It is an undeniable truth that, in terms of a global perspective on the city, New York is Manhattan-centered. The
historical significance and traditional pop culture domination of Manhattan means that for those of us who live outside of the U.S., and even New York City itself, to think beyond Manhattan in our perception of New York is a fairly abstract concept. After all, why would you need to? The bright lights of Broadway, the renowned thoroughfare of Fifth Avenue and the leafy sprawl of Central Park make it seem as if everything you could ever want or need is neatly contained within New York’s smallest and yet most celebrated borough.
In reality, New York as a whole has developed to such a stage that the rest of the city, so often looked upon as an
afterthought, has developed its own appeal as a genuine hotspot. With the progression of the 20th century, parts of Queens and Brooklyn have become stylish in their own right, with real estate in certain areas commanding comparable prices to that of Midtown Manhattan.
Williamsburg, particularly, has become a center for New York’s art and music communities, and a veritable hotbed of ‘hipster’ culture. Boasting destinations such as the Music Hall of Williamsburg and the Front Room Gallery, a strong case can be made for Williamsburg’s credibility as a major part of New York City and on my visit this past week that point was only reinforced. It truly is one of those places where you have to take in the atmosphere, as the relaxed vibe that people have really informs the culture and ethos of it. The eclectic architecture and plurality of different communities is really refreshing. Simply
flicking through old vinyl in an independent record store, or passing the afternoon in some of New York’s best coffee shops is a liberating experience, a peaceful interlude within a city normally famed for its pace and commotion.
However, Williamsburg is by no means the be-all and end-all of New York beyond Manhattan. Areas in Queens, such as
Astoria have a very similar appeal and provide an alternative edge to the oft-overlooked borough. Beyond the areas that most explicitly appeal to youth culture, there are places such as Park Slope, which is widely considered to be a great place to raise a family.
However, the main idea here is not to rail against the centrality of Manhattan. The borough still holds the key to a huge part of New York City’s
cultural heritage, and has many of the attractions that make it one of the most famous, and most-visited in the world. My genuine outlook is that those who see New York City and Manhattan as one and the same are missing out on some of the magnificent parts of a great city, parts that offer so much more than they may think. My suggestion would be that, should you get the opportunity to visit any part of New York City’s, perhaps unreasonably, overlooked neighborhoods during your time at St John’s, take it.
Judging by my very first trip into Brooklyn, you certainly wont be disappointed.
Harry Saunders is an international student from London, England.