I’ve sorta always lived life on the periphery of real estate greatness. The NY suburbs are filled with lots of Manhasset Hills’ and Garden City South’s and South Huntington’s, towns that share the names and borders of an elite suburb with half the retail price and a less desirable school district. Growing up in these kinds of towns, I know first hand the politics of how one addresses his or her envelopes and when in conversation to drop the “Hills” and when to add it. Now as an almost thirty-something living in New York City’s outermost and most diverse borough, Queens, it’s amazing how much my views on real estate and my social habits have changed.
I’m drawn to this topic particularly in light of last night’s inaugural QnSalon , a gathering of creative and professional women to discuss the promise and challenges of living in Queens. Co-hosted by Sarah Burningham and Chrissy Festa, last night’s guest speaker Alia Akkam of QNote and Edible Queens, focused on the perceptions of Queens from those living outside the borough and contrasted it with the vibrant life experiences of those who call it home.
My friends from Manhattan and my friends from the suburbs initially cringe at the thought of visiting us in Queens. The Upper East Siders prepare their passports for the long journey across the East River and the suburbanites grip their steering wheels with whitened knuckles for the fear of parallel parking. For them, Queens might as well be Somalia. Although it was refreshing to have a conversation among like-minded folks about our affection for the neighborhoods we love, and the stigmatization of a place people typically flee from when they become a trentagenarian with a family, I kept wondering about our desire to define ourselves in relation to our address. As a New Yorker, it’s something that has been a part of my life since I learned to memorize my address and phone number (isn’t that a quaint notion? Today I can’t even begin to tell you the phone numbers of anyone I call regularly).
It was the walk home from the Salon that really helped me to put my thoughts in order. The view out of my apartment window is of one of the most gorgeous tree-lined streets in Queens. My neighbors have homes worth three to four times the worth of mine. As a child this was also the case. I used to think that if I just lived across the street, or around the corner, life would somehow be better and naively I believed that there would be nothing more to want. While strolling home from last night’s Salon, I walked down that gorgeous street, except I came from the alternate direction. Although this seems rather silly, for once I saw the view from those who call this street home: it’s a view of an even more lavish and expensive row of houses.
I couldn’t help but giggle out loud. We’re all on the periphery of real esate greatness, no matter where we live. Even the nicest house in this particular Queens neighborhood, might not be as desirable as one in say, Southampton. And I am sure that the house in Southampton is dwarfed by a sprawling estate ala Downton Abbey in the English countryside. There is something incredibly refreshing about knowing your place in the world. I think this is what being thirty is all about: loving where you are and what’s happening on your street, not the one next door.
Although the map of our lives is not quite fixed and the plot points of our thirties could lead us in multiple geographic directions, for now, Queens is the place to be. It’s incredibly walkable, everyone we meet is sincere and gregarious, there’s an expansive park system and a burgeoning green movement. For a city that has the worst national ratings for commute times, we are fortunate to live at the crossroads of multiple forms of public transit and are ridiculously close to our jobs. Less time on the road means more time together. I keep thinking of the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry, originally a Queens resident, wants to know whether his girlfriend Sidra’s boobs are implants or if they are real. In the final scene she shouts: they’re real and they’re spectacular. That’s kinda how I feel about Queens, its real and it’s spectacular.