Friday, April 16, 2010

Inwood: We're No. 31!

Nate Silver - whose official name changed to Renowned Statistician Nate Silver sometime after he came close to perfectly predicting the 2008 presidential election - ranked the best neighborhoods in New York City for the newest issue of New York magazine. He used precise criteria for the imprecise exercise, relying on things like housing costs, restaurants, schools, safety, transit and diversity. The top spot went to Park Slope in Brooklyn, followed by the Lower East Side and Sunnyside in Queens. There's no trophy awarded, only bragging rights over other New Yorkers. People definitely get defensive about their neighborhoods, as if someone's telling them they have an ugly child.

Inwood comes in at No. 31, just behind Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and a spot ahead of Corona Park. The most surprising ranking to me was the Upper West Side, our favorite place to hang out and Louise's former stomping grounds. Seinfeld, the TV version and the real guy, is among the celebrities calling the neighborhood home. The sites include Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. Silver ranked it only 36th. Of Inwood, the magazine wrote "In Manhattan, but not of it; on balance, less convenient than many neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens."

In Manhattan but not of it is a perfect way to describe Inwood. We live on Broadway, the Broadway, but far away from the bright lights and skyscrapers. Inwood doesn't feel like the rest of the Manhattan, but that's also one of its strengths, since it offers things that can't be found in the more famous zip codes.

I disagree slightly with the idea it's less convenient than places in Brooklyn and Queens. For us it's a bit different than some people who live west of us in Inwood, since we're only a block from the 1 train and about four blocks from the A train, a pair of subway lines that take us anywhere we need to go in Manhattan. Getting to the east side is never the most enjoyable chore from where we live. But our commute to the Upper West Side, Times Square and downtown seems more convenient than it is for many people in the other boroughs, who often have to switch trains to get to Midtown.

After six years in the neighborhood, I definitely feel like an Inwoodite, or Inwoodian, depending on your preference. Like a mid-major supporter complaining about his team not being able to crack the AP's top 25 men's basketball poll, I wish Inwood had been ranked slightly higher, but it's not like I'm so upset I'm going to write a letter to the editor or sign an online petition demanding a recalibration of the numbers. Silver did the best job possible objectively ranking something that residents will almost always view in a subjective manner.

Right now it's hard for me to picture us living anywhere else, and I don't just mean in another part of the country. Two weeks ago I walked half a block to the Columbia baseball field for an Ivy League doubleheader. Division I baseball two minutes away, and in the fall football. It's an experience unique to Inwood. About a week before the baseball game, I attended an open house held by Columbia, designed to answer questions about upcoming construction projects the university has planned for the upcoming years. Many residents are upset about the plans. Many of those people attended the open house and expressed their concerns. Their anger rose as they spoke to the Columbia representatives, though their voices rarely did. My friend who works for Columbia listened to all of them with empathy and a smile on his face, even when the insults outnumbered the constructive criticism. I strenuously disagree with the people opposed to the projects but appreciate their passion and concern for the neighborhood. For their home. For my home.

I now feel like a member of the community and not just a resident who fled to Inwood because of ludicrous rent in another part of the city. I track construction projects. I play ball in the area park. I followed the discussions between police and neighborhood people after a series of muggings in a nearby park rattled the area. I stand on the sidewalk and watch workers put the finishing touches on a new sushi joint just down the street, a welcome addition to the neighborhood, even though I'll rarely step foot inside and will rarely, if ever, taste anything on the menu. I look online for cool stories about Inwood, like this one, which focuses on what the neighborhood was like during the depression. And where else can you find a picture like this, at a historical intersection? Only in Inwood.

One of the coolest things about Silver's story is that his formula allows people to tweak the rankings, depending on what's more important to them. If schools are more critical than cheap housing, that can change an area's rating. For Inwood, the big thing in its favor is its parks, whether it's Inwood Hill Park or Isham Park. People who first come to the area can't believe how green it is up here. Last weekend an arsonist set five fires in Inwood Hill Park. I felt protective of the park, and not just outraged at the arsonist. That's our park, in our neighborhood. It's not the best neighborhood in the city, certainly not the coolest. Not everyone even knows it's actually in Manhattan. But it's now our favorite. And it's home. And next year? We're cracking the Top 25.

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