Morningside Heights, Manhattan
Morningside Heights is a neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan in New York City, on the border of the Upper West Side and Harlem. Morningside Heights is bounded by Morningside Park at Morningside Drive to the east, Manhattanville at 125th Street to the north, Manhattan Valley at 110th Street to the south, and Riverside Park at Riverside Drive to the west. The main thoroughfare is Broadway.
Residential buildings on West 116th Street opposite Columbia University
Location in New York City
|Coordinates: 40.810°N 73.957°W|
|Community District||Manhattan 9|
|• Total||1.22 km2 (0.472 sq mi)|
|• Density||26,000/km2 (68,000/sq mi)|
|• Median income||$81,890|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
|Area code||212, 332, 646, and 917|
It is chiefly known as the home of educational and cultural institutions such as Columbia University, Teachers College, Barnard College, the Manhattan School of Music, Bank Street College of Education, Grant's Tomb, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Additionally, Morningside Heights contains a number of religious institutions, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Riverside Church, the Church of Notre Dame, Corpus Christi Church, the Broadway Presbyterian Church and Interchurch Center. The neighborhood is also home to St. Luke's Hospital.
Precolonial and colonial period
Initially, Manhattan was settled by the Lenape Native Americans, who referred to the area nearby as "Muscota" or "Muscoota", meaning "place of rushes". The nearest Native American settlements were Rechewanis and Konaande Kongh in present-day Central Park, to the southeast of modern Morningside Heights. Additionally, a Native American path in the area was adapted into part of modern-day Riverside Drive. However, the region remained relatively hard to access because of the steep topography. Prior to the beginning of the 18th century, most travel within modern New York City was made via water, since there were few roads in the region.
Dutch settlers occupied Manhattan in the early 17th century and called the nearby area "Vredendal", meaning "peaceful dale". The western boundary of New Harlem was drawn through the present-day Morningside Park in 1666, running from 74th Street at the East River to 124th Street at the North River (now Hudson River) on the neighborhood's western edge.:153–156 The area to the west of the boundary, present-day Morningside Heights, was originally the common lands of British-occupied New York. In 1686, New York colonial governor Thomas Dongan granted the city of New York the patent to a triangular area between West 107th to 124th Streets, extending west to the Hudson River. The city sold the land to Jacob De Key in 1701. An easy connection to the rest of the modern-day city was made two years later, when Bloomingdale Road (modern-day Broadway) was extended north from Lower Manhattan to 117th Street. Harman Vandewater acquired part of the De Key farm by 1735, and it was called Vandewater Heights by 1738.
On September 16, 1776, the Battle of Harlem Heights was fought in the area, with the most intense fighting occurring in a sloping wheat field that is now the location of Barnard College. A plaque by the Columbia University gate on 117th Street and Broadway commemorates this battle. At the end of the war, Vandewater Heights was sold by 1785 to James W. De Peyster. His brother, Nicholas De Peyster, bought the land directly to the west, along the shoreline.
Though a grid for Manhattan Island would be laid out in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, the present-day Morningside Heights would remain sparsely developed for the next half-century with the exception of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum. The Society for New York Hospital had started buying lots in the eastern part of the neighborhood in 1816, including part of James De Peyster's farm. The site, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues north of 113th Street, opened as the Bloomingdale Asylum in 1821; later still, it would be developed into the Columbia University campus. Meanwhile, Leake and Watts Services (now part of Cathedral of St. John the Divine) purchased the Society's land east of Amsterdam Avenue between 110th and 113th Streets in 1834.:326 The Leake and Watts Asylum, designed by Ithiel Town, was completed in 1843.:327 In addition, the Croton Aqueduct ran above ground through the modern neighborhood, opening in 1842.
Through the late 19th century, Bloomingdale Road was the only connection to the rest of Manhattan. A stagecoach line along Bloomingdale Road, founded in 1819, was expanded to modern Morningside Heights and Manhattanville four years later. Though parts of the old Nicholas De Peyster estate were divided by the 1820s, there was limited development in the area through the mid-19th century due to its isolation. The few residences that did exist included mansions on the shore, as well as several small wood-frame houses built by William Dixon on 110th Street, referred to as "Dixonville". In 1846, the Hudson River Railroad (later the West Side Line and Hudson Line) was built along the Hudson River waterfront, connecting New York City to Albany.
Start of major development
The construction of Central Park nearby in the 1860s spurred construction in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Similar development in the Upper West Side, including present-day Morningside Heights, was slow to come. By an act of the New York State Legislature passed in 1865, the Central Park commissioners had the responsibility of executing the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 within Upper Manhattan. The same year, Central Park commissioner William R. Martin put forth the first proposal for a park and scenic road along the Hudson River, which later became Riverside Park and Riverside Drive. On the opposite side of the modern-day neighborhood, to the east, Central Park commissioner Andrew Haswell Green proposed Morningside Park in 1867 to avoid the expense of expanding the Manhattan street grid across extremely steep terrain. Landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted was hired for both projects: he designed Riverside Drive and Park in 1873-1875, and he co-designed Morningside Park with Calvert Vaux in 1873,:100–108 with further revisions to the latter in 1887. The section of Riverside Drive and Park in the Upper West Side was completed by 1880, while Morningside Park was completed in 1895.
Though several other infrastructure improvements were made, development in the region above 110th Street was slow until the 1890s. Broadway, a wide avenue with medians, opened in 1868 as the "Boulevard" and replaced the former Bloomingdale Road. New pipes for the Croton Aqueduct were laid in 1865, and a still-extant gatehouse at 113th Street was erected five years later. Plans to relocate the Bloomingdale Asylum were considered as early as 1870, but the Panic of 1873 stalled any additional planning for the rest of the decade. The Ninth Avenue elevated was extended north from the Upper West Side to Harlem in 1879, but its route largely skipped the highlands north of 110th Street, as its route shifted eastward at 110th Street. An elevated station at 110th Street and Manhattan Avenue was not opened until 1903, and even then, it was hard to access due to the steep topography. Thus, while the Upper West Side to the south and Hamilton Heights to the north were developed with rowhouses by the 1880s, the intervening area had almost no new development. The Real Estate Record and Guide stated that it was "difficult to explore the region without a guide" because of the lack of development there.
In 1886, real estate figures and politicians started advocating for the relocation of both asylums in the neighborhood. The Bloomingdale Asylum moved to a site in suburban Westchester County in 1888, followed by the Leake and Watts Asylum three years later. Their respective campuses were purchased by Columbia University, which could not expand their existing campus at the present site of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan; and the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which had been looking for sites to build their main cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Several other institutions were soon constructed in the area, including St. Luke's Hospital, Barnard College, Teachers College, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Union Theological Seminary.
New name and residential buildings
In the 1890s, following Morningside Park's completion, several figures began advocating the use of the name "Morningside Heights" for the region between 110th and 125th Streets. The name "Bloomingdale" was also used for the area around the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. However, other names such as "Morningside Hill" and "Riverside Heights" were used for the area. When construction started on Columbia University, Teachers College, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and St. Luke's Hospital in the mid-1890s, no single name was commonly used for the neighborhood. Two names eventually gained the most use; "Morningside Heights" was preferred by the two colleges, while "Cathedral Heights" was preferred by St. John's and St. Luke's. After about 1898, "Morningside Heights" became the most generally accepted, although the diocese at St. John's continued to call the neighborhood "Cathedral Heights" well into the 20th century.
