When I moved to New York from Chicago last April, I had an awful lot of trouble picking a neighborhood. I looked at apartments almost everywhere—Williamsburg, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Chinatown, Tribeca, Soho, the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village—and each seemed to have its own pitfalls and charms. Eventually, I settled on a place just off Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood that, ironically, hadn’t been on my not-so-short list originally. I’ve been happy here, but like most New Yorkers, I suffer from a bit of grass-is-greener syndrome. Would I be better off living in Astoria? Prospect Heights? Chelsea?
It is of course impossible to come up with a completely objective answer to that question, but there is value in trying to understand and measure livability. Luckily, there is a wealth of information to study. The Bloomberg administration gathers reams of data about almost every element of life in the city—from potholes to infant-mortality rates—as do New York University’s Furman Center and the U.S. Census Bureau. Sites like Yelp provide a reasonably objective perspective on the popularity of neighborhood bars and restaurants. StreetEasy.com and Zillow.com publish the costs of apartment space per square foot. Ethnic diversity is now broken down in much finer gradients than black and white: You want to know how many Albanian-Americans there are in Sheepshead Bay? The answer is 734.