Though New Yorkers might scoff at the idea of leaving the five boroughs for one of the many towns within commuting distance, the cost of living here isn’t getting any cheaper. And according to a recent report, suburban areas are getting denser and more diverse—so, essentially, similar to urban areas like New York City.
Meanwhile, other measures aimed at making suburbs and smaller cities more holistic about public transit (better bike infrastructure, more options that aren’t cars, etc.) are being enacted—so maybe the suburbs wouldn’t be so bad after all.
After scouring the alien frontier beyond the boroughs, we found five towns within easy commuting distance of Manhattan where living without a car actually makes sense—all are close to commuter rail lines, have invested in public transit, and are seeing more housing options coming down the line.
Just about a quarter of Yonkers residents use public transit, per the most recent figures from the American Community Survey. That means among U.S. cities with over 100,000 residents, it’s got the country’s 11th highest percentage of public transit users—just one spot behind Chicago. And at just inside half an hour, the trip to Grand Central from Downtown Yonkers is quicker ride than from many parts of Brooklyn or Queens.
The share of residents using transit is only likely to go up as a wave of new residential developments in the downtown area is expected bring more than 1,000 new units to the market. One of those is Larkin Plaza, a 442-unit, market-rate complex now under construction.
How does that stack up against New York City? RentJungle pegged the average rent for Yonkers at $2,283/month, while in NYC as a whole, that number was $3,064/month. According to the U.S. Census, Yonkers has seen a 4.1 percent population gain since 2010—a possible side effect of its relatively lower cost of living.
But the population boost could also be because Yonkers has a plethora of things to do, too. There are cultural institutions (the Hudson River Museum, an Alamo Drafthouse), parks, breweries, and even the Empire Casino, if that’s your thing.
Summer is when the town really shines, thanks to activities on the Hudson River waterfront downtown. The Hudson River Museum has an outdoor amphitheater that hosts plenty of live theater, music, and comedy in the warm months. And on Saturdays and Sundays from July through October, you can board the Science Barge and learn about the river’s ecology while taking in killer views of the Palisades.
If you ever Google the term “walkable suburb,” the first result you’ll get is Lina Panza.
Panza, an agent at Keller Williams in northern New Jersey runs a website called—of course—walkablesuburbs.com, chronicling life in North Jersey’s most pedestrian-friendly, along with info on the local real estate market. She says Maplewood fits the bill for a number of reasons: its accessible and tree-shaded sidewalks, a network of new bike lanes that connect to transit options, and its titular jitney service. For an annual fee—$100 in 2017—Maplewood residents can use the bus as a connector to the town’s NJ Transit station downtown.
And that downtown area is part of the appeal: In just a few blocks, the neighborhood packs in a four-screen movie theater, a performing arts center, and a culinary scene that includes Lorena’s, a lauded French restaurant. Sidewalk sales, an art walk, and an annual concert series (called, adorably, Maplewoodstock) give the streets an added buzz. (Not for nothing did the Times call the town “if Brooklyn were a suburb.”)
As for housing, Maplewood mayor Victor DeLuca says there are about 300 new rental units coming to town, including a 20-unit project in the center of one of the main shopping strips, Springfield Avenue. Zillow puts the median home price in town at $449,000, about $50,000 less than nearby (and similarly buzzy) Montclair.
New Rochelle, NY
This small city has an actual skyline, which you can see from as far away as Bayside, Queens. That’s largely because of the 40-story Trump Plaza, which sticks out amid the city’s other building. The rental was developed in 2007 by Cappelli Enterprises in a partnership with the Trump Organization, which—yes, still—manages it.
Downtown New Rochelle, which spans about eight blocks by three blocks, is expected to get denser and more walkable as time goes on. In 2015, a revitalization plan was passed unanimously by the City Council. It calls for adding 2.2 million square feet of new office space, 5,500 new residential units, and 1.1 million square feet of retail space, all within a few block radius and an easy walk to the city’s MetroNorth station. Construction on one of the biggest buildings near the waterfront began at the end of 2016.
As for recreation, the city has plenty to keep residents entertained, not least of which are its many parks—ones that are good for active and passive recreation, along with beaches and nature preserves. There’s a quaint, walkable main street lined with restaurants (Alvin & Friends and Modern are highly rated), and the huge New Roc City retail center.
Trains boarded there get to you to Grand Central in about half an hour. Per Zillow, the average home price in town is $633,100, which comes in about $100,000 less than the current average home price in Brooklyn.
Rockville Centre, NY
Population : 24,201
At just 3.4 square miles, this Nassau County village isn’t very big—but its downtown area, which covers about a three-block radius around the main drags of Sunrise highway and Merrick Road, is booming.
According to Mayor Francis X. Murray, there’s only a one percent vacancy—a grand total of three empty storefronts—which is a huge improvement over the 16 percent rate six years ago. Street parking is now free after 4 p.m. in certain parts of downtown, an effort to bring more shoppers to the area.
The village continues to spruce up the area and encourage walking over driving—for example, it’s looking into a “trolley” system (on tires, not tracks) to ferry folks around. And for a Long Island town, getting to the main commercial area sans a car isn’t too tough (its average score on walkscore.com comes in at 62 out of 100). “I call it mini-Manhattan,” says Murray. “People are walking all over.”
Mayor Murray says one of his goals is to attract more young people to the village. With about 100 places to eat in town, a relatively painless 40 minute trip to Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad, and about a 10 minute Uber ride to either Jones Beach or Long Beach, that may not be such an outrageous idea—especially when you compare the cost of living to NYC’s outer boroughs.
A new 160-unit residential development is due to open next summer a few blocks from the LIRR station, with 600-square-foot studios expected to rent for around $1,200. For a little perspective: Residential brokerage MNS pegs the average rent for a studio in Bushwick at just under $2,100. And when those millennials are ready to buy, Zillow puts the median home price in Rockville Centre at $661,000—considerably less than Brooklyn’s $740,000, according to the latest market reports.
This seaside city—only 45 minutes by express train from Grand Central Terminal—is beginning to embrace walking and biking in a big way.
One Saturday morning in 2011, Jerry Silber, now a retired banking executive, invited some local residents over to his house to talk about what could be done to make Stamford more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The handful of folks who showed up that morning (including David Martin, now the city’s mayor) would evolve to become People Friendly Stamford, which has worked with the city to bring better biking and walking infrastructure to Stamford.
One of its projects is a network of “sharrows”—white arrows with a bike shape to remind drivers to share the road—within a half-mile radius of the city’s MetroNorth train station. In 2015, Mayor Martin announced the launch of a downtown bike parking program and the city’s first Bike to Work Week. And the kicker: the city recently commissioned a $250,000 for a study to develop a comprehensive bike/pedestrian plan for the whole city, so the smart money bets much bigger changes to benefit the carless are afoot.
The group has also worked closely with Building and Land Technology, the developer behind Harbor Point, a massive mixed-use development that will eventually total over 4,000 residential units. Silber says the group helped convince the developer to paint new bike lanes that help connect the huge waterfront development to the increasingly lively downtown area. There are about 100 eateries downtown alone, along with events like a weekly summer concert series called Alive@Five.
But don’t worry: There’s more than $75 million estates in Stamford. Zillow puts the average sale price at $458,400—quite a bit less than in Brooklyn and Manhattan.