is this neighborhood like?” and she was replying that it’s nice, etc, etc. The mother interrupted the woman to say, “so we’re safe here?” 

Now, these people were looking at a building on a lovely, tree-lined street. It was on the same block as, almost directly across from, my son’s elementary school. As they stood on the sidewalk, the woman with the dog walked by, followed by me with a sleeping toddler in a stroller. Behind me was a woman with her newborn and then a nanny with a little girl walking beside her and a small boy in a stroller. I understand wanting your son to live in a nice place after graduating college, but can’t you glean a little about the neighborhood from what’s around you? Small business and chain stores, restaurants and coffee shops, lots and lots and lots of families with children…my son’s gorgeous elementary school taking up half the block across the street. Was their idea of New York SO scary, that they really needed to ask a passerby if their adult son would be safe in my neighborhood?

I didn’t want to take a picture of that block since my son’s school is right there and I don’t want any creepy people out there on the internets stalking him or anything, but here are two photos of another block I walked down on my way back home. (Please ignore the stupid construction signs. We have the most horrific construction going on, that is literally driving me to drink. It is bananas. I want to write about it, but I get so angry every time I sit down to do it that I can’t go through with it. It is making my relationship with NYC a bit, er, complicated. But I digress.)

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Does this look scary or unsafe? Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. I feel recently that so much that happens in my neighborhood is based on how other people view my neighborhood. It seems as if we’re either seen as the scary big city, where no child could grow up normal, with little access to things like grass and trees, or some haven populated exclusively by filthy-rich white people.

Yes, I know it’s mostly white up here. I know. But it’s still far more diverse than a whole lot of this country. My son’s kindergarten class is a near-perfect, micro-representation of the racial/ethnic breakdown of America. (I say racial/ethnic because not everything thought of as race is actually race. It’s a very complicated way of classifying people. I am talking about the major racial/ethnic groups that we look at in the U.S. population.) We are most certainly NOT all rich. It’s actually one of the most affordable neighborhoods in Manhattan. Yes, there are plenty of crazy wealthy people living here, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a bunch of normal middle-class families here too. 

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I was just really struck by that woman’s comment. It so surprised me that someone would feel unsafe standing in my neighborhood. I like my neighborhood and I happen to feel very, very safe here. Of course there is crime, but for the most part it’s a really nice place to live. I’ve also had the subject of perception in relation to my neighborhood weighing on my mind because of the controversy over the MTS (Marine Transfer Station, Google it, you’ll get lots and lots of opinions) being built two and half blocks from my son’s school, right next to a playground that we frequent and the playing field where he will be playing soccer this fall. I WILL be writing more on that, but I need to think it out and get my facts straight first. Again, I get so angry when I try to write about it that I can’t get it out. It seems to me that the perception of where I live has led certain people to believe that we need a little more adversity in our lives. Again, I digress.

I suppose that this is one of the things that goes along with living in one of the most well-known and largest cities on the planet. Everyone knows about it and therefor forms ideas about it in relation to their own exposure and experiences. In some ways, this is amazing and good and in some ways, it can be hurtful. No matter what, it’s something I have to live with if I choose to live here.

So, what are your thoughts on New York City and the Upper East Side specifically? Do you have preconceived ideas about this place? Have you experienced something similar in the place where you live?

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