Perhaps the nicest benefit for parents of small children in Battery Park City, is its openness and the perception of comparatively safer streets. The continuity of parks, and open space affords children the opportunity to “run ahead” of their parents during play, or to learn to ride a bike without the dangers of traffic. Unlike other neighborhoods in Manhattan, where organized after-school or community center play, or the rooftop “play deck” is a child’s only outlet for play, Battery Park City ‘s openness and separateness allows children the opportunity to begin exploring on their own. The necessity of having to escort the children everywhere in New York to play in a park or to visit with their friends, is greatly diminished by this closed environment, thus freeing up the adults’ time as well. With the help of watchful doormen in quieter, less traveled streets than other parts of New York, children can usually go outside and start playing in the small parks right at the base of their building. 9 This demographic shift in family composition has also had an influence on the kinds of apartment units developers have been building. The residential units from the earliest area of development were usually in the form of studios and one-bedroom condominiums. The planning of late has called for and produced 2 and 3 bedroom apartment rentals , particularly in the newer North residential area. As the population increases steadily, the opening of new retail stores is a frequent topic of conversation among the residents. In a New York Times article on downtown living, a six-year resident and president of the homeowners association described the changes she would like to see to make the neighborhood “like a real New York neighborhood with a bakery and some specialty shops, and places where you can go for hamburgers and coffee at 2 in the morning” Whereas South End Avenue has restaurants, coffee shops, beauty parlors, video stores, banks, two supermarkets and an Asian grocery store, large supermarkets are still missing from the area. Some local supermarkets in TriBeCa allow residents to set up charge accounts and will deliver to their homes. There are also upscale shopping and restaurants in and around the World Financial Center, and a underground mall in the World Trade Center. Still, many residents say, they prefer to go “uptown”, out of the neighborhood, for better prices and selection.10 Battery Park City’s figurative detachedness from the rest of New York’s leads to complaints of isolation from the larger community. Yet it is also this isolation which contributes to its suburban, new town feel. One of the benefits is that residents get to know their neighbors; a sense of neighborly community that is often lacking in other parts of New York. A New York Times writer marveled that: “Ten years ago, residential Manhattan all but ceased below Chambers Street, human life all but disappeared after banks and brokerage houses closed for the day.”11 The interactions between residents are the sure sign of community — not just high-rise dormitories – that is there today.
The Battery News, for example, is a community newspaper intended originally for the residents of Battery Park City, and later enlarged to cover all of Lower Manhattan below Canal Street. Through its classified advertisements people publicize “yard” sales and child care services, as though they were living, not by the dark canyons of Wall Street, but in a suburban town. At Halloween, residents of Battery Park City organize trickor-treating routes among themselves, to ensure that safety, as well as the inclusion of interested neighbors, are met. Similarly, the Battery Park City Parents Association organizes activities such as Christmas caroling and tree lighting, a summer “block party”, and an Easter Egg hunt. The intramural softball and volleyball leagues, and the youth baseball leagues which meet on the fields of North Cove park, further integrate the residents into the larger community just as they would in suburban settings. The only aspect of suburbia that is missing from these activities, is the dependence on the car (and it does not appear be missed). That Battery Park City also appeals, to a decidedly upper-middle class contingency mixed among its middle-class professionals, will not be argued. Census data indicate that median household income for Battery Park City was more than twice the median income for the New York MSA in 1989. Meanwhile, 46% of families in Battery Park City had incomes greater than $100,000 in 1989 versus the MSA median family income of just $37,515, But there are sizable numbers of families below that figure, including 5% who are below the MSA median. More importantly, the bulk of the employment for Battery Park City is focused around commission-oriented professions in the finance industry, such as insurance, real estate and the stock exchange. These professions, when compared to the income-sources of truly upper class populations in enclaves such as the Upper East side, are arguably middle-class professions. That they can be lucrative at times, is indicative of their location in the market with the highest concentration and demand for such skills.
The real case made for Battery Park City as suburban-hybrid is in its provision of an environment where the middle-class lifestyle has emerged and is flourishing. There can be no doubt of this, regardless of whether these were the original planning goals. Battery Park City holds attraction as a middle class, family neighborhood in the sense that its new and welldesigned environment competes with the suburbs to keep middle class families as residents in New York City; in the sense, that it is more open, and generously available in its exterior park and recreation areas than any neighborhood Manhattan has provided in this century; and finally, in the sense that with one edge “semi-attached” to the city’s fabric, and another oriented to the open space of parks, clean air and open water, Battery Park City is at the periphery of New York, as its “closest-in” suburb.