The author demonstrates the Take Five method
People often solicit my opinion about a given neighborhood. “Is it safe?”,they ask. “How is the area? What are the locals like?”, etcetera, etcetera,… I flat out try to evade these questions and I have my reasons. For one, I’m very fond of the neighborhoods I work in and don’t feel capable of answering objectively (It would be like bad-mouthing a family member to an outsider). For two, other than the number of times I’ve been fleeced by the Department of Finance (see How to Park It), I don’t worry all that much about crime in my neck of the woods. And three, the locals question? I don’t even want to know what people are getting at there. So I don’t answer any of these questions. But this is what I do say. I say, “because everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to these things, you need to explore the neighborhood yourself. That means more than just a cursory look. You need to take five extra minutes with some of the residents and get to know them. Doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to engage a few locals. Ask for directions or the best place to get coffee. Say good morning or good afternoon. Whatever it is, just talk to people. If you do this, I guarantee, that if you really do this, you will see the neighborhood and you will see the entire city of NY in a very different light.”
I can hear the collective moan coming over the big T1 line in the blogosphere. You are out of your mind Jim. This is New York City! You can’t just talk to people on the street. You’ll scare them, or they’ll be suspicious, or they’ll get mad. My experience has taught me otherwise. When I first started exploring Crown Heights, I would stop random people on the street and ask them what they were paying for rent. If anyone asked why, I would simply say that I was thinking of buying a three family building in the neighborhood and wanted to know what I could lease the apartments for. And you know what? People talked to me. They were friendly. They were nice. They were very helpful. I even got invited into someone’s apartment to have a look. I couldn’t believe it either, but I learned a valuable lesson about my city. Nowadays, I almost always say hello, good morning, and good afternoon and my neighbors usually say it back.
So you want to know about a neighborhood? Take five extra minutes and get to know its residents. Thanks for reading, Jim.