The view from the Waterway ferry on the voyage out to WNY
East Side or West Side? The question has long vexed humanity’s greatest thinkers. The Ancient Chinese, sold on the East, fancied themselves in the middle kingdom and at the center of all civilization. More recently, rapper Tupac Shakur has made forceful arguments for the “Westside.” A recent article about the gentrification potential of Brooklyn’s East New York got us thinking about the question all over again. We may not be able to absolutely resolve the conundrum for good, but every concrete contribution helps. Which is better: East New York or West New York? (and yes, one of them isn’t even in New York). Here’s our side-by-side comparison.
West New York is a real place, with a real location. Just because that location happens to be in New Jersey doesn’t make it any less real. You can see it from Manhattan. It is the stretch of the Palisades running opposite 57th street to 77th street (Never mind that, by their own numbering, West New York runs from 49th street up to 68th street—their blocks run, on average about eight blocks behind ours). The ferry ride on New York Waterway from 38th Street is a bit pricey ($11) for such a short ride, but the views are impressive and the motion sickness only temporary. There’s also a van that goes from Port Authority and back, where you’ll be packed all the way into standing room in the aisle.
East New York offers very little in the way of views. On the 3 train out, you can briefly see the top of the Empire State Building, but after that the skyline is strictly buried.
Winner: West New York, even though it’s in New Jersey
Photos by Matt Nestor
East New York has little to offer the discerning gourmand. A fried chicken place received many customers, but offered only the most ordinary fare; a Caribbean place down the block had Goat’s Head Soup. One small supermarket, well stocked with SPAM, and a few delis must satisfy general grocery needs.
West New York is 79% Hispanic and Cuban/Dominican nutrition is overflowing. Food is cheap, fatty and filling. All of the pastries pictured above were purchased at La Cubana for no more than 65 cents a pop.
West New York has a long and pretty if narrow strip of park by the Hudson River. The city stands proudly across the water. East New York has MLK park. Some things scattered across the lawn: are those small boulders or big rocks?
West New York as seen from Lincoln Center
4. Real Estate
Rumor is, East New York is the hot spot for real estate. Buy your ugly 600k brownstone now, because once the hipsters catch wind of it… West New York was discovered ages ago, but the condo craze that’s swept the city for so long is also popping off on the waterfront west of the Hudson.
Winner: who cares?
5. Local Atmosphere/Overall
West and East New York neighborhood history is a study in contrasts. Both were originally settled by European immigrants in the late 1800s; both experienced booms after a rail line was run in. Both experienced huge population overturn in the ’60s, when the original inhabitants departed for the suburbs and poorer immigrants moved in.
But while East New York primarily attracted black and Puerto Rican residents, West New York received other immigrants, notably Cubans. These were not the richest Cubans–who had fled the Revolution almost immediately–but these were still people who stood to lose place and property under Castro’s regime. The neighborhood today is a quiet, prosperous community and only occasionally troubled by crime—like when cops busted an underground domino gambling ring in Aaron Cafe.
Underground dominos is still alive and well in East New York. We won’t tell you where, but if you go to the back of the restaurant that serves goat’s head soup and knock twice on the door… We couldn’t find much else in the way of interesting night time fun in East New York. The largely black, Puerto Rican and Caribbean population is one of the poorest in the city. But the vibe of the neighborhood was nice.
Winner: Who needs winners? All neighborhoods are beautiful in their own way!