Journalists Felix Zeltner and Christina Horsten are the brains behind NYC12x12, a project in which they move to one New York City neighborhood each month, living in different areas of the city for one year. They’ll be blogging for Curbed during their journey, sharing insights and anecdotes from their travels through the five boroughs. Read on for Felix’s first dispatch, and check back for more insights from their NYC exploration.
"All around us, there will be 15,000 new apartments soon," said the barber while carefully shaving my beard. We were at a small barber shop in Long Island City, and I was still trying to juggle the number—15,000!—in my head when I heard his colleague’s voice from behind. "No, 22,000—there will be 22,000 new apartments here," he said. "Average household size is two, so we’re getting more than 40,000 new people to Long Island City."
What, I wondered, does that mean to a small shop on a quiet side street? "Well, we’re opening a second branch just around the corner," my barber said with a grin.
When I stepped outside the shop, set up in the former garage of a small, two-story brick building, I looked up at the cranes and towering skeletons of concrete and the blue-glass Citigroup building. It felt like the neighborhood had lifted its curtain for a second, providing a glimpse into what it is, and what it will be.
Living in Long Island City—part village, and part industrial hub, with its taxi garages, delivery trucks and storage buildings—sometimes felt like being at the service entrance to Manhattan. But it’s turning into its own, essentially new city. And I knew this was one of the reasons we had embarked on a New York-centric adventure in the first place.
About that adventure: My wife Christina and I had lingered on the idea of moving around New York for a while, but when the rent in our Park Slope apartment increased, we decided to give it a shot. In June, we gave much of our furniture and belongings to Housing Works and the street and started on what we call NYC12x12: moving to a different neighborhood every month for one year, with stops in all five boroughs.
Why? Because after living in the city for four years, we want to learn even more about New York and its people and share it with others. While we try to keep our full-time day jobs as journalists running and our almost two-year-old daughter healthy and happy, we also hope to find a new home through this adventure, maybe stop in some neighborhoods we could not have afforded otherwise, and discover some places that were never on our radar before.
One of those is Long Island City, which became our first stop in July. Our month there was thanks to Amol Sarva. When I told him about our project, he said "Why don’t you live in my building?" I had known Amol, a philosophy Ph.D and startup founder, for a while; I didn’t know he had built his own apartment building, the rust-colored East of East on Jackson Avenue. He had an empty apartment about to go on the market; now, it's storage for the rest of our belongings, turning the huge apartment we could have never afforded into a showroom for prospective buyers.
When we invited friends and strangers to our first neighborhood dinner—we plan to host a dinner in every neighborhood—we also reached out to a couple of local reporters in Queens to hear their stories. Some of them decided to write about the project, and their posts sparked off a flood of signups for our newsletter, along with emails from people all over New York who invited us to their neighborhoods. We learned how much local pride there is, all the way from the Bronx to Staten Island.
We had always experienced New York as a city where, if you scratch off the patina of everyday roughness, people are kind, aware, and helpful—but this took it to another level. One woman even offered us the chance to housesit her home on the Upper West Side, a stone’s throw away from Central Park, for the entire month of March, keeping an eye on her cat and dog. What? "I did all kinds of crazy things when I was young," she explained when we spoke on the phone, "so I decided to reach out and help."
Local businesses also helped. Gorilla Bins, a moving start-up, is providing us with bins to keep our belongings in order. The Queens Tourism Council is connecting us with people and places in their borough. Listings Project, an amazing artist community/real estate newsletter, is supporting our search for monthly sublets and gifted us with stop number two, the beautiful floor-through one-bedroom loft of designer Ana Kraš on Bowery in Chinatown, where we stayed for the month of August—we had always dreamed of living in an old industrial loft like hers.
And now, we’re blogging about our journey here on Curbed. Meanwhile, we would love to hear from you! Do you know someone we should invite to dinner? Do you have an apartment to sublet or know about one? (After all, we don’t have a place to stay for October, and November, and December…) We’re currently settling in at stop number three, a cozy studio on Lenox Avenue in Central Harlem (found last-minute on Airbnb), and we will keep you posted on our adventures in the five boroughs—here, on Instagram, Twitter and through our newsletter.