Where to live in New York City: Point of View from the outsider in Brooklyn


Brookyln Heights promenade

Is New York safe?

If you are going to live in New York, you will probably consider, at one point, where you want to live. So the first question you may ask yourself is: Is New York safe? 

Well from what I have heard and from my own experience, I would say that yes it is. The crime rate has really declined over the past 20 years in the city, and I have never, up to this point of my stay, felt insecure. You’ll be surprise how many people are in the streets and the subways at any time. Some shops stay open all night and not only in Times Square (a typical Duane Reade can be found almost everywhere, for example)! It so happened that I actually went to buy some food in a grocery store at 2 in the morning as if it was 4 in the afternoon! But of course, if you’re looking for trouble, I guess you’ll find it. Feeling safe doesn’t mean being reckless or naive, so as they say: stay aware at all time. They like to insist on that (you will be able to read it many times in the subways):

Where should I look for an accommodation?

Now, where should you look for a place to live? Personally I had never been to New York before this so I had no idea of the size of the city, and my only point of comparison was Paris. Is it the same scale? Definitely not. To me, Paris often seems like a village in comparison to New York City. NYC is huge. Yes, because New York is not only Manhattan:


Source: NYC Map 360

The good news is that your unlimited MetroCard allows you to go everywhere in those areas by bus or subway so you will have many places to discover!

Personally, I chose to live in Brooklyn. But as you can see, Brooklyn is bigger than Manhattan so I didn’t pick any random place in Brooklyn. I knew I would live in Brooklyn Heights, which is very close to many subway lines (among which are mostly express lines  and are very convenient to avoid all the local stops). To get to Columbia, it takes between 40 minutes to 1 hour by subway. Honestly, that’s a lot, but I am glad I made this choice and I’ll tell you a little bit more about Brooklyn next. It happened because I had a very good opportunity to live in a big flat that I share only twice a week with my American landlord. Thus, because it was convenient, trustworthy and affordable, I secured my accommodation months before I actually arrived at New York.

Some of you might be relieved to hear that it is not everyone’s case. The others live in Harlem, in the Upper West side…, in walking distance from the campus or at a few subways stops from it, but in Manhattan they are renting a room from American people or sharing a flat with international roommates.

How do I find housing?

You can use your network as I did, but most of the students found their housing after they actually arrived in New York. You can reserve an Airbnb for the first week and then do the visits and be more responsive to offers. You can also use the different Facebook groups (Columbia has one you can access once you have your Columbia mail address), “Les Frenchy à New York” … or websites such as Craigslist, dealing directly with the owner to avoid the broker’s expensive fees. Here, be careful. American cannot pursue international people if they don’t pay their rent, so you might be asked to pay the whole amount of your stay at once. DON’T DO IT unless you are 100% sure of the person you are dealing with and if possible have met him/her in person and see the place! You never know what can happen and it could be a scam.

Now, Brooklyn in short!

I don’t want to spoil you the pleasure of discovering Brooklyn and its surroundings, so I will stick to the touristic activities that you have surely heard about to give you a glimpse of it.

Many bridges cross the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan, but you might recall the more than famous Brooklyn Bridge from Once Upon a time in America. It offers a superb view on the skyline during the day or by night. I’ll also advise you to walk the Brooklyn Heights promenade. It is a very nice spot to watch the sunset.

The thing I love in New York is particularly the location: by the sea. In the very south of Brooklyn, you might be tempted to go to the also famous Luna Park of Coney Island. The subway arrives directly in the park, literally on the beachfront and there you can joyfully enjoy the attractions, or simply the fresh air of the sea and the soft sensation of the sand under your feet while recalling that summer is not that far away.brooklyn-beachfront

If you are getting tired of all the noises in the city (particularly their very weird and loud sirens), and you want to escape for an afternoon, you can always enjoy the calm of Prospect Park. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at the Grand Army Plaza is their triumphal arch from the 19th century.


Eventually don’t miss the more “European style” Williamsburg as the settlement began in the 17th century as the small Dutch-founded town of “Breuckelen”. With its lovely bars and restaurants, this part of Brooklyn is actually supposed to be the birthplace of the hipsters. It is famous for its art galleries and nightlife.hipster-sign

To conclude, New York City cannot be reduced to Manhattan only, with its huge towers, large roads, and the fast living pace of every big city. You have so many things to do and you will never get tired of the diversity of people and places. So don’t forget, after you have seen the Empire State Building, the Chrysler tower, the Flat Iron Building, Times Square, Wall Street etc., cross the bridge and discover another one of the many faces of the city: Brooklyn!


(By Capucine Lucas)


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