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New York City – An African Perspective

Yoofi DerbyYoofi Derby, a British expat living in New York, shares his experiences of life in the Big Apple. From navigating the complicated public transport, to acclimatising to his new home, he shares what expat life in New York is all about

My first recollection of New York City was back in 1996, I was fortunate to have stayed with family members in Canarsie, Brooklyn. I experienced so much during my two week stay, from the fresh smell of bagels which often left me salivating, to visiting the Empire State Building and also the Statue of Liberty and lastly, experiencing a basketball game over at Madison Square Gardens.

In 2008, my move to New York became permanent by way of tennis. I was living in Brooklyn Heights at the time which was a short train ride into Downtown Manhattan and Midtown. I still hold fond memories of Brooklyn neighbourhood I refer to as “The Heights”. Brooklyn Heights is a short walk to Brooklyn Bridge which if walked takes you to Downtown Manhattan where one can branch into City Hall or take a walk to the World Trade Center. If you happen to visit Brooklyn Heights which I strongly recommend, make sure to stroll along the Promenade which overlooks the East River. The promenade is bordered by grand townhouses and mansions, and is part of Brooklyn’s first Historic Preservation District.

New York boasts parks almost everywhere, the most popular being Central Park; America’s first major landscaped public park. Visiting the entire park requires possibly a day or two with scenic views, boat rides, restaurants, and bicycle hire, Central Park is a must see attraction when in New York.

Weather Watch

When I first arrived to New York, I would often find myself lugging my tennis bag around the City and sweating profusely from the scorching summer heat. I share this anecdote since New York summer months can be brutally hot and humid. The smog, traffic and pedestrians can at times leave you drained and hot. I advise you to stay hydrated during the summer months when exploring the city. By contrast, I highly recommend you invest in thermal gear and prepare yourself for bitterly cold winter months. If you plan on relocating for a long stretch I advise you take winter months as seriously as you take your job!

Navigating around the City

It is not uncommon to get lost in New York City but rest assured, people are generally helpful and will stop and assist with directions. I’ve been left perplexed on several occasions whilst figuring out my route via MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority). I had once started my journey from Grand Central Terminal, to visit a friend in Downtown Brooklyn only to realise 30min into my journey that the same train was actually traveling uptown! If you are geographically impaired as I once was BE prepared and carry a pocket map!

Today, I can safely say the transportation system is pretty straightforward for me to navigate from A to B; just remember numbers and letters are colour-coded and that trains travel in two directions: Uptown & Downtown. That’s it. The quicker you master the codes the quicker you become an expert of the trains!

If you prefer to avoid bottle-neck train carriages during rush-hour, you can opt for a yellow taxi or the burgeoning service of UBER, an alternative to the yellow submarine. Carpooling has become a convenient and cost effective travel option for many commuters who travel to and from the City. Setting an UBER account via your smart phone is straight forward and user-friendly.

New York is the ultimate melting pot, I have experienced and met many people from all walks of life all over the world. The city and neighbouring boroughs is enriched with people conversing in their native dialect, running local businesses and operating social and professional organizations all over New York City. It is almost impossible to stay in New York and not find your native dish. Food is in abundance and restaurants and diners are filled with patrons who more often than not live a hectic and fast-paced lifestyle. If you prefer to cook at home you are bound to find a local grocery store within close distance to where you live.

About New York

New York City is often referred to as the city that never sleeps, a phrase often synonymous with the Big Apple, which boasts a population close to 9 million people. NYC offers cultural and intellectual diversity of large-scale cities such as London or Paris. Living in this culturally diverse International hub offers a myriad of activities both socially and professionally. Almost anything and everything is within touching distance from fine dining, theatre, museums, Broadway shows, schools and transportation links.

The advancement of technology has brought welcome relief to many who weave and navigate through a city full of boundless explorative opportunities. Mobile apps and real estate websites have played a pivotal role in assisting many internationals in securing a slice of New York real estate.

Existing empirical evidence suggests most expats moving to New York City opt to live as close as possible to the centre of Manhattan.

Here are a few common reasons:

  • Proximity to major attractions
  • Proximity to work
  • Unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge of the four other boroughs
  • Unable to identify a reliable source to assist and educate on neighbourhoods to suit individual needs
Also, there are some inevitable tradeoffs and compromises that must be made when living close to the centre of Manhattan

Pros and Cons

Finding a home can be an arduous and at times taxing endeavour even for long-term New Yorkers. During a search, one must sift through a host of online advertisements, work with a reputable real estate advisor (which can be hard to come by) and lastly, allocate time to visit homes whilst having to acclimatize to the pace of a new city. One can alleviate disappointment and stress by starting the home-search process as early as possible. On the bright side, living in the heart of the city brings you close to the all the major attractions; you are a hop away from the Empire State Building; a train ride Downtown gets you to the World Trade Center site; The famous Brooklyn Bridge is within walking distance from City Hall and Time Square is in the heart of Midtown.

All neighbourhoods within the city have their own unique characteristics and it would be unfair to favour one over the other. The common-denominator amongst many of the city neighbourhoods are accessibility to the subways and its extensive diners and entertainment.

Cons of living in the city

The tradeoff of living in the City are the premium rent prices which are considerably more than living in parts of Brooklyn for example. Manhattan may be the “capital of the world,” but such capitalism comes at a price. According to StreetEasy analyst Alan Lightfeldt, the average median price for a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan is $3271.00 compared to Brooklyn which hovers around $2600 for a one bedroom. Although Manhattan may be the epicentre of international business, it no longer is the only NYC borough that offers the potential to marry diverse social, cultural, and familial tastes and possibilities for individuals.

The city life comes with a few caveats one must be cognisant about, you may be subject to constant noise pollution, overcrowding and diminutive apartments. Again, these are tradeoffs so if location takes precedence then living in the heart of the City offers abundant exposure and increased opportunities to network with people from all walks of life.

Pros of living in the city

An assortment of activities from nightclubs, top restaurants, to parks, NY has it all. I recently joined a sub-group by the name of Internations. Internations aims to serve expats with a host of activities and networking events for one to connect with other expats around the world. Membership is relatively cheap and events are held frequently at various locations around NYC.

I would consider New York a fast-paced City that never bores, on the other hand, it can leave you drained and overwhelmed by the number of people and non-stop activities. The City is not built for everyone but if you can find balance it can offer endless possibilities.

By Yoofi M. Derby
yderby@corcoran.com
Contact him for any real estate questions
Source: Expat Arrivals

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