Urban New York (the bits they don’t want you to see)

New York City. One of the truly iconic travel destinations on the planet. But scratch beneath the surface and check out areas not listed in the guidebooks, and what do you see?

The touristy image of NYC
The touristy image of NYC

Places like Harlem and the Bronx in NYC are not known for their tourist appeal. This is the part of the city – much like London’s East End – where the tourism subsides in favour of urban residential life. It can be quite scary walking around these areas on your own, even in daylight, and it is certainly not the New York City that you were told about in the guidebooks before arriving!

Deli in the Bronx
Deli in the Bronx
A fire station in the Bronx
A fire station in the Bronx
Harlem, in all its glory
Harlem, in all its glory

I didn’t take many photos of theΒ ‘rougher’ parts of New York City, such as the Bronx, Harlem, or Brooklyn, simply because I thought my camera might get stolen if I flashed it about! Anyway, although I did get a few weird looks, I lived to tell the tale. What I did think, though, is that there is a huge discrepancy between the kind of New York you see in Manhattan (i.e. Times Square, Broadway) and the New York you see in these more urban neighbourhoods.

Street life in Harlem
Street life in Harlem
A Big Mac a day keeps the gangsters away?
A Big Mac a day keeps the gangsters away?

I had heard many bad things about Harlem, in particular. The area seemed OK to me, although it was like being in another city somewhere in the Mid-West or in Chicago or somewhere. Yet there are people around these parts who will argue that it is the likes of Harlem that represents the ‘real New York’. What the tourists see in Manhattan is simply a theme park of the American Dream, designed to earn money from the tourism industry. It is in Harlem, Brooklyn, The Bronx et al where everyday American life takes place. There are decrepit fast food restaurants on every street corner (especially kebab shops) and small grocery stores that sell everything from newspapers to electric toothbrushes. It seems in Harlem, the locals can find everything they need without having to visit Times Square for dinner…

As the NYC subway runs out into the suburbs, it looks more and more 'dangerous'
As the NYC subway runs out into the suburbs, it looks more and more ‘dangerous’
The infamous steam coming up from the pavement
The infamous steam coming up from the pavement

One of the infamously iconic sights of New York is the steam that comes up from the pavement. I still to this day don’t know why this happens, but it seems nobody cares that much. It’s as much a part of being a New Yorker as riding the New York Subway and strolling through Central Park!

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4 thoughts on “Urban New York (the bits they don’t want you to see)

  1. “I had heard many bad things about Harlem, in particular. The area seemed OK to me, although it was like being in another city somewhere in the Mid-West or in Chicago or somewhere.”

    I live in Minneapolis, a city in the Midwest. That’s surprising to learn from you that Harlem feels like similar to cities in the Midwest. Some people here said Minneapolis is sort of a “mini” of Chicago. There are a large number of expats living in Minneapolis as well because the HQ of major companies like Target or Cargill are based in MN state and it gives the city an international atmosphere as well… but, I can tell you that you may be safer here to walk around and click your camera around – and Minneapolis has plenty of parks with lakes too πŸ˜‰

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    1. Thanks for the info Indah. I actually thought you lived in Indonesia! πŸ™‰ of course the danger is all relative; anywhere in the world simple common sense should prevail.
      And one day I shall have to visit Minneapolis! πŸ˜‰

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