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Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray Not Included
April 17, 2011 9:00 PM   Subscribe

For their 43rd anniversary issue, New York Magazine chose "to explore, across time, one of the things that has most defined New York life for centuries and has become a unit of measurement for our successes and failures: The Apartment: A History of Vertical Living" / Sardine Life: What a century and a half of piled-up housing reveals about us.

Additional features in the section:

Tales of a Stacked City
* Luc Sante on His Dealing, Stealing Neighbors
* Gay Talese on His Vertical Land Grab
* Shalom Auslander on His Search for Grit
* Anne Roiphe on Her Homeless Houseguest
* David Rakoff on His Erotic House-sit
* Philip Gourevitch on His Tugboat Sublet

Interior Lives
* The New York Apartment in Television and Film (Slideshow)
* Attention Seekers: Apartments ad extremum (Slideshow)
* The Perpetual Garret: Where the starving artists slept (Slideshow)

More
Freeman Gunter: A Lifetime at the Ansonia (Only some of it in the baths.)

Going Condo or Getting Boutiqued? (Slideshow)

Twenty under-the-radar microneighborhoods that may just be the Next Big Thing
posted by zarq (33 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oooh!
I will be incommunicado for some time.
Thanks, zarq!
posted by likeso at 9:08 PM on April 17, 2011


Thank you!
I recently moved out of my tiny bolthole into something a bit bigger. I feel vaguely guilty, like I'm playing into a narrative that privileges 'open space' and 'backyards'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:18 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


alas, height restrictions make my apartment fantasy a bit more fantastic than it should be
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:20 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hi Luc!

So one of my aborted stories used the spread of apartments as a metaphor for the spread of modernity and a release from the lacey prison of domestic obligation* which was spurred by a quote I read in some book, I think it was apartments: a biography or something, and it was this huge long class rant about how apartments in New York would be the end of all civilized life as we know it and it started with the trumpet blaring line "Think of a baby in a flat! The notion is as absurd as it is dangerous."

So, Think Of A Baby In A Flat! Has become my go to code for someone being historically, hystriconically obtuse.


*while trying to recognize the really, really awful conditions apartment living put some pele in, but it was better then being on the street cause social reformers decided to condem your block and leave you out in the cold, on Christmas.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 PM on April 17, 2011


I always liked the story of how after 9/11, a bunch of senators came to downtown Manhattan to inspect the site, and were told about how the clean-up was going, and how they were working hard to get people back into their homes.

Supposedly, Trent Lott said, "Homes? What homes?" To which someone had to inform him that yes, people actually live in these buildings.
posted by fungible at 9:47 PM on April 17, 2011


Also, I'd like to note how relieved I am that my neighborhood is, thankfully, not one of the twenty "up and coming neighborhoods."
posted by fungible at 9:48 PM on April 17, 2011


New Yorkers crack me up. They'll pay $800 a month for a 55 square foot apartment and think it's fantastic because, you know, there's so much outside the apartment!
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:51 PM on April 17, 2011


I have to say, one of the things that always kept me away from NYC when I was an East Coaster was the thought of contending with the rental situation. I'd heard nothing but horror story upon horror story from my friends, and as a starving artist I didn't think New York (well past its post-Lower East Side heyday) was a financially smart place for me. That being said, it's always seemed like a huge part of NYC's iconography, almost part and parcel of the experience, and I'll greatly enjoy reading all this and reflecting on what I missed. Thank you!
posted by mykescipark at 9:54 PM on April 17, 2011




New Yorkers crack me up. They'll pay $800 a month for a 55 square foot apartment and think it's fantastic because, you know, there's so much outside the apartment!



What's wrong with that? All you need to live is a computer and maybe a game system, a TV, and a few books. Having things AROUND you is more important. I just moved a 20 minute walk away from where I was and already I'm feeling it. I've lost access to cheap food, cheap dry cleaning, my neighborhood cafes, my local pubs, etc.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:55 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


there's so much outside the apartment!

What's wrong with that?


It kind of flips the idea of a home as the place you live. Instead of living at home, venturing forth to work or shop or whatever, you live outside your home, and venture back to it only to sleep or check your email or whatever. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's the way most wild animals live (birds don't spend their days in the nest, for example). New Yorkers are really at the forefront of a return to nature.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:08 PM on April 17, 2011


the spread of apartments as a metaphor for the spread of modernity

Most people in ancient Rome lived in apartment buildings known as insulae.

What's wrong with that? All you need to live is a computer and maybe a game system, a TV, and a few books.

