What It's Like to Live in Lower Manhattan, New York City

Is Lower Manhattan a place you'd like to call home? Learn the pros and cons of living in this New York neighborhood from four residents who know the area.
Skyline and Skyscrapers of Manhattan, New York

Skyline and Skyscrapers of Manhattan, New York

New York City Manhattan Times Square night

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Though sometimes thought to be synonymous with Wall Street and the World Trade Center site, Lower Manhattan is much more than New York's financial hub -- it's also one of the city's fastest-growing neighborhoods. Millions of dollars have been put into rebuilding and revitalizing Lower Manhattan since Sept. 11, and the area's population has more than doubled in the last eight years. And with new residents come new schools, housing, restaurants and shops.

"The energy is amazing," says Catherine McVay Hughes, a resident of Lower Manhattan for almost 22 years. "When you walk out onto the street, you feel the energy of Lower Manhattan. There's a vibrancy you don't feel anywhere else."

As one of New York City's oldest neighborhoods, Lower Manhattan offers an intriguing contrast of sights: soaring skyscrapers and bustling sidewalks paired with winding cobblestone alleys and picturesque parks. Andy Jacobson, a graphic designer who's lived in the Financial District for 14 years, thinks the area offers a distinctly different experience than some of New York's more traditional neighborhoods.

"It's kind of fun to have the whole New York experience of being in the heart of a commercial area -- lots of businesses, business people and big office towers -- but having these tiny pockets of cute neighborhoods and shops," Jacobson says.

Beyond the energetic Financial District, certain areas of Lower Manhattan offer a sense of community not frequently found in the city. Jeff Shapiro, who moved to Lower Manhattan in 1986 after opening a dental practice in the Financial District, currently lives in Battery Park City and calls it "the suburbs of the city."

"It's one of the few places in New York that has water, parks, trees and a lot of open areas," Shapiro says. "It's very conducive to living and having kids."

Originally from Indiana, magazine editor Stephanie Rygorsky bought her first home in lower Manhattan a year and a half ago and agrees that the area is a great place to live if you have a family or a pet.

"There's a lot of space for the money, and it's quiet," Rygorsky says. "So I get the relaxed weekend feel that I got more of in the Midwest." 

Getting Around

Thanks to an extensive public transportation network, Lower Manhattan is one of the most accessible neighborhoods in New York. The area is currently served by 14 subway lines, eight local and 25 express bus routes, multiple ferry routes and PATH train service to New Jersey. And transportation in the area is only expected to improve: The Fulton Transit Center and the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, both slated to open in 2014, will make Lower Manhattan the third-largest transportation center in New York.

Shapiro: "From a standpoint of transportation, this is the best area in all of New York City. Every train comes down here from both the East and the West sides. I also have pretty easy access to the FDR Drive, so if I'm going way uptown a lot of times I'll drive. If there's no traffic, I can make it to the Upper East Side in about 8 to 10 minutes."

Rygorsky: "I definitely walk most of the time, especially when it's not raining or snowing. I can get pretty much anywhere I need to go by walking. But if I need to go a long distance, it's really simple to just get on a subway."

Jacobson: "I can get anywhere on my Vespa. Every single subway is in our neighborhood, and because of the commercial aspect of the area, there are cabs everywhere."

Hughes: "We have great access to public transportation. I like to travel by foot and by subway -- both convenient and green." 

Real Estate

While many residents are initially drawn to Lower Manhattan for its great value in real estate, they quickly learn that there's plenty more to love about this area of the city. Good schools, extensive parks and numerous children's programs make Lower Manhattan particularly popular with young families.

Homebuyers can find a wide range of housing options in Lower Manhattan, from new high-rises with lots of amenities to older buildings refurbished into residential space. Since 2002, more than 10,000 new housing units have either opened or gone under construction, and by 2011, a total of roughly 17,000 units are expected to be complete.

However, the work-in-progress nature of Lower Manhattan comes with one drawback: construction. While the ongoing development of the neighborhood can come with some noise and inconvenience, the city has taken steps to reduce the effect of construction on Lower Manhattan residents.

Shapiro: "Battery Park City has a sense of neighborhood. When you walk down the streets you know the people, and the kids all know one another. The other thing that attracted me to Battery Park City was living by the water, on the Hudson River. There are very few places in New York that have that availability, as well as the tremendous views you have of the Statue of Liberty, New Jersey and the Verrazano Bridge."

Rygorsky: "When I was buying a home for the first time, the biggest consideration was where I could find the most amount of space for the best price. I also wanted a building that was dog-friendly and had a doorman and a lot of amenities. For all of those things, the best price with the newest buildings and the best amenities was the Financial District."

Jacobson: "I think there's still pretty good value in Lower Manhattan, but I don't know if you can find bargains down here anymore. We have a three-bedroom penthouse apartment, and I think we were very fortunate to have bought it when we did. I think it would be pretty pricey now."

Hughes: "The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center does an excellent job of minimizing the impact of construction on people who live and work down here. We couldn't live down here without them." 

Things to Do

Historically, Lower Manhattan hasn't been known as one of New York's most "happening" neighborhoods. While once thought of as a place that would shut down when the workers on Wall Street went home for the day, Lower Manhattan is now shedding its image as a 9-to-5 neighborhood.

In the last decade, more than 30 new restaurants have opened in the area, and top retailers like Tiffany's, Hermes, Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods have also set up shop. Plus, interesting neighborhoods are just steps away and always offer something fun to do, from hip champagne lounges and art galleries in Tribeca to exotic shops and seafood markets in Chinatown.

Shapiro: "It's sort of the closest thing to Europe: You're living on the water, you have outdoor cafes and small streets. Other parts of the city are a little bit sterile in that sense."

Rygorsky: "I think the South Street Seaport has really been revamped into a place that I would go as a non-tourist. The Water Taxi Beach they have on the weekends or at night can be really fun, and then the shops and restaurants across the street from the Seaport are really good hangouts and great for brunch."

Jacobson: "I think we have the best movie theater in the country -- the Regal Cinema in Battery Park. It's state-of-the-art, and no one goes there. So we can go see Avatar on opening day and pretty much be assured of getting a comfortable seat."

Hughes: "There are lots of pockets of parks. The entire Hudson River Waterfront has been newly renovated, and the East River Waterfront is being renovated. There's a huge strip where you can take long walks, and there are also bicycle paths. There are also phenomenal restaurants on Stone Street. It's only open to pedestrian traffic, and on beautiful nights it's packed with people going down there to eat." 

Cost of Living

While competitive real estate prices have drawn many newcomers to Lower Manhattan over the last decade, the overall cost of living tends to be on par with the rest of the city.

Shapiro: "From a residential standpoint, I think you can get a better bargain for residential space in Lower Manhattan. But as far as the total cost of living, maybe some of the parking garages are a little bit cheaper down here. Other than that, the cost of food and everything else is pretty comparable to anywhere else in New York."

Rygorsky: "I think Stone Street is a fun little area of bars and restaurants, and they do have fun specials like Monday night lobster night -- for $18.95 you can get a lobster dinner. I think especially for the after work crowd, you can find some really good specials and happy hour deals."

Jacobson: "Whole Foods is Whole Foods -- no matter where you are in the city, you're paying Whole Foods prices. Movie theaters are movie theaters. It's certainly not more expensive, but I don't think it's less expensive either."                 

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