Soul survivors

You can't swing a cannoli in the outer boroughs without hitting neighborhood character. But will the outlook always be sunny for these unique enclaves? Here's our local forecast.

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The hub:

Ditmars Boulevard between Steinway and 31st Streets; Astoria, Queens

The story:

Veer away from the garish banks and supersize drugstores at Ditmars and 31st and you’ll find that familial neighborhood joints rule. These blocks are full of Greek restaurants’ crowded outdoor tables and 24-hour fruit stands whose bins of colorful produce draw residents at all hours. “Astoria has more coffeeshops and sidewalk cafés than the rest of Queens combined,” boasts George Delis, manager of Community Board 1. And based on the looks of things, the incoming hipsters are hitting similarly superlative numbers.

The future:

It’s somewhat of a surprise that gentrification has so far brought little visible development, but Delis thinks the relative calm isn’t going to last. “I see Ditmars skyrocketing, big-time,” he says. This, of course, is a source of concern for the board and Astoria locals, who fear that without a change in zoning the area might lose its homey charm. But a plan to build a ten-story luxury condo building on Steinway and 20th Avenue was scaled down to six stories recently, and Delis is looking into rezoning the area to impose height limitations on all development. “It’s the best neighborhood this side of the Mississippi,” he says. “Though of course I don’t really know what’s on the other side.”



The hub:

Broadway from 238th Street to 260th Street; Riverdale/Kingsbridge, Bronx

The story:

Take the 1 train to the end of the line and you’ll disembark on a busy strip of northern Broadway, with establishments that serve everyone from Manhattan College students and Horace Mann prep-schoolers to the Irish, Eastern European and Latino residents who have been there since the mid-1900s. Bars, diners and shops dot the block, and Van Cortlandt Park across the street offers a pool, a highly regarded equestrian center and an annual viewing of the New York Philharmonic that beats the more crowded Central Park performance any day.

The future:

“This is a bustling corridor that’s going to change a lot because of interest in the area,” says Community Board 8 chair Tony Perez Cassino, explaining that as long as the development is within the scale and character of the neighborhood—as is a new six-story apartment building on 250th Street—he’s happy. Meanwhile, there are plans for an urban mall on nearby 230th and Broadway. And while the phrase urban mall makes us shudder, Cassino is optimistic: “We’re hoping it will be a retail venture to bring back the shoppers we lost to Yonkers.”



The hub:

44th to 50th Avenues, 23rd Street to the East River; Long Island City, Queens

The story:

One of New York’s old manufacturing centers met a crowd of latte-drinking, Sunday-brunching pioneers a decade ago when this Queens burg first caught the attention of rabid developers. The area’s soul persists in old-timer restaurant Manducati and newer staples like Communitea and Lounge 47, both of which draw longtime locals and new residents alike.

The future:

“The good news and the bad news is this: The neighborhood is changing,” says Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2. Indeed, LIC is the site of unabashed construction, like that of the Rockrose Development building on the waterfront and the W Development tower going up on 44th Avenue and Vernon Boulevard. “People who have lived here for three generations have seen a tsunami of development—all out of character with the neighborhood,” laments Conley. The benefit of this activity is the arrival of more amenities—a supermarket is on its way, and there’s talk of putting in a library—and hence more foot traffic in an area that was once deserted on evenings and weekends. “Long Island City is a special place,” Conley says. “But when development happens this rapidly, it’s hard to keep it that way.”





Cobble Hill

Photo: Michael Kirby

The hub:

Henry Street to Smith Street, Atlantic Avenue to DeGraw Street; Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

The story:

Okay, we know. This place is almost uncomfortably cute. While its pristine, sun-dappled blocks might run counter to much of New York’s smut-loving image, the area has the kind of street life that would make most neighborhoods drool. The always-busy Smith Street welcomes residents with sidewalk cafés and bodegas galore, lines at the legendary Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue foster friendly conversation, and Cobble Hill Park seals the deal with flower markets in spring and wintertime Christmas-tree mulching.

The future:

Cobble Hill is almost entirely protected by historic-district preservation (it’s the borough’s second-oldest landmark district, after Brooklyn Heights), and also has zoning in place to prevent developments any taller than 50 feet (a regulation that has recently been put to the test by Two Trees Management’s plan to put up a 60-foot structure—discussions about the acceptability of this breach are ongoing). “Cobble Hill is safe for now,” says Community Board 6’s Hammerman. “But we can never guess when another application will make its way onto our desks for review.”

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