The Benefits of Living in the Same Place for a Long Time


The last time Arlene Schulman went looking for an apartment, the internet was only in its infancy. “I did what everyone did 30 years ago,” Ms. Schulman said. “I asked everyone I knew if they knew about an available apartment.”

Like most other apartment hunters in the 1990s, she also rushed to grab a copy of The Village Voice on Thursday nights to thumb through the classified ads. “I remember being very aggressive because I knew my income wasn’t increasing as fast as the rent,” she said.

A co-worker tipped her off to a one-bedroom in Inwood. “She said, ‘Can you afford $250 a month?’”

At the time, Ms. Schulman was working for ABC News, thinking about going out on her own as a freelance photographer and writer. She was paying $1,000 a month for a studio on the Upper East Side. She understood that the opportunity to slash her rent so dramatically would completely reconfigure her life. “That $250 represented a great deal of freedom,” she said. “For someone from the artistic economic class of people, your income fluctuates. You can be doing really well one month and not so well the next. That $250 was something that I could afford no matter what.”

And the freedom could be enduring because the available apartment in the six-story building was rent-stabilized, which meant her rent increases would be measured and predictable. So, she took the A train to the final stop at the northern tip of Manhattan and never looked back.

She did upgrade to a one-bedroom on the top floor about five years after moving in. “I’m in the penthouse,” she said, laughing. “There’s no one above me.”

It’s also the quieter side of the building. “The front is exposed to sirens and traffic,” she said, “but if you go around to my side, it’s so quiet you can hear the raccoons fighting.”

The apartment is filled with artifacts from three decades of freedom, an old typewriter, stacks of books, photographs lining the walls. She started photographing boxing on a whim and ended up documenting the sport for 10 years, taking pictures of everyone from Joe Frazier to Ray Arcel. “There was something about the warmth of the community but also the intensity,” she said. “It was something that I really embraced.”

She spent time photographing the Yankees and the Mets, police officers and everyday New Yorkers. “This apartment has my creative history,” she said. “It’s my refuge. I don’t go to a coffee shop. Why would I? My stuff is here. My refrigerator is here.”

She keeps the place from feeling stale by routinely rearranging the furniture. “My couch has been in every corner of the living room,” she said. Most of her furnishings were bought secondhand, or taken off the street. An old sign for a neighborhood pizza parlor hangs on the wall above her couch. “It makes me happy knowing it didn’t go into a landfill,” she said. “I try to conserve.”


$1,116| Inwood

Occupation: Writer, filmmaker and photographer

On the old guard: When Ms. Schulman first moved into her building, she recalls that it was mostly filled with older women. “They had raised their families, their husbands had passed away, and they were living by themselves,” she said. “They were great security because they would sit outside the building in beach chairs, watching everything.”

On colors: While Ms. Schulman prefers to wear solid, dark colors — almost exclusively — she gives her apartment an entirely different treatment. “Color doesn’t look good on me, that’s for the living room. I dress monochromatically, but the apartment is another story. I love color and I love printmaking.”

Inwood has not only helped define Ms. Schulman’s décor but also the direction of her work. In recent years, she’s focused on short film projects; most are about her neighborhood in one way or another. She made an ode to the life of a beloved baker named Renee Mancion in one project, and in another she interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda about disappearing into the wilds of Inwood Hill Park as a child.

“There’s something magical in this neighborhood,” she said. “When I’m looking for another subject or story, something always comes up. ‘Neighbor’ here doesn’t just mean next door. To many people up here, ‘neighbor’ means anyone in Inwood.”

For a film project about a man in the early stages of dementia yet still caring for his mother with Alzheimer’s, Ms. Schulman was able to raise funding from local small businesses. The supermarket where she shops pledged money, so did the car service she uses.

More recently she raised $2,500 in initial funds for an upcoming project about a small community of Greek Jews from Ioannina, where her maternal grandparents once lived.

In some ways, she feels like she’s experienced the entirety of New York City, all from one building in one neighborhood. “We’re a microcosm of whatever happens in the city,” she said. “Packages stolen, fires, domestic violence, noise complaints — whatever happens in the city, it’s happened here over the decades.”

There was the hoarder who left a window open so pigeons could nest in the apartment. “The odor on certain days, it was really bad,” she recalled. “I was afraid to have people in the building.”

Over the years, there have been not one but three fires. “By the third fire, you become better at managing your fear and knowing what to do,” she said.

Ms. Schulman’s fire alarm went off two years ago. She was riding the subway and her phone was flooded with notifications from people trying to make sure she was OK. Luckily, it was a false alarm. “People look out for each other,” she said. “It isn’t some anonymous place. You may not know everyone by name, but everyone is very friendly. We even have clusters of families in the building, where you’ll find different branches of the same family in different apartments.”

She has watched several neighbors age, and a couple of them die. “As the years went by,” she said, “I’d see a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair, then a home attendant, then they weren’t there anymore — they were gone. It was like watching the ecosystem of the building.”

Each change in that ecosystem alters Ms. Schulman’s experience in her own home. There was the neighbor who shouted at his TV every year during the Super Bowl. “When the Super Bowl came along after he died,” she recalled, “it was that feeling of, ‘Oh wait, something’s missing.’”

But there have been plenty of births, too, and demographic shifts marked by changes in the mouthwatering smells at dinnertime. Gone are the days of Irish neighbors with corned beef and cabbage wafting in the hallway. “I open the door now and someone is making Dominican cuisine,” she said. “It smells so good, oh my God. I’m tempted to knock on the door: ‘Any leftovers?’”

The changes are vivifying, each is a new way to relate to the world around her. She can’t imagine living anywhere else. “I’ve experienced a few cycles of life myself,” she said. “And I live in a neighborhood that has really fostered my creativity so I don’t see a need to leave. Who knows? This could be my final apartment.”



Read More: The Benefits of Living in the Same Place for a Long Time

2024-04-03 10:27:25

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