The former hotbed of anti-war, anti-racism, anti-fascism, anti–Columbia University–ism protest, the “Acropolis on the Hudson” has gone bobo. “Five years ago, people didn’t want to be above 86th Street,” says Prudential MLB Kaye’s Tina Witt. “Then it was 96th Street. In the last several years, Morningside Heights has been one of the only areas left to get space for your dollars.” Once known as the repository of more SROs and homeless shelters than any other community in the city, the neighborhood overall has never been cleaner or safer. While longtime residents say they miss the street-corner poets and composers, the neighborhood definitely has a spruced-up feel. For the first time, adventurous young lawyers and investment bankers feel comfortable heading north of 96th Street.
CREATURE COMFORTS: The neighborhood’s commercial businesses have worked to keep up. “We could use a few more grocery stores and a deli,” says broker Rick Wohlfarth of Rick Wohlfarth & Associates. “But there’s a dry cleaner on every other block.” In serpentine Riverside Park, the playgrounds at 97th Street, 105th Street, and 111th Street have been heavily renovated. A Gourmet Garage opened near 96th Street three years ago, but most residents shop at West Side Market, on 110th, and at the Fairway warehouse, at 132nd Street and the river. The number of takeout places has exploded, and wannabe-upscale restaurants and markets have recently opened on Broadway, especially in Columbia-owned buildings between 110th and 116th Streets.
STREET LIFE: “People are astounded at how quiet the sidewalks here are,” says Ariela Heilman, a broker at Klara Madlin. “There just isn’t the usual frenetic weekend activity of other areas.” If it weren’t for the students and professors hitting the late-night bistros and the handful of bars, the area could be Carnegie Hill. Middle-class parents and their kids love the proximity to Central and Riverside parks, and most buildings allow pets. Some folks complain that gentrification has all but erased the neighborhood’s character. But with the concentration of schools, some things will never change.
MIGRATIONS: Many of the Hispanic working class who dominated Manhattan Valley for decades are being pushed out by the middle-class move uptown. B-J and Dov Frishberg have lived in Morningside Heights for 30 years and bought a two-bedroom apartment there last year so they could stay indefinitely. “There’s so much space it feels like a house,” B-J says. They love the proximity to Columbia, and B-J especially appreciates the university’s security. “There are guards set up around the campus, and the vehicles drive slowly from block to block.” On upper Central Park West, mixed-priced co-ops, condos, and apartments have been built where drug gangs used to host nightly shoot-outs.
PROGNOSIS: Columbia continues to gobble up property. Central Park West has some upscale projects in the works, including the former Towers Nursing Home.
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