This week’s issue of New York Magazine did a comprehensive ranking of the ‘best neighborhoods’ to live in New York (Brooklyn’s Park Slope was # 1). It was no surprise that Staten Island enclaves like St. George and West Brighton were ranked almost in the bottom (ahead only of areas in The Bronx, Chinatown and Harlem, which was ranked lowest – do I feel a racist edge to their survey?).
After all, these residential areas are neither hipster nor single-friendly, with few bars, no movie theaters and few services to speak of. But I personally like this strange vibe that gives my neighborhood a suburb-within-the-city feel that gives me respite from the hustle and bustle while being just twenty-five minutes away from Downtown Manhattan and twenty minutes from the one of the city’s cleanest beaches.
Oh, the lack of certain amenities keeps the rent down – which frankly speaking, works for me.
However, it was their “What do Neighbors Think?” item that got me on my nerves. When ranking various aspects of different neighborhoods, the magazine labeled Staten Island as a single neighborhood instead of separating our extremely different areas. Instead, they just jammed everything under the title of “Staten Island,” which certainly gave readers a greatly distorted view of where I live.
If you take a ride on the ferry and walk around St. George and Tompkinsville, you will realize that this is a very diverse area where Latinos, Africans, Eastern Europeans, Southeast Asians, Koreans, African Americans and even Jamaicans coexist. There are no enclaves. On Corson Avenue, there is a Polish deli across the street from a Mexican restaurant. Down the hill there is a Jamaican restaurant, an Italian-owned pizzeria, three African-American hair salons, a Sri Lankan grocery store and much more (there’s a Taco Bell too, but we’re ignoring that one on purpose). Near the ferry there are some fine restaurants and one of the best-stocked beer stores in town. The once-vilified Stapleton is now blossoming after years of neglect, thanks to the efforts of the Downtown Staten Island Council, which has drummed up ideas on how to revitalize the area both in commercial and community terms.
Now if you go further down the island, you notice how different things are. The further down you go, you find a much more suburban, conservative feel. There are strip malls, Blockbuster video stores and tons of Italian restaurants (the best in town, if you are asking). But there is also much less diversity, as the population seems to be much whiter, thanks to the Italian “exodus” from Brooklyn that took place after the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge came up. There is also a Jewish enclave and a heavily Korean area, but I have never had the pleasure of visiting the areas. Russians and Poles have made their mark in South Beach, where I often go during my days off during the summer.
I’m not trying to say that my neighborhood is better or worse than any other in the borough, but generalizing Staten Island – a borough populated by almost 500,000 people – is simply and plainly wrong.