New York City: Chelsea at the Crossroads

  • Strolling on the High Line.

    Strolling on the High Line.

  • A mellow morning at 9th Avenue patisserie La Bergamote.

    A mellow morning at 9th Avenue patisserie La Bergamote.

  • The shops and restaurants of Chelsea Market occupy a historic biscuit factory.

    The shops and restaurants of Chelsea Market occupy a historic biscuit factory.

  • a West Chelsea street corner.

    a West Chelsea street corner.

  • Meadow grasses on the High Line.

    Meadow grasses on the High Line.

  • The Frank Gehry–designed IAC building, with Jean Nouvel’s equally arresting condo tower behind it.

    The Frank Gehry–designed IAC building, with Jean Nouvel’s equally arresting condo tower behind it.

  • Hôtel Americano’s café.

    Hôtel Americano’s café.

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Mixing grit and glamour, a dynamic Manhattan neighborhood ups its cool quotient with the city’s boldest architecture, public spaces, and more.

By Jennifer Chen
Photographs by Jason Michael Lang

Most of us, at some point, fantasize about living somewhere other than the place we’re in—say, a somnolent village in Umbria where lunches span the course of the afternoon. Or the northern California coast, with its big skies and sunny attitudes. Me? I dream about the neighborhoods of New York.

Since I left New York for Asia more than a decade ago, I’ve pondered over which corner of the city I’ll live in when it comes time to move back. For years, my fealty was to the borough where I spent my early twenties: Brooklyn, land of leafy streets, cracked slate sidewalks, Federal-style brownstones, and hangout sessions on the stoop. Since marrying my husband, an Englishman with a taste for Scorsese’s Mean Streets and early Woody Allen, however, I’ve been obliged to seriously consider Manhattan.

Where would we settle? Lower Manhattan, for sure: as a downtown wannabe, I’m allergic to anything above 30th Street. But the area’s gritty allure has waned over the years. The East Village? Too many frat boys on the weekend. Tribeca? Overrun with bankers. Soho? It’s transformed into one big mall for bargain-hunting tourists. “There are no neighborhoods in Manhattan anymore,” Richard Price, Bronx native and chronicler of New York street life par excellence, lamented to the New York Post recently. “South of Harlem, it feels like a bunch of districts where rich people can crash.”

Decrying gentrification is an easy moral stance in New York. It’s also a lazy one. True, the days of post-punk, cheap lofts, and crack vials scattered on the sidewalk are well over in lower Manhattan. Yet there are pockets of resistance, places where edgy creativity and idiosyncrasy still flourish and good restaurants aren’t just the preserve of the gilded one percent.

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