Additionally, Manhattan's population was growing rapidly, exceeding one million in 1890. Speculative developers, hoping to cater to Morningside Heights' institutions and Manhattan's increasing population, started erecting the first rowhouses in the area in 1892-1893. These early buildings were designed in the Colonial, Georgian, or Renaissance Revival styles, in contrast to the architecture of the older rowhouses in nearby neighborhoods. These developers saw mixed success: while some houses sold quickly, others languished for a decade or were foreclosed. The Morningside Protective Association, established in 1896, unsuccessfully attempted to limit the proliferation of low-rise development. The first tenements in Morningside Heights were built toward the end of the 1890s and were among the only Old Law Tenements built in the neighborhood.
Apartment developments and subway construction
In the first decade of the 20th century, Morningside Heights was still not yet developed, and a small concentration of beer gardens began to develop around the "Dixonville" on 110th Street. Additionally, the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901 drastically changed the regulations to which tenement buildings had to conform. To fit these new regulations, the architects of the different developments drew up several general plans to maximize the amount of floor space in each building, while also ensuring every residential unit had windows that faced either a courtyard or the street. The more common plans included "L", "I", "O", or "U"-shaped designs. Several buildings were erected close to Broadway in anticipation of the construction of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company's first subway line (now part of the New York City Subway's Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line, serving the 1 train). These buildings contained features that were considered innovative at the time, such as electric lighting, soundproofed and parquet floors, tiled bathrooms with porcelain fixtures, and long-distance telephone lines. Since the character of the neighborhood had not yet been developed, early-1900s apartment buildings tended to be erected "modestly".
The subway opened in October 1904 with stations at 110th, 116th, and 125th Streets, providing a direct connection to Lower Manhattan, the city's economic center at the time. In the years immediately following, developers began to erect larger buildings for the middle-class, as such developments had been made feasible due to their proximity to the subway. Between 1903 and 1911, at least 75 apartment buildings were built in the neighborhood. By 1906, there were 27 such developments underway, though this included structures whose construction started prior to the passage of the 1901 law. According to a Real Estate Record and Guide article published in August 1906, Morningside Heights had turned into New York City's "most distinctive high-class apartment house quarter". Units on Riverside Drive, despite being further from the subway, were generally more expensive because of their riverfront views.
Jewish and Italian developers had a large influence in early-20th century development in Morningside Heights. For instance, the Italian-American Paterno brothers and their brothers-in-law built The Paterno, The Colosseum, and several other large apartment buildings in the area. Two members of the family, Michael Paterno and Victor Cerabone, also started their own firms and built structures in Morningside Heights. Jewish developers in Morningside Heights usually created companies named after themselves, or formed businesses with names that hid their background. Such developers included Carlyle Realty, B. Crystal & Son, and Carnegie Construction.
By the mid-20th century the increasing prevalence of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels led to attendant socioeconomic problems and a decline in the neighborhood. Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities presented the neighborhood as a key example of the failure of the urban planning techniques of the era. In 1947 David Rockefeller became involved in a major middle-income housing development when he was elected as chairman of Morningside Heights Inc. by fourteen major institutions that were based in the area, including Columbia University. In 1951 the organization developed Morningside Gardens, a six-building apartment complex to house middle-income families from all ethnic backgrounds. Morningside Gardens, an experimental co-op project, opened in 1957 between 123rd and LaSalle Streets, Broadway, and Amsterdam Avenue.
Social problems in the area prompted Columbia to purchase much of the neighborhood's real estate, leading to accusations of forced eviction and gentrification. This process reached its nadir in 1968, when protests erupted in both the neighborhood and on Columbia's campus over the university's proposal to build a gym in Morningside Park. Residents alleged that the park's proposed separate entrance for Harlem residents on the park's lower eastern elevation would further segregation. The university eventually abandoned the plan in 1969.
Gentrification and 21st century
Columbia University has still expanded its presence in the neighborhood markedly over the last few decades, and gentrification and urban renewal have proceeded apace. In January 2008 the university received approval from the City Council to expand significantly in nearby Manhattanville.
