Living in Manhattan


I live comfortably in a suburb now.

But there was a time, decades ago, when I was attracted to the idea of moving into the city, into a townhouse perhaps in Philadelphia. But with a child in school, it was an impractical proposition, and in time I became well settled in a suburban house.

Then, last week, out of the blue, the idea came back to me with vengeance. Like a fever I was flush with the notion of an apartment in New York in which to retire when it was time for me to retire, as eventually that time will come. Until then I took it for granted that I will continue to live in this house until the end of my day. It is a small three-bedroom house, easy to maintain, with enough space for my colossal library of books; and its modest but versatile garden feasts my eyes in flowering seasons and fulfills my appetite for puttering and planting. But I thought what it would be like when I am old and decrepit. City living, it then occurred to me, is far easier than suburban living. No, Philadelphia won't do; my mind was set on New York -- Manhattan to be precise. A small condo is what I need.

I think suburbs are for families; singles, young or old, fare better in metropolitan centers.

First of all, city living requires no driving. Suburban living without wheels is a nightmare. In large cities, like New York, daily shopping needs can be filled within a few blocks from the dwelling; public transportation is still efficient enough, surely in New York if not in many other cities. Moreover, though walking as exercise for bodily well-being is undoubtedly more pleasant in a suburb, it does demand discipline in suburban living; one has to make a special point of it. In New York one walks of necessity going on an errand and walking up and down the subway stairs. I drive well enough, but having learned to drive in my thirties, driving is not in my blood; and with weakened eyesight, hearing, or coordination, more likely a combination of all three, I will be a serious hazard driving in old age. I will not miss my car in New York with no more worries about maintenance, inspection, repairs, and insurance.

Then, of course, an apartment is far easier to maintain than a house. Housekeeping will be drastically simplified; and, more significantly, maintaining the property will be dramatically reduced in both work and cost. There will be no more worries about roofing, gutters, and wet basement, no more digging and turning the soil, no more snow shoveling. There will come a time when I can no longer do these tasks myself as I have done so much of. I can, to be sure, hire people to do them; but it has become difficult these years to find contractors willing to do small jobs and even more difficult to find young people looking for chores. I still enjoy climbing up a ladder to caulk the flashing and wash out the gutters, even wash windows. But it is starting to be safer to stay put on the ground.

Suburban living is safer, cleaner, and more peaceful, people say. That's probably all true, although an aged woman living alone in a suburban house does not seem to me especially secure. Her neighbor is too far to hear her fatal fall, after all. It is an isolated existence, especially after losing in retirement the former association with colleagues at work. The urban crowd may be anonymous; but crowded streets, with all the noise, I think, serve lonely souls much better than deserted suburban streets. Living in New York one also has more cultural amenities that are readily available without having to travel a distance by car.

For me, personally, moving to New York will involve a fundamental change in my life style. I will not miss driving. I will miss gardening, the pleasure of cultivating seasonal blossoms, very sorely; I have to go to public gardens and parks to enjoy flowers. But most of all I will miss my personal library; I collected these books on a wide variety of subjects exactly to fit my taste and needs. In an apartment living, one must forego the pleasure of buying books; one goes to public libraries, and New York's public library is surely unsurpassed. Then, I have to forego my wardrobe. A friend with a studio apartment in New York has only one closet, only three feet wide; I suspect that for each dress she buys she has to throw one out. I have always been a notorious packrat, not only with books and clothes, but with every conceivable things in the stuff of life. I like things. I have to give up being buried in things. But a simpler life has an allure of its own, especially in one's old age. Retirement marks a change in one's life, and it is a right moment, too, to bring about a change in one's style of living.

Ultimately, the allure of living in Manhattan, in my case, has to do with my urban childhood being brought back into my old life. I was born and brought up in Tokyo, and I believe city life, seeped in my blood, never left me.



T. Kaori Kitao, 01.30.00




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