Yes, but once there's two of you it starts to get rather constrictive. It's psychologically unhealthy to live in too small of a space, I think. I've done so for a large part of my life but the restrictions it imposes are very efficient for work, creativity, and play. Don't get me started on what happens once babies enter the picture.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:10 PM on April 17, 2011


That's how i think about my places, and I'm very far from New York. It just makes more sense, especially since I can't be bothered to cook. I even think of it as a 'nest'.
Unfortunately home ownership is still a prevaling myth here, so people want to spread out and preserve open space and make things harder on those of us who want other people around to handle our clothes and make us coffee at 3am.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:11 PM on April 17, 2011


I spent several years of my childhood in what Nymag is calling "superfund south" it was then semi industrial and home to many of the "invisible" residents of ny, the people who sweep the floors, make deliveries and sell fruits and vegetables off carts. First and second generation immigrants, older family members often did not speak English and they all worked off the books. It was a very tight knit community, I hope they find a place there now that someone has decided it is time to clean up the toxins.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:15 PM on April 17, 2011


This could turn into a very interesting discussion.

I'm more in Lovecraft's camp. As a full-time artist/producer, I veer between not being home for days on end and being completely sequestered away from the world for weeks at a time. In either case, there is something delightful about living in just the right place, a neighborhood that meets your cultural and social as well as your basic survival needs. Speaking as your average youngish middle-class urban white artsy dude, I've never been happier than when I've had my favorite coffee shop/record store/watering hole within reasonable walking distance.

The best living situation I ever had was in a part of Hollywood that had its share of, uh, late-night character, but it also had a four-story building FILLED with the most awesome, neighborly, helpful, communal, and generally awesome group of people I've ever seen under one roof. I am a definite introvert, prone to going weeks without speaking to other people, but when I wanted the option of opening my door and instantly finding a person to have a beer in the courtyard with, that was worth almost any amount of money I could have scraped together. To say nothing of having the world's best record store just a few blocks away, right next to the deluxe cinema, a bookstore/cafe, and my gym. Maybe my actual apartment wasn't the most spacious thing in the world, but the world I was able to have just by stepping outside of it? I couldn't conjure that in a house of any size.

Choosing the right place to live in a big city is an incredibly dense, sticky, and exciting tangle of both practical and personal things.
posted by mykescipark at 10:23 PM on April 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


My friend pointed out that both Sydney's housing crisis and it's sharehouse culture come from urban sprawl and the lack of high-density living (again, height restrictions). Sometimes you luck out and live with someone awesome. Sometimes you live in a dingy hole.
My new place is bigger, but what am I going to DO there?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:26 PM on April 17, 2011


I really do appreciate a home in a neighborhood with a high walk score, but I also like a little room to move around in when I'm at home.

Last year I visited a friend in Manhattan who lives in an apartment in Chelsea. We went to some art galleries and some night spots, all very close to were he lives. But his apartment is smaller than my living room. Also last year I visited some relatives in rural Illinois. They're not especially wealthy, but they had a huge home with a swimming pool and acres of land for their horses. I'm pretty sure that if I could force these people to swap places, they'd both go crazy. The folks from Illinois would complain that they had to live in a closet, and the guy from New York would complain that he had to be in bumfuck nowhere.

The best place for you to live says as much about you as the place.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:47 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh great, another thread for people who think they need a certain minimum square footage so their soul can sing or something and a people who think they need to live within a certain zipcode so their heart can soar or whatever.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:51 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


As long as one side doesn't impose unduly on the other it should be okay. When they don't, things get bad.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:01 PM on April 17, 2011


Oh great, another thread for people who think they need a certain minimum square footage so their soul can sing or something and a people who think they need to live within a certain zipcode so their heart can soar or whatever.

Yes, thank you for your thoughtful contribution.
posted by mykescipark at 11:53 PM on April 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wish I lived in New York - the "concrete jungle where dreams are made of," as a poet once put it. Imagine! A magical city where the hitherto unquenchable rules of grammar no longer apply. "These street were made to feel brand new, there's nothin' to dance to, now you're in New York - New York - New York ... ". Great song, great city. But surely there is SOMETHING to dance to?
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:22 AM on April 18, 2011



Most people in ancient Rome lived in apartment buildings known as insulae.


I know right? And we have the complaints of tenants and they're pretty much all "Argh high rent! noise! insane neighbors!"
posted by The Whelk at 5:48 AM on April 18, 2011


The trouble with Manhattan is, they keep trying to price all the cool people out, and then it isn't a very cool place any more, so the rents go down and the cool moves back, and then it gets popular again, so the price goes up and the cool can't afford it anymore, so it gets uncool and then people move away and the prices go down. Then the cool people move back and it becomes all artsy and happy and cool again, and everyone wants to live there, and the prices go up and up! And then the cool people can't afford to live there, so the cool moves out and it becomes uncool. Most people don't want to be uncool, so they move away too, and so the prices go down and...
posted by Goofyy at 6:30 AM on April 18, 2011


As I've said before, not all of New York City is Manhattan and the artsy-fartsy parts of Brooklyn. Out here in Queens, for the price of the Manhattan shoebox, I have a fairly spacious 2-bedroom in a safe and lively neighborhood, great food, less hipsters, less pretension and more diversity. Plus the Mets.
posted by jonmc at 7:26 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to live in an apartment in my downtown core. Unfortunately, all of the apartments/condos here are designed by morons and built of tinkertoys and canvas. It's difficult; we live in an 80 year old house that is rock solid and beautiful but we hardly use half of the rooms more than occasionally (and to store crap we don't really need). Downsizing and stratifying would be really nice but I do need bulkhead sound breaks. It is like for shit, I am saying. I am getting older and I don't want to be taking care of a century house when I'm 65. Well maybe we will have decent transit by then.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:11 AM on April 18, 2011


Plus the Mets.