Since the late 1990s, some businesses in the area started rebranding Morningside Heights and South Harlem with the name SoHa (for "South Harlem" or "South of Harlem"), as seen in the names of Max's SoHa restaurant and the former SoHa nightclub in Morningside Heights. "SoHa" has become a controversial name, since some real estate professionals and other individuals gentrifying the area between West 110th and 125th Streets are applying the label in an effort to rebrand the neighborhood. Residents and other critics seeking to prevent this renaming of the culturally rich, historic area have labelled the SoHa brand as "insulting and another sign of gentrification run amok" and have said that, "the rebranding not only places their neighborhood's rich history under erasure but also appears to be intent on attracting new tenants, including students from nearby Columbia University."
Multiple New York City politicians have initiated legislative efforts to curtail this practice of neighborhood rebranding, which when successfully introduced in other New York City neighborhoods, have led to increases in rents and real estate values, as well as "shifting demographics". In 2011, U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries attempted but failed to implement legislation "that would punish real estate agents for inventing false neighborhoods and redrawing neighborhood boundaries without city approval." By 2017, New York State Senator Brian Benjamin also worked to render illegal the practice of rebranding historically recognized neighborhoods.
Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Morningside Heights was 55,929, an increase of 1,721 (3.2%) from the 54,208 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 465.11 acres (188.22 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 120.2 inhabitants per acre (76,900/sq mi; 29,700/km2). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 46.0% (25,750) White, 13.6% (7,619) African American, 0.2% (105) Native American, 13.3% (7,462) Asian, 0.1% (30) Pacific Islander, 0.4% (203) from other races, and 2.9% (1,605) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 23.5% (13,155) of the population.
The entirety of Community District 9, which comprises Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, had 111,287 inhabitants as of NYC Health's 2018 Community Health Profile, with an average life expectancy of 81.4 years.:2, 20 This is about the same as the median life expectancy of 81.2 for all New York City neighborhoods.:53 (PDF p. 84) Most inhabitants are children and middle-aged adults: 34% are between the ages of 25–44, while 21% are between 45–64, and 17% are between 0–17. The ratio of college-aged and elderly residents was lower, at 16% and 12% respectively.:2
As of 2017, the median household income in Community District 9 was $50,048, though the median income in Morningside Heights individually was $81,890. In 2018, an estimated 24% of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville residents lived in poverty, compared to 14% in all of Manhattan and 20% in all of New York City. One in twelve residents (8%) were unemployed, compared to 7% in Manhattan and 9% in New York City. Rent burden, or the percentage of residents who have difficulty paying their rent, is 51% in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, compared to the boroughwide and citywide rates of 45% and 51% respectively. Based on this calculation, as of 2018, Morningside Heights and Manhattanville are considered to be gentrifying.:7
Politically, Morningside Heights is in New York's 10th congressional district, represented by Democrat Jerrold Nadler as of 2013. Nadler also represented Morningside Heights as part of the 8th congressional district from 1993 to 2013. It is also part of the 30th and 31st State Senate districts, represented respectively by Democrats Brian Benjamin and Robert Jackson, and the 69th and 70th State Assembly districts, represented respectively by Democrats Daniel O'Donnell and Inez Dickens. In the City Council, the neighborhood is part of the 7th District, represented by Mark Levine.
Police and crime
Morningside Heights and Manhattanville are patrolled by the 26th Precinct of the NYPD, located at 520 West 126th Street. The 26th Precinct ranked 38th safest out of 69 patrol areas for per-capita crime in 2010. With a non-fatal assault rate of 57 per 100,000 people, Morningside Heights and Manhattanville's rate of violent crimes per capita is about the same as that of the city as a whole. The incarceration rate of 633 per 100,000 people is higher than that of the city as a whole.:8
The 26th Precinct has a lower crime rate than in the 1990s, with crimes across all categories having decreased by 79.8% between 1990 and 2018. The precinct saw 1 murder, 11 rapes, 107 robberies, 100 felony assaults, 61 burglaries, 381 grand larcenies, and 22 grand larcenies auto in 2018.
