Top 10 'hoods

...with New York soul. We walked nearly every block of Manhattan to track 'em down. Let the debate begin.

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street scene, best NYC neighborhoods

Photo: Beth Levendis

There’s a passage in Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities that makes Greenwich Village sound like Sesame Street. “I put out the garbage can…my little clang,” the late urbanist wrote in 1961. “I watch the other rituals of morning; Mr. Halpert unlocking the laundry’s handcart…Joe Cornacchia’s son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair…” She goes on to describe the “ballet” that is her neighborhood, a ballet you recognize as “New York.”

Yet that New York has been dying, if not decomposing, for years—at least in Manhattan.

Click here to read the rest of this introduction

  • Top 10 ’hoods ...with New York soul. We walked nearly every block of Manhattan to track ’em down. Let the debate begin.
  • #1: Alphabet City: Meet our winner—quick, before it changes.
  • #2: Chinatown: Lots of street life, low on chain stores and unchanged for years.
  • #3: Washington Heights: Bodegaville lives on, despite the white people.
  • #4: Inwood: What’s friendlier, far north and cooler than Canada? These days, Manhattanites know the answer.
  • #5: Nolita & Little Italy: Manicotti and the Man, together at last.
  • #6: Hell’s Kitchen: Leave your Mace at home. Bring your Chihuahua instead.
  • #7: East Village: Retirees and undergrad share these streets...with a surplus of banks.
  • #8: Lower East Side: It’s practically druggie–free, except for those new caffeine addicts.
  • #9: East Harlem: It’s sprouting new condos–and luring back former residents.
  • #10: Greenwich Village: Seediness remains firmly planted, despite the iPods.
  • Neighborhoods with soul: 11-15: Central Harlem is up and coming but not far enough for our top 10.
  • Neighborhoods with soul: 16-20: No, we didn’t forget the Upper West Side. It’s right here.
  • Neighborhoods with soul: 21-27: What is the most soulless locale on the island? Click to find out.
  • Jane Jacobs 101: A quick guide to this feisty urbanist's influential view on how cities should work.
  • Jane’s addiction: New York’s Municipal Art Society remembers the grand dame of urbanism whose ideas formed the basis of our rating criteria.
  • 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.

street scene, best NYC neighborhoods

Photo: Beth Levendis

There’s a passage in Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities that makes Greenwich Village sound like Sesame Street. “I put out the garbage can…my little clang,” the late urbanist wrote in 1961. “I watch the other rituals of morning; Mr. Halpert unlocking the laundry’s handcart…Joe Cornacchia’s son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair…” She goes on to describe the “ballet” that is her neighborhood, a ballet you recognize as “New York.”

Yet that New York has been dying, if not decomposing, for years—at least in Manhattan. These days, unless you live in Brooklyn or Queens, one block has the barber, but the next ten have nothing but Chase banks and Duane Reades. And chances are, you don’t know your deli guy’s name—and rich folks in high-rise condos have probably never even seen him. The disconnect between New York and New Yorkers is nothing new, but it’s finally forced us to wonder: Does Manhattan have any soul left?

It’s a question posed this week by the Municipal Arts Society, which hosts a slew of programs devoted to Jane Jacobs and recent gentrification (see page 32 for details). And it’s a concern that sparked our own quest. To find out if Manhattan has any soul, we walked every block of every neighborhood that could qualify, with Jacobs as our guide.

She had basic tenets for generating “exuberant diversity” in an area: Blocks ought to be short; buildings must vary in age and condition (and offer mixed uses); and there should be a density of people. We added two negatives to that formula—soul killers (i.e., chain stores) and signs of what Jacobs called “oversuccess”—and one positive: an only-in–New York factor.

After eliminating certain nonresidential areas, like Times Square, we were left with 27 nabes. Listed at left are the top ten: those with the most New York soul. Read it. Then read the other seventeen. And then argue. Jacobs would have, loudly enough for the whole block to hear.

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