From the UWS to Riverdale: Finding a patch of suburban life in the city

By Kelly Kreth  |
January 21, 2020 - 1:00PM

"Even though we live in an apartment building in the Bronx in many ways it doesn’t feel like our lives are very urban at all—far less so than when I lived on the Upper West Side. Living in Riverdale, have the best of both worlds: urban and suburban," says Danny.

John Corbett/Flickr

When he was in his 20s, Danny loved living on the Upper West Side, even though it ate up most of his income, because he could explore many parts of the city within 30 minutes of his apartment. Now, after falling in love and marrying, his values have changed. Living further north in Riverdale means he has a bigger apartment and more financial security. And he finally gets to play tennis with his wife. Here are Danny’s thoughts on how the two neighborhoods compare.

I grew up in the D.C. area and went to college in New York City, and eventually returned to live here. From 2008 to 2018, I lived near 96th Street on the Upper West Side with roommates in a big, ground-floor three bedroom. A friend had the space and I moved in with his other roommate. After he left in 2011, I stayed and other roommates came and went. 

It was a good deal, although one of the bedrooms was very small, probably better suited for an office or nursery. Still, there were always takers because the owner of the building—a mid-rise with an elevator and a doorman—only raised the rent slightly and very infrequently. But NYC is expensive and much of my salary went towards the rent, so I tried to make the most out of living here on a budget.

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

One of the things I loved best about living on the Upper West Side was that I was just three blocks from Riverside Park. Central Park was a slightly longer, but walkable jaunt. I would sit outside, read, and meet up with friends. I had a weekly volleyball game in Riverside Park, which was a real joy. And while my own block was serene, Broadway was just a block away. If I needed groceries at 11 p.m., I could shop at a 24-hour supermarket there.

Because I tend to work in busy areas like Midtown and Downtown, I liked living in a quieter, more residential community. I was usually pretty social after work and ventured to different neighborhoods just to check out the scene. And since I lived right by the 96th St. 2 and 3 express station, I felt no matter where I went, I could always be home in around 30 minutes. I could go to a Broadway show on a weeknight knowing that I could be home by 11 p.m. This really incentivized me to do try a lot of different activities. 

I never thought I’d live on the UWS so long, but there was no reason to move—until I met my now-wife.  If I had known that I’d be married in a decade, I would have lived differently and invested in better furnishings. When I finally moved out in 2018 to get married, I left all my stuff on the curb.  

I was paying a premium to live in such a tony neighborhood with so much convenience and access to transportation.  Financial stability and space became more important to me. I moved into my wife’s two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Riverdale. It’s farther from where I work, but I still have an elevator and a doorman so I’m certainly not suffering. 

Graduating to this different stage of life I began to care about quality more. We upgraded our furnishings when we got married—registered for kitchen items and made a big adult purchase: an expensive couch. In my 20s couches cost $100. I had never even been inside a Raymour & Flanigan until I was married! 

Once there and settled in, Riverdale took a bit of getting used to. Many things that I took for granted on the UWS now take more coordination. I was able to be far more spontaneous on the Upper West Side.

Food shopping, for example, is something my wife and I need to plan in advance. While Riverdale has tons of shopping options, most close fairly early. 

Also commuting takes more effort. While I am very lucky to be by great transportation, my commute can sometimes be three times longer than it was when I lived in Manhattan. If I’m out late at night I may pay for a car service home—adding to our expenses. 

My wife and I both joke about who has the better commute. My commute by bus and subway is longer, but I really relish in that time to relax, read, and listen to podcasts. She drives a short distance— usually about 10 minutes—to work in Westchester and loves that is it so fast. I worry too much about other drivers and traffic and would hate to be behind the wheel in the morning.

Fortunately, there are a lot of transportation options here. To get to work, I catch a bus—it comes every three to five minutes during rush hour —to the 1 train. Or I can also stay on the bus longer and take the A express train. There is an express bus BXM2 that gets to the Upper East Side in 25 minutes—although it is wise to stay off of it after 7 a.m. to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic. Metro North is quick way to get to Manhattan—we are by the Spuyten Duyvil station. 

We also have the luxury of having our parking spot—something that is much harder to find in Manhattan. 

Living here, we can save money. Our rental apartment doesn’t require any extra cost for upkeep—if something breaks, the super handles it and we don’t need to worry about renovations. There is the added mental health benefit of being able to afford our rent thanks to two incomes; it helps me breathe easier knowing we can save for the future.   

I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on anything—Riverdale has lots of dining and entertainment options. I don’t miss any specific restaurants or bars on the UWS because once got I my paycheck, I went all over the city to try new places and rarely frequented local spots. 

Another interesting difference: On UWS I wasn’t trying to make friends. The allure of having neighbors as a social network was lost on me, even though our building had lots of cliques. Now in Riverdale, at a different stage of life, we are more invested in building and nurturing relationship within our community.

While that volleyball team in Riverside Park disbanded long ago, there are plenty of smaller parks in Riverdale with similar activities. I joined the Riverdale YMCA so I get in both workouts and social activities. We also enjoy Riverdale Children’s Theatre, which is very popular in the neighborhood. Even though we don’t have kids, many of our friends do, and we recently attended a great production of “Frozen” by 9 to 13 year olds. 

I also haven’t had to give up water views. One of my favorite places in Riverdale is Wave Hill, a private garden overlooking the Hudson. And when you are used to Manhattan prices, it is a no-brainer to sign up for a season pass. There are free hours on Saturday morning too.

Probably the biggest thrill of living in Riverdale is that my wife and I can finally play tennis together regularly. We both loved to play in high school, but we never played together until after we moved here because it’s hard (and expensive) to book tennis courts on the Upper West Side. However, in Riverdale, there are six tennis courts four blocks from our apartment, and they are always available. It’s one of the things we look forward to most on sunny Sunday mornings or even after work.   

Even though we live in an apartment building in the Bronx in many ways it doesn’t feel like our lives are very urban at all—far less so than when I lived on the Upper West Side. Living in Riverdale, we have the best of both worlds: urban and suburban.

Other people think of our neighborhood differently as well. A co-worker and Bronx native who lives by Yankee stadium overheard me tell another colleague that I live in the Bronx. He said, “No, you don’t, you live in Riverdale.”



Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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