When we first heard about the Park Slope parents so dedicated to staying in their one-bedroom with their three children that they had custom bunk beds built, we were plenty ready to file this under the New York Times' unparalleled coverage of the lifestyles of the rich and mentally unstable. And while this weekend's Real Estate section story on parents choosing to stay in their tiny-to-moderate-sized city apartments to keep their small children in a tight-knit community is a classic trend piece idea in search of supporting anecdotes, a full read-through reveals the protagonists to be middle-class in some cases, and their reasoning to be more sound than the bunk-beds might suggest.
First we meet the Goepferts, a Columbia student and clerk for a federal judge, who turned down student housing that would save them $600 a month so that they can stay in their Harlem one-bedroom, where there two-year-old daughter has a bunch of friends. The critical mass of kids on their floor is such that the tots take over the hall with scooters and balls, and whatever agita this may generate in childless neighbors is overpowered by the needs of those who breed.
"As the kids have come together, so have the parents," Ryan Goepfert told the Times. "We have dinners together, share toys, hand-me-downs, get help with last-minute babysitting. That kind of community isn't all that common in New York, and it fosters an environment that's so valuable that we turned down a significant amount of money."
Of course it helps to have the money to continue renting the Harlem or Park Slope one-bedroom in the first place, but shared childcare and strong community bonds aren't things you can put a monetary value on. Just ask Lauren and Jacob Gilmore, the former de Blasio neighbors who live with their three kids in the aforementioned bunk bed arrangement. The structure holds two queen mattresses, one for the two older kids, and one for them and the baby whose arrival prompted the purchase.
"We had so many things taking up floor space, but we weren't utilizing our nine-foot ceilings," Lauren Gilmore said.
The couple is friends with eight neighborhood families who take turns babysitting each other's toddlers during the winter, and meet for barbecues during the summer. Their daughter is also close friends with the son of some neighbors, whom they consider family.
More parents like these make appearances, including one couple on Central Park West with an apartment of unspecified size. The alienation of the suburbs and the emotional disruption of moving kids anywhere are very real phenomena, but as Tenement Museum curator David Favaloro explains, tenement dwellers of yore "would not have romanticized" the kinds of community ties our protagonists are foregoing running-around space for.
The Times notes, sensibly, that the Gilmores' 500-square-foot apartment would "seem palatial" compared to a standard 325-square-foot tenement flat, and that another couple's half-bathroom beats sharing a toilet with the rest of the floor's occupants. Still, when reflecting on today's New York real estate insanity, it's worth pondering Jacob Riis, writing in 1890:
Where are the tenements of to-day? Say rather: where are they not? In fifty years they have crept up from the Fourth Ward slums and the Five Points the whole length of the island, and have polluted the Annexed District to the Westchester line. Crowding all the lower wards, wherever business leaves a foot of ground unclaimed; strung along both rivers, like ball and chain tied to the foot of every street, and filling up Harlem with their restless, pent-up multitudes, they hold within their clutch the wealth and business of New York, hold them at their mercy in the day of mob-rule and wrath. The bullet-proof shutters, the stacks of hand-grenades, and the Gatling guns of the Sub-Treasury are tacit admissions of the fact and of the quality of the mercy expected. The tenements to-day are New York, harboring three-fourths of its population. When another generation shall have doubled the census of our city, and to that vast army of workers, held captive by poverty, the very name of home shall be as a bitter mockery, what will the harvest be?