Well, everything's got to have a downside. (Sorry, sorry...if it helps, Queens sounds fantastic, and should I ever find myself in NYC, that's probably where I'll wind up?)

I like apartments in theory, but as I'm about to go hunting for my first house (shared with two other people)...good God, I'm really looking forward to having someplace that's just totally ours.
posted by kalimac at 9:20 AM on April 18, 2011


You're Welsh, kalimac? That's one of the few ethnic groups I haven't encountered in my borough as this story illustrates.
posted by jonmc at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2011


Well, Philadelphian by birth, and living there until 3 years ago. Thus the Mets comment...

(I'd fallen in love with Brooklyn last summer -- Red Hook, specifically. Queens is winning me over too...)
posted by kalimac at 11:08 AM on April 18, 2011


*seethes with Halladay envy*
posted by jonmc at 11:14 AM on April 18, 2011


Nice post. What you want to do is, click on the link "Where the starving artists slept" and, about seven images into the slideshow, you'll see Wm. S. Burroughs' late-70s "bunker."
posted by Superfrankenstein at 11:39 AM on April 18, 2011


New York didn’t invent the apartment

Thanks for acknowledging that and then spending the rest of the article forgetting it.

If you want to see an apartment culture, go to Singapore or Hong Kong. The majority of people in the NYC metro don't live in apartments. There are better examples of this sort of thing all over the world.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:52 AM on April 18, 2011


New Yorkers crack me up. They'll pay $800 a month for a 55 square foot apartment and think it's fantastic because, you know, there's so much outside the apartment!

...Youth may have something to do with that as well. For 12 years I lived in a "two-bedroom" apartment, where the "bedrooms" were each 10x6' and had sleeping platforms permanently built in, because you couldn't have fit any other furniture in there if you did put a bed in. The "closet" was a bar underneath each loft. The living room/kitchen was about 13X20', with the fridge and stove along one wall. (The bathroom was kind of big, which was nice.)

I moved in when I was 24, and for a while my thinking was, "okay, yeah, it's kinda small, but I'm FIVE MINUTES' WALK from all the restaurants on Avenue A and ten minutes' walk from Tompkins park, and only a half hour from work, and the Lower East Side is a great neighborhood and so many fascinating people live here, and so what if some of my friends have to sit on the floor when they come over, we fit 20 people in the living room that one time, and he, I once was able to cater a reception for 70 people out of that kitchen..."

But what is "cool and dealable" when you are 24 starts looking like "substandard living conditions" when you turn 36. I finally got sick of the cramped space, the broken radiator, and the walls so thin I once heard my next door neighbor negotiating for price with a prostitute. I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn where the whole of my LES apartment could fit into my current living room; and instead of a 10x6' bedroom, I have a 10x6' bedroom CLOSET. Not quite as cool, but you don't care so much about "cool" as you get older.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:58 AM on April 18, 2011


So, Think Of A Baby In A Flat! Has become my go to code for someone being historically, hystriconically obtuse.

I, too, love this baffling piece of historical reasoning -- I've seen it a lot in some the research I've done on multifamily housing. Unsurprisingly, this line of thought continued to persist well into the late twentieth century -- in the 1970s, at least in the Denver area, suburban communities argued against building apartment buildings in part because they would attract "single moms with delinquent children" who would be unable to learn proper gender and family roles because of their surroundings. Apartments would also attract singles, gays, people 'living in sin," and other horrors that threaten childhood development. (Of course, these communities also opposed apartments because they would, at least in theory, attract minorities and poor people, and would cause property values to go down -- but they publicly used this Think of The Children argument).

Also, there's a lot of weird arguments made by anti-apartment factions that multifamily housing fails to inculcate a proper love of nature, due to a lack of backyards and lawns (better, apparently, to destroy open space through sprawl, than to have to rely on a public park for your access to green grass and trees). In Western cities, this was used as a very potent argument against constructing apartments -- nature is what made Westerners more vigorous, vital than people from other parts of the United States. Apartment living would make Westerners weak, effete, and socialistic -- just like those people on the East Coast.
posted by heurtebise at 5:12 PM on April 18, 2011


One of the funniest things about my trips to New York was my dad constantly pointing out places where Bob Dylan may or may not have lived
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:17 PM on April 18, 2011


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