Saturday, April 17, 2010

Street Walking

My main exercise right now is brisk walking, and I do my brisk walking charging up and down the streets of Manhattan's Upper West Side, specifically, between Riverside Drive and Central Park West and 72nd and 90th Streets. This is a beautiful, historic, and quite diverse area, and although it tends to attract the upper middle classes today, there was a time when it was primarily the home of working class and lower middle class folks.

Like many neighborhoods, it is a part of the city that has gone through cycles. Originally, it did attract upper middle class residents who wanted to be in Manhattan, away from Midtown and the Financial District, but near Central Park and able to take advantage of the newly excavated subway system. This was roughly the period between the turn of the century and the Crash of 1929. Then it want through an economic downturn, like so many other parts of the City, became a very solid area for working class and middle class families after World War II and well into the 1950s, and then fairly quickly became seen as an area in need of renewal. Crime was up, drugs were rampant. I ran into a guy last summer whose parents bought a place at Central Park West in the early 1970s and heard that you were taking your life in your hands if you ventured just a bit West of Central Park.

Today, of course, the Upper West Side has become one of the more popular areas of the city, and it's really hard to imagine why it shouldn't stay this way. Its proximity to Central Park alone makes it prime real estate, but having Lincoln Center (constructed supposedly to eliminate urban blight) is also a huge plus, as are museums like Natural History and the New York Historical Society. The restaurants are definitely not the best in the city, and, as New York Magazine has recently reported, Street life on the Upper West Side is sometimes pretty scarce. This, by the way, is not my impression, but maybe compared to Park Slope in Brooklyn (their choice for #1 neighborhood) the West Side is too staid. But given all of its other virtues, including walking distance to the theater district (I mean aren't these the primary reasons why we stay in the city?), it can't help but remain a much loved and appreciated place. I, for one, am counting on this, because I hope to be walking these streets and enjoying them for many years to come.

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