So far, my project with New York magazine to rate the city's neighborhoods seems to have stirred up a roughly equal amount of love and hate -- which is better than I expected. A bit of additional context on the ratings and exactly what's included in them is provided below.
-- This is a model of reality. It's a thoughtfully designed model, based on relatively high-quality and objective data sources. But like all models: it's a simplification. I think it passes the test of providing some worthwhile information which can serve as a complement to one's subjective take on the relative quality of different neighborhoods. That is, it points you more in the right direction than the wrong one. But it's not designed to be, nor could it possibly be, definitive.
-- The choice of neighborhoods, and the geographic boundaries assigned to them, were determined by New York magazine staff. I thought they did a very comprehensive job, on balance. It's not trivial to include additional neighborhoods because a lot of this involves counting things -- whether landuromats, toxic waste dumps, or murders -- by hand. The 60 neighborhoods within our scope are not necessarily the 60 best neighborhoods. Yes, