03 May Go West!
Born and raised on the Upper East Side (UES), I have had the privilege of living all over this magnificent island of Manhattan. Today, however, the Upper West Side is my home and, even before I had children, it felt like a place to grow roots.
In the 1970s and 80s, when I was a kid, the UES was better known as Yorkville or Germantown, based on the fact that almost every business on East 86th Street and nearby was a German restaurant, deli, confectionery, pastry shop or beer garden.
On the other side of the park, was the mysterious Upper West Side (UWS). One of my very best childhood friends (still my friend) lived in the landmarked Hotel des Artistes. Her father was a brilliant artist/painter and their apartment smelled of oil paint and turpentine, making west-side playdates feel like a trip to an exotic foreign city.
I can promise you that New York in the 1970s and 1980s would be utterly unrecognizable to our more recent city dwellers.
Although the UWS is where I have lived for the past twenty years, it wasn’t my first destination after leaving home! After high school, in the mid-80s, I moved to the Lower East Side, then called Alphabet City. That was terrifying… I mean, interesting. If you like trashcan fires and such.
As a Barnard student, I eventually moved far uptown to Harlem, took a four-year-long junior-year abroad in France, and then returned again to Harlem to finish school. After searching all over the city for an affordable apartment bigger than a closet, my husband and I ultimately settled into our current apartment on the UWS.
By Manhattan standards, the UWS feels as if it were built on a more human scale compared to the UES. Look at a map and you see that the distance from Central Park West to Riverside Park is 2/3 the landmass of that extending from Fifth Avenue to the East River. On the UWS, with the absence of skyscrapers, the sky is always clearly visible from every angle. Restaurants, stores and sidewalks bubble with families and strollers creating an insta-family-friendly atmosphere. With prewar buildings abounding, boutique-type shops, so many schools and school-aged children, this side of the park feels authentically neighborhoody, welcoming and family friendly. It isn’t surprising that it is the chosen neighborhood for countless NYC movies and TV shows!
Raising children on the Upper West Side in the 2000’s, was wonderful – it still is! With Central Park and Riverside Park as our magnificent backyard and a plethora of playgrounds (some now newly renovated) to choose from, we were never at a loss for what to do with our boys, winter, spring, summer or fall.
Thanks to our wisely-purchased annual membership to the American Museum of Natural History, our children believed that the hall of African Animals and the Big Blue Whale were just a fantastic annex of our small West 86th Street apartment.
My older son learned to walk, and then run (much to the chagrin of the security guards), in the glorious Hall of Gems. My younger son found his home in the African Hall and would pause and dance for an hour in front of the African Instruments exhibit, bouncing to its looped, muted soundtrack.
We have two local libraries with fantastic children’s book sections and a permissive tolerance for children to take out ALL of the books! And, of course, there is the dreaded, I mean delightful Children’s Museum. My kids loved the Children’s Museum. My husband and I, however, would do anything to avoid being the one to have to take them there… It’s like Coachella for toddlers. Too much!
Furthermore, the UWS lacks the frenetic pulse of the UES. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot going on over here, but it’s slow-going compared to our Eastern Bank. My Dad still lives on the Upper East Side and my children now go to school practically in the East River. I love being in the city that never sleeps, but the UES sometimes feels downright manic. In the same way I was once apprehensive about walking with my children on the highway-of-humanity called East 86th Street, I now endeavor to protect my frail father from the heaving waves of pedestrians surging in either direction. When I deliver him safely back to his apartment, I sigh with relief.
Each time, I am happy to hop on the crosstown bus back to the UWS.
Let the UES have their swanky Fifth Avenue, Madison and Park Avenues. Bully for them. It’s a nice place to visit, but I, personally, wouldn’t want to live there… again.