I know, I know, you hear "Harlem" and all kinds of words and ideas come to mind, and "really great place to live" probably isn't among them.
Let me just share a little bit about why I love my apartment and my neighborhood, and perhaps it will change your ideas just a smidge.
First of all, my apartment. It's huge. For New York. AND even for any normal sane place where people have space. Not only is it huge, it's not expensive. For New York. Not for normal sane places. You could rent a house in most places for what I alone pay for my "cheap" rent in NYC. Add that to what all THREE of us pay to live in this apartment, and you can rent a mansion in North Carolina. Right. We will ignore that, because this is New York City. And for here, it's cheap.
Not only is it big and cheap, I have a normal-sized stove (not like the mini ones in many apartments), a normal fridge (again, not like the little hotel-room-size ones in many apartments), great water pressure in the shower (ahhhhhhh), massive windows all along our living room that is about 30 feet long, and more counter space than I can shake a stick at. And I'm on the first floor. It pays to live in Harlem. Especially if you have a heart for hospitality and welcoming people into your home and enabling them to spread out rather than squish like sardines. I am truly thankful for this provision, not so that I can have a large apartment all to myself, but so I can share my space. Which happens to be in a lovely neighborhood.
On that note, here's a little bit about my neighborhood of Harlem, which is called Sugar Hill:
~Across the street from my house is a park. In which there is an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool. There are 5 Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pools in all of Manhattan, and 4 of them are in Harlem. The other is in Washington Heights. Also in this park is a cool little bandshell where there are fun concerts. That I definitely hear in my apartment, whether or not I want to. :) There are also benches. Lots and lots of benches. Where I can sit and read all day long if I so desire.
~It's diverse. Young and old. Families and singles. Black, white, brown, and every shade in between.
~It's friendly. I've never lived in a more friendly place. Nowhere. Not my childhood town of 300 people. Not Philly. Not Brooklyn. Not Romania. People here smile and say hi, they stop and chat, they're really delightful (Incidentally, the group of people that isn't as friendly? The whiteys.).
~I'm a 2-minute walk to the subway, where I can get the A, B, C and D trains. I can be in Times Square (not that I would ever WANT to be in Times Square) in 15 minutes on the express train. It's fab.
~The food is so much fun. Jamaican food. Dominican restaurants. Puerto Rican taco stands. African markets. Caribbean markets. BBQ. Yum.
~Did I mention it's way cheaper to eat and shop up here?
~There is a Pathmark a 3 minute walk away. Now. Grocery stores in NYC are notoriously small. And notoriously overpriced. A "grocery store" may be little more than a few tiny aisles. A sad joke, really. Yes, there are a few stores around the city that are reasonably large and reasonably inexpensive. But, to live near one of those is another thing altogether. I now live near a normal suburban-sized grocery story. Oh man, it's delightful.
~There is an awesome riverside park a half mile away, with a large picnic area, ice skating rink, indoor pool ($2 to enter!), gym, and track. The track is free. All the time. Every day. I don't know if there are other outdoor tracks in the city (though I'm sure there must be one somewhere), but dang, this is a blessing.
Personally it's a great location for me, as it's 15 minutes door-to-door to school and it's about 20-25 door-to-door to church. My bank has a branch at the corner of my street. My cousin lives a 6 minute walk away. And the neighborhood is just generally a good fit for my personality.
Now, of course I know there are parts of Harlem that aren't-so-great. But. As I explore Harlem more and more, I am finding that most of it IS this great. So. The next time you think of Harlem, hopefully some of what I have said will come to mind. And perhaps if you're looking to move, you'll even come join the neighborhood.
Post coming soon with pics of my new apartment!