Morningside Heights is served by two New York City Fire Department (FDNY) fire stations. The main fire station for the neighborhood is Engine Co. 47, located at 502 West 113th Street, next to the old Croton gatehouse. The three-story building, designed in the Romanesque Revival style, is 25 feet (7.6 m) wide, with a facade of brick and brownstone, as well as Neoclassical-style brownstone and terracotta detailing.:4 The building was erected in 1891 by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons, a prolific builder of New York City firehouses in the late 19th century, and was one of the first major structures in Morningside Heights.:3 It was designated a New York City landmark in 1997.:1
Preterm and teenage births in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville are lower than the city average. In Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, there were 82 preterm births per 1,000 live births (compared to 87 per 1,000 citywide), and 10.9 teenage births per 1,000 live births (compared to 19.3 per 1,000 citywide).:11 Morningside Heights and Manhattanville have a low population of residents who are uninsured. In 2018, this population of uninsured residents was estimated to be 11%, slightly less than the citywide rate of 12%.:14
The concentration of fine particulate matter, the deadliest type of air pollutant, in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville is 0.008 milligrams per cubic metre (8.0×10−9 oz/cu ft), more than the city average.:9 Seventeen percent of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville residents are smokers, which is more than the city average of 14% of residents being smokers.:13 In Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, 21% of residents are obese, 10% are diabetic, and 29% have high blood pressure—compared to the citywide averages of 24%, 11%, and 28% respectively.:16 In addition, 25% of children are obese, compared to the citywide average of 20%.:12
Eighty-eight percent of residents eat some fruits and vegetables every day, which is about the same as the city's average of 87%. In 2018, 83% of residents described their health as "good," "very good," or "excellent," more than the city's average of 78%.:13 For every supermarket in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, there are 11 bodegas.:10
Post offices and ZIP codes
Morningside Heights is located in two primary ZIP Codes. The area south of 116th Street is part of 10025 and the area north of 116th Street (including Columbia University) is part of 10027. The United States Postal Service operates two post offices near Morningside Heights: the Columbia University Station at 534 West 112th Street and the Manhattanville Station and Morningside Annex at 365 West 125th Street.
Morningside Heights and Manhattanville generally have a higher rate of college-educated residents than the rest of the city. A plurality of residents age 25 and older (49%) have a college education or higher, while 21% have less than a high school education and 30% are high school graduates or have some college education. By contrast, 64% of Manhattan residents and 43% of city residents have a college education or higher.:6 The percentage of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville students excelling in math rose from 25% in 2000 to 49% in 2011, and reading achievement increased from 32% to 35% during the same time period.
Morningside Heights and Manhattanville's rate of elementary school student absenteeism is higher than the rest of New York City. In Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, 27% of elementary school students missed twenty or more days per school year, more than the citywide average of 20%.:24 (PDF p. 55):6 Additionally, 65% of high school students in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville graduate on time, less than the citywide average of 75%.:6
The New York City Department of Education operates the following public schools in Morningside Heights as part of Community School Districts 3 and 5:
- Columbia Secondary School (grades 6-12)
- PS 36 Margaret Douglas (grades PK-5)
- PS 125 Ralph Bunche (grades PK-5)
- PS 180 Hugo Newman (grades PK-8)
Charter and private schools include Bank Street College's School for Children, St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's School, The Cathedral School of St. John The Divine, KIPP Star Harlem Middle School, and The School at Columbia University.
As of 2015 PS 36 had a student body that is 96% black and Hispanic, with a median family income of $36,000. These demographics are less wealthy and have fewer whites compared to the overall neighborhood demographics.
