Washington Heights

Photograph by Deepak Lamba-Nieves

Photograph by Deepak Lamba-Nieves

I just came back from NYC where I was conducting interviews and observations for my study on Dominican transnational migrant organizations. While strolling through the Washington Heights neighborhood, I stumbled upon 3 immense and gloomy residential towers that loomed over the colorful streets of an enclave that exudes flavor, character, and has an electric vibe. I asked one of the residents about the structures and he explained the basics: 32 floors, 3 elevators and nobody looks forward to the moment when the lights go out. Curiosity got the best of me, so I tracked down some information. Here’s what I found. 
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 June 18, 2004

Life on the Road; Learning to Sleep as Trucks Roar Through Basement

The New York area has no shortage of places where public transportation and private housing overlap in the most voyeuristic of ways. Commuters lurching toward the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel may wonder what it is like to live in the houses that line the highway approach to the tunnel. Passengers aboard the Metro-North train near 125th Street in Manhattan or the No. 7 subway near the 52nd Street station in Queens may find it impossible to resist peeking into the apartments that are barely an arm’s length from the tracks.

But being close to traffic is one thing. Living directly on top of traffic — with a ceaseless river of cars and trucks rumbling through your basement, red brake lights flickering endlessly into your windows — is quite another. And no one knows that better than the 4,000 residents of the Bridge Apartments, the four high-rises lined up like dominoes atop the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, on the upper Manhattan approach to the George Washington Bridge.

To anyone who listens to traffic reports on the radio, the buildings are ubiquitously known as ”the apartments,” as in, ”it’s slow under the apartments,” or ”it’s stop-and-go until you get to the apartments.” And inside the building, residents don’t need an announcer to tell them how the bridge traffic is moving.

If the windows are open, the noise is most deafening on the middle floors, and people inside find that they need to raise their voices to hold a conversation or talk on the phone. The winds carry vehicle exhaust upward, which is especially noticeable on the terraces. And on most floors, the vibrations of trucks can clearly be felt, along with those of any construction equipment.

But if the windows are closed, a typical Bridge apartment does not feel all that different from any other apartment in New York close to a busy road. The panoramic views, imbibing everything from the Tappan Zee Bridge to the Whitestone Bridge, are breathtaking. The location, near two subway stops and the George Washington Bus Terminal in Washington Heights, is convenient. And the apartments, while not cheap, are roomy, modern and rent-stabilized.

So for all the incongruity of living over the highway, many residents end up doing what countless urban homesteaders have done for generations: they tolerate the annoyances, savor the pleasures and develop a hardened brand of urban pluck to become accustomed, even fond, of their surroundings. 

The rest of the article can be found here

2 responses to “Washington Heights

  1. Just wanted to make sure you saw this…I featured you in my column this week. Great work!

    http://wahi.typepad.com/the_streets_where_we_live/2009/02/manhattan-times-neighborhood-blog-watch.html

  2. Carla, Thanks for the feature and feedback. I’ll also be following your work…good stuff. If you have any ideas or suggestions, make sure to send them over this way.

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