Housing Near Columbia University and Morningside Heights
The first “apartment” I lived in when I moved to NYC in 2004 was not so much an apartment as a dorm room in the little-known—and highly underrated—neighborhood called Morningside Heights. This area is most notably home to Columbia University. In ambiance and identity, it is what the Upper West Side aspires to be—liberal, intellectual, conspicuously unfashionable, beautifully residential. It became the place I called home for the better part of 7 years of my nomadic apartment-hopping NYC life.
As an apartment-seeker, there are several key things to note about Morningside Heights.
Firstly and arguably most importantly, location—where exactly is it? The natural boundaries are 110th Street to the south, 120th Street to the north, Morningside Park to the east, and Riverside Park and the Hudson River to the west. However, I think it’s fair to say that it extends as far south as 96th Street and as far north as 125th Street. The main subway line is the 1, with local stops at 103rd, 110th, 116th, and 125th Streets, connecting to the 2/3 express trains at 96th Street. Commute time to midtown is 20-30 minutes.
This leads to the second question—it’s pretty far north…is it safe? Yes! I am a small, single Asian chick. If it’s safe for me, it’s safe for you.
Thirdly, a more general question—what’s the neighborhood like? Eminently livable, arguably serene. Morningside Heights offers a high standard of living at a discount. It is perfect for families, young professionals, and unemployed homebodies (if you can swing the rent, more power to you). You should consider it if you want all the conveniences of city life away from the hustle-and-bustle and rampant commercialism that accompanies it.
Restaurants and stores are concentrated on the main drag, Broadway, south of the main gates to Columbia University’s campus on 116th Street. They include the iconic Tom’s Diner from Seinfeld and dining options that range from French to Korean to take-out falafel. There are plenty of gorgeous pre-war buildings around Broadway and low-rise walkups on side streets. Elegant pre-war (mostly) doormen buildings line Riverside Drive one block to the west. On Riverside, you can take in the majestic views of the Hudson and the George Washington Bridge, enter the park below, and access the Greenway for a stroll or bike ride along the western contour of Manhattan. East of Broadway is Amsterdam Ave, which is a bit colder in architecture and devoid of the greenery characterizing Riverside but more affordable. One standout landmark is the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. The adjoining garden has free-roaming peacocks. It’s disorienting and magical.
It’s not for everyone. If you like the meatpacking district, and you’re not foreign, it’s likely not a good match. If you can’t handle occasionally sharing the sidewalk with some punk underage drunk kids swaying up Broadway after a night of carousing, you might be happier elsewhere.
These punk kids, along with faculty, occupy most of the neighborhood and define its university culture. Yes, there is an American Apparel, a Chipotle, and the requisite delicious pizza place that serves up cheap jumbo-sized slices (Koronet’s Pizza). On the flipside, this culture breeds unique gems: (1) Labyrinth Books (renamed in recent years to Book Culture, a silly name I refuse to recognize) is the best, most esoteric, and outrageously pretentious bookstore in the city, (2) the Hungarian Pastry Shop, where lingering for an entire day refilling the same mug of coffee is considered a generally accepted practice. Some people study or read, others are working on their magnum opus. These institutions would not thrive elsewhere in the city. Lastly, I feel obligated to mention that the best bagels in NYC can be found at Absolut Bagels on 108th and Broadway.
I originally moved to Morningside Heights because I had no other option. Literally. Columbia required all freshmen to live in dorms. And looking back, I’m glad I did. I will continue to bounce around and inhabit other NYC neighborhoods, but Morningside Heights will always be a place I consider home in some way.