The label Academic Acropolis has been used to describe the area, which sits on a high natural point in Manhattan and contains numerous academic institutions. Much of the neighborhood is the campus of Columbia University, and the university owns a large amount of non-campus real estate. Other educational institutions in the neighborhood include Barnard College, Union Theological Seminary, New York Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Manhattan School of Music, Teachers College, Bank Street College of Education, St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's School, The School at Columbia University, Bank Street School for Children, The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine, and for the younger residents, Columbia Greenhouse nursery school. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies is also located in the neighborhood, directly above Tom's Restaurant in a building owned by Columbia University.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) operates two branches in Morningside Heights:
- The Morningside Heights branch is located at 2900 Broadway. The branch originally opened in 1914 within Columbia University's Low Memorial Library, then moved to Columbia's Butler Library in 1937 upon the latter's completion. The Morningside Heights branch moved to a temporary site in 1996, while the Butler Library was being renovated, and then relocated into its current building in 2001.
- The George Bruce branch is located at 518 West 125th Street. It is named after the inventor George Bruce, whose daughter built the original George Bruce Library at 42nd Street in 1888. The current three-story structure, designed by Carrère and Hastings, was constructed in 1915 and renovated in 2001.
Points of interest
Official city landmarks in Morningside Heights include the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grant's Tomb, and Riverside Church, all of which have been designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Grant's Tomb, a mausoleum for U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia Grant, is also a national memorial. Both Grant's Tomb and Riverside Church are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2017, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission created the Morningside Heights Historic District. The district includes 115 residential and institutional properties on West 109th Street west of Broadway, east and west of Broadway from Cathedral Parkway to West 113th Street, west of Broadway from West 113th Street to 118th Street, and west of Claremont Avenue from West 118th to 119th Street.
Morningside Park is located east of Morningside Drive, on the eastern boundary of the neighborhood. The park was built because the area's steep topography created a cliff between the high ground of Morningside Heights to the west and the lower-lying land of Harlem to the east, making it impractical to build cross-streets through that area. This cliff was created through fault movement and smoothened during glacial periods.
At 602 West 114th Street, west of Broadway, is a 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) outcropping of Manhattan schist called Rat Rock. The outcropping is located between two rowhouses at 600 and 604 West 114th Street.
The area is served by the New York City Subway at the Cathedral Parkway–110th Street and 116th Street–Columbia University stations of the New York City Subway's IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line (1 train). New York City Bus service includes the M4, M5, M11, M60 SBS and M100 routes.
In popular culture
Tom's Restaurant, on Broadway at 112th Street, was featured in the 1980s song "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega, an alumna of Barnard College. Later, exterior shots were used on the television sitcom Seinfeld as a stand-in for the diner hangout of the show's principal characters.
The neighborhood is heavily featured in the Amazon web television series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The titular character and her family live on 113th Street and Riverside Drive.
The West End Bar served especially as a meeting place for writers of the Beat Generation in the 1940s/1950s, as well as for student activists in the years surrounding the Columbia University protests of 1968. In 2006, the establishment was absorbed into a Cuban restaurant chain, Havana Central.
- George Carlin, a comedian, grew up on West 121st Street; the block of 121st Street where he lived was dedicated to him in October 2014.
- Cecil B. DeMille, a film director, lived on West 114th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, a novelist, lived at 200 Claremont Ave. while working in advertising and writing This Side of Paradise.
- George Gershwin, a composer and pianist, began composing his Rhapsody in Blue while living at 501 West 110th Street.
- Allen Ginsberg, a poet, lived at 536 West 114th Street.
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi, lived at 425 Riverside Drive for the last 27 years of his life.:62
- Harry Houdini, a magician, purchased 278 West 113th Street in 1908 and lived at the address; today, his former home displays artifacts.
- Jack Kerouac, a novelist, lived at 421 West 118th Street.
- Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, lived in Morningside Gardens.
- Harlan Fiske Stone, who later became the Chief Justice of the United States, lived at 435 Riverside Drive while serving as Dean of Columbia Law School.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Morningside Heights, Manhattan.|
- Morningside Heights Historic District Committee
- Morningside Heights Digital History (Columbia University Libraries)
- "Neighborhood Profile: Morningside Heights", New York Magazine Real Estate.