One of the most daunting things about moving a young family to New York (especially as an expat) is picking where to live. Manhattan, Brooklyn, or way out in Connecticut? If Manhattan, which part? Each neighbourhood has a really distinctive personality, and you want to get it right. After a great deal of street-pounding and house-hunting by C, we ended up picking Battery Park City.
Here are our top ten reasons for living in Battery Park City with kids:
It is right next to the Financial District, but has a much calmer feel thanks to the fact it was purpose built out of landfill in the 1980s. It has wide pavements, driving restrictions, tree lined streets and plenty of greenery. It’s also v uncrowded by Manhattan standards, since most tourists stick to Battery Park itself.
The location also makes it really easy to get around. The Financial District (“FiDi”), Wall Street and Tribeca are walking distance. There’s my beloved free Connection bus, as well as the 1 and R trains and ferries. The Connection bus was started after 9/11 to help residents get around, but proved so popular they’ve kept it running ever since. Air conditioned and heated as the season requires, it is free, and shuttles round the edge of Manhattan between Tribeca and SeaPort from 10am-7.30pm. Although you have to collapse the stroller, it is by far the nicest way to get around downtown if you can’t face walking (ahem). Taking the subway with a stroller can be emotional.
It’s also really easy to get about by car, as West Street and the FDR Drive are right on your doorstep, allowing you to whizz up either the East or Western edges of Manhattan. You can also leave Manhattan very quickly via the tunnels and bridges, so it’s convenient for getting out of town at the weekend. Perhaps for this reason, or for its proximity to the 9/11 site, you often see a lot of NYPD officers in Battery Park City.
The open space
Roughly a third of Battery Park City’s 92 acres is gorgeous, open, green, public space. There’s almost 36 acres of park, waterfront and playgrounds, with views of the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, Staten Island and Jersey City.
Walking along the Esplanade is a lovely way to get some fresh air and let your eyes focus on the far distance (something I’ve come to appreciate after a year of living amongst sky scrapers). Our girls particularly enjoy the opportunities to ‘rock scramble’ along the river – there are several stretches deliberately built with big boulders to clamber along. Oh, the shins I have scraped, trying to keep up with them. The Esplanade reaches all the way up to the Upper West Side, so it’s an excellent way to really stretch your legs without having to cross twenty million roads. It’s always popular with joggers, dog walkers, strollers and kids learning to ride their bikes. Battery Park City has its own council, which takes a lot of trouble keeping it very clean and well maintained, the green spaces are always in good condition and litter-free. This is not always the case in New York, believe me.
3. Brookfield Place
A fairly recent development in Battery Park City is Brookfield Place, which serves as the focus point for the neighbourhood. There is the fancy new French supermarket, Le District, but also a large food hall called Hudson Eats, which is v useful for feeding lots of different appetites. The Winter Garden is a huge, glass atrium with plenty of tables and chairs. It’s a great place to take shelter from the Summer humidity or Winter sleet, and they often put on free children’s dance parties on Saturday mornings.
In the winter they open an ice rink right outside the Winter Garden. Ice skating is such an iconic thing to do in Manhattan, and this is a great place to do it as you can nip straight in to refuel at Hudson Eats afterwards.
4. The shopping
You’re walking distance to brand new French supermarket Le District and Whole Foods in Tribeca, as well as a handful of smaller convenience stores like Battery Gourmet Market, Hudson and Gristedes. A lot of families opt for the online Fresh Direct deliveries. Whole Foods and Le District are on the more expensive side, but anyone moving to Manhattan should brace themselves for ridiculously high food bills, wherever you shop. It’s pretty much the same price to eat at a restaurant as to cook it yourself.
Le District opened last year, and is a pleasure to shop in. There’s a fresh produce section, a creperie, a fromagerie, a boulangerie… you can choose whether to take your meat home to cook or get them to cook it up for you then and there. They also put a lot on for kids – every Saturday morning 10-11am is a food-based, free activity like decorating pumpkins, filling freshly baked profiteroles and decorating aprons.
For clothes, Brookfield Place has a lot of posh shops I’m not allowed in, like Hermes, DVK and Paul Smith, and Saks Fifth Avenue is opening a branch here soon. For lower prices, we like to cross West Street to Century 21 on Cortlandt & Church Street, which is a great place to buy cheap children’s clothes and clobber.
5. The playgrounds
Battery Park City has a lot of great playgrounds, there must be at least six really good ones. For a review of our particular favourites, check out this blog post. They include the Rockefeller E. Nelson playground, Teardrop Park’s hair raising slide, Pier 25’s enormous compound, and the absolutely tiny, hidden gem tucked up out of site right by the new Brookfield Place shopping mall. It is so small you can find a bench and relax, knowing you can see all your children without anxiously scanning from one end to the other.
There’s also a great service for very young kids run by Battery Park Conservancy, which puts out loads of soft play items, toys and books for you to play with as long as the weather holds. Rockefeller Park has permanent ping pong tables and basketball courts for youngsters and adults. All with a view of the Hudson.
6. The activities
There’s so much to do here, much of it free. From the new SeaGlass Carousel ($5), to free kayaking on the Hudson, you don’t need to venture far for a family-friendly activity. Over the summer, we enjoyed the free Battery Urban Farm sessions in Battery Park, where children could help pick and taste vegetables, listen to stories about nature and make their own bird-shaped kites.
While I’d say there’s a general shortage of good coffee shops (don’t even get me started on trying to order drinkable tea), there’s a lot of good places to eat here. Many of them are around ‘Goldman’s Alley’ off Vesey Street by the Regal cinema, including:
- Blue Smoke – very family friendly BBQ indeed. Kids can decorate their own piggy cookies which are baked during the meal. Our two adore the long trough to wash your hands in, with foot pedals to operate the water
- Shake Shack – for those days when only a burger and milkshake will do
- Wei West – which does the best Singapore Noodles I’ve had since living in Hong Kong
- El Vez – really great Mexican food, though slightly weird decor inside
Schools and daycare
plenty of choice here. There’s the public schools (which means a non-fee paying state school here) PS/IS 276, IS 289 and Stuyvesant High School, and lots of options for daycare.
Battery Park itself
This 25 acre park has had a lot of investment since Hurricane Sandy, and is now a v beautiful, shady, green haven on the southern tip of Manhattan. In addition to the Battery Urban Farm, there’s Clinton Castle, the shiny new SeaGlass Carousel (read my review here), plenty of shady trees and water fountains to cool off in the summer. Along with Battery Park City, it is very windy in the winter, often several degrees colder than the rest of Manhattan.
Besides all the greenery, there’s also a lot to see, such as the Korean War memorial, which the girls think looks like a cookie cutter. There’s the haunting sculpture of ship wrecked sailors trying to pull a man from the water, the Hudson River lapping over his head. There’s the dented and battered globe that once stood outside the World Trade Center, now guarded by a permanent flame. Not to mention ferries to Liberty, Ellis , Governors and Staten Islands.
The sense of community
It’s a really friendly neighbourhood. You feel safe walking in the dark, and people smile back at you (especially if you have your kids with you). It’s perfectly normal to strike up conversation in the elevators (unheard of in the UK), and dog walkers will readily let you pet their dog once you’ve established that it’s ok. This neighbourhood is very used to children, which is a big help in general, but especially if you are settling into a new expat life.
This week’s Highs & Lows:
- Our second American Halloween. I made the girls cloaks – B refused to dress up at all but T loved hers. We went to a house party in Brooklyn, and enjoyed the walk back to the subway admiring everyone’s costumes. T had endless questions, “Why’s that boy dressed as an owl?” “What’s she supposed to be? Why?” “Why is that daddy pretending to be a dirty mattress?” Why, why why. In the end I simply answered “Because it’s Halloween”, tired of having to explain who Cleopatra was, or what zombies and goblins are
- Two and a half year old B’s speech is getting better and better, it’s such a pleasure to see her character and personality reveal itself now she can really communicate. Yesterday we bought C some roses, following a conversation about how sad it was that no one ever bought boys flowers. He asked her if she would buy me some the next day. B thought for a moment, then said “I could choose Mumma flowers, but I would need a grownup to help me as I could not reach, also I have not got any money.” It doesn’t seem that long ago when I got ridiculously excited when she said “Peter Rabbit”
- T had her first sleepover last weekend. Two of her school friends stayed at ours for the night. Felt like a really big milestone for the whole family. B thought it was wonderful, and trotted around behind the three big girls, insisting on sleeping in the same room
- Feeling homesick for fudge. Fudge is hard to find here. Proper fudge, made from Devon clotted cream. American candy just doesn’t cut it. Think I feel a visit to Tea & Sympathy coming on…