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Monday, November 7, 2011


There are many neighborhoods in New York where I'm reminded of my Grandparents - huge swaths of Southern Brooklyn, half of Queens Boulevard, a few scattered blocks of the east Bronx even. There should be. My grandparents are part of one of largest, and most culturally influential groups ever to hit New York - part of the great wave of immigrants and their children from the shtetels of Eastern Europe. Even today, almost 100 years after it ended, that culture has remained. The people who make it up may not be so numerous anymore, but it still has a while before it fades completely from the neighborhoods it once dominated

There are fewer neighborhoods where I'm reminded of my parents - middle-class liberal boomer Jews. You'd think that would be a big demographic in New York, one which has left a sizable imprint on the city as a whole. And it has - but it's an imprint that's not really rooted in specific geography, one where the residents have transmitted a character that's stuck to the streets. Most neighborhoods where you would think it might be encountered have either remained with that feeling of my grandparents' world, or been transformed into a kind of generic yuppiness. One of the few places (small parts of Flatbush being the only others that comes to mind right away) I've found it has been in Riverdale.

I never thought I'd like Riverdale - because the combination of its name, middle-class residents and relative suburbaness, it was always put out there in the public consciousness as kind of a souless and uninteresting contrast to the rest of the Bronx - a simplistic and inaccurate narrative for both sides of the divide, but one which I fell for.

It turns out I do like Riverdale, very much. Part of it is because it reminds me of a world I know and love, part of it is because it's one of those neighborhoods that feels like it retained its same basic character for the last 30 years as the city has changed dramatically around it -one of the few neighborhoods in New York where you don't feel like you're just seeing a snapshot of a state of flux. But most of it is because walking around it is interesting. It's one of the only neighborhoods where you can turn a corner and not really know what's next: a cliff, a high rise, a mansion, the Hudson River. Greater Riverdale - essentially the Bronx west of Broadway - looks small on a map but feels vast when you walk it. The topography is a big component of this - the area houses both the highest and lowest points in the Bronx. The lack of any real street grid is another part. But it's the variety of use that really does it. There are streets that would be at home in Scarsdale, and others that would fit right into Washington Heights. There are parks of the woodland variety and ballfield variety, two colleges in its borders, sleek highways and horribly maintained winding asphalt. The Bronx itself is like this - it's the borough that's most patchwork, where you're most likely to find a wood-frame house, 1970s concrete tower, pre-war art deco building, and recent Fedder-crap condo all inhabiting the same block.

But throughout all this physical diversity, a certain character to the neighborhood remains. A character where I'd be not the least but surprised to turn the corner and see my mother or father walking the dog or shlepping home a bag of groceries.

Neighborhods: Riverdale, Fieldston, Spuyten Duyvil
Tracts Walked: Bx285, Bx287, Bx289, Bx293, Bx295, Bx297, Bx301, Bx307, Bx317, Bx319, Bx323, Bx329, Bx333, Bx339, Bx341, Bx343, Bx345, Bx351