Moving to the Financial District, Manhattan

It is interesting how quickly my concerns about moving to NYC melted away upon my arrival in the city. From start to finish, everything seemed to be reinforcing the fact that I am one of the most fortunate people on planet earth.

My flight from the Netherlands to Newark arrived nearly an hour early (not to mention the fact that I had been upgraded at the gate in Amsterdam and spent much of the flight sleeping like a baby in the 180° recline seats in business class). Given my prime seating on the plane, I was one of the first off and arrived at customs when it was completely empty. I don’t recall ever having seen an empty customs waiting area before. In less than 30 minutes I cleared customs, collected my bag and boarded the bus to Newark Penn Station. USD 3.75 and about 50 minutes later I was exiting the World Trade Center Path Station. It was a 5 minute walk to my rental apartment and my airbnb host was there to get me set up. The rest of the family was driving down from Vermont. They practiced our planned transportation scenario – parking the car at the law school in White Plains and taking the train into the city. They arrived a couple of hours after me.

We focused our apartment hunt in the area bordered by Broadway to the West, the Brooklyn Bridge to the North, Wall Street to the South, and the East River/FDR. Despite my misgivings about the concrete canyons formed by the combination of extra narrow downtown streets and extra tall downtown buildings, at street level things felt great. It is busy but, despite the close proximity to almost every subway line the city has to offer, it is too much tangentially located to be overrun by the corporate folks who dominate just a few blocks South and the hordes of tourists flocking to Ground Zero and the NYSE. This is all the more remarkable because you can walk to any of these places (as well as South Street Seaport, Zucotti Park, Battery Park, Civic Center) in no time at all. The area is quite neighborhoody with lots of small, local, street level shops and restaurants frequented by resident regulars. I have read elsewhere that some New Yorkers claim the area lacks any kind of character or neighborhood identity. From my perspective (after only a few days), however, I found it refreshing to be in an area that wasn’t so self-consciously designated as a particular type of place dominated by a particular type of people.

We looked at several (9-ish) assorted 2 bedroom apartments and condos for rent in buildings that ranged from luxury high rises that offered world class amenities for Wall Street Elite to homely 6 – 8 story buildings with management that clearly sought to do as little as possible to keep the place running.

We took a broker with us – someone recommended by a friend. Next time I would probably skip the broker. One of the best things about having a broker this time around, however, was observing her reaction to FiDi living spaces. Our broker specializes in the Upper West Side and this was her first time showing apartments in the neighborhood. She admitted that she was shocked by the amount of space (both in general and for the price), the great condition of most of the spaces, and the amenities offered in many of the buildings.

We had done our homework (well, Jason did the heavy lifting but he gave me a little assigned reading) so we already knew a great deal about many of the buildings we looked in. In the end we decided to put in an application on a small but very well designed 2 bedroom in a high rise that offered great amenities – pool, children’s playroom, several lounges, bike storage, and rooftop solarium complete with a small grass lawn and a million dollar view.

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The apartment was one of the least expensive of those we viewed. In addition to the lower rent, the building (which is trying to boost occupancy after some Hurricane Sandy complications) paid the broker’s fees and asked for almost nothing in terms of security. In other words, we arrived in New York expecting to have to lay out a fair bit more cash than we needed in the end.

We do have some lingering concerns about the space. This particular building is rumored to be a bit dorm-like. I seem to remember a NYTimes piece that talked about it as a building populated by beautiful Wall Street 20-somethings. We scoped things out one afternoon and were relieved to see other families and dogs coming and going but it does seem to be more young singles. It might be a little sterile and transient for us in the long term, but for the first year or so I think it will be just the thing.

Once we had our space settled, we visited the neighborhood public school for a tour. PS 397 is in a gorgeous, new building. It is one of the 2 public elementary schools recently opened to accomodate the growing number of families in FiDi. There should be no problems with their enrollment (the school has space but is only doing K and pre-K registration right now). PS 397 is 4 blocks from our apartment and directly across the street from my office and classroom buildings.

I felt so satisfied on our visit – a warm feeling of right-ness and enthusiasm at the idea of living there and, finally, being in the position to stay put for a while. We walked all over. We walked to Chinatown and found ourselves instantly transported home to the restaurant in our building in Guangzhou. We wandered through neighborhood grocery stores and laughed to see that one store sold the same kimchi (from Waterbury Vermont) that we often buy in Vermont. We walked the perimeter of Lower Manhattan, to South Street Seaport, and across the Brooklyn Bridge. We took the subway to Madison Square Park, walked down 5th Avenue to Washington Square Park, and then further south into SOHO. We ate (Mom, let’s have bagels for breakfast) and ate (Mom can we stop for some bubble tea?) and ate (Mom, can we have sushi for lunch?) and ate (Mom, let’s go to Georgetown cupcake.) and ate (Mom, I want to have thai food for dinner!). We took the kids to visit the Capezio flagship store and saw a girl getting fitted for her first pointe shoes. Jie-jie is still talking about this as the highlight of the trip. We saw Cinderella on Broadway, and at the end of the night we were happy to leave the craziness of Broadway behind and head back downtown.

This is going to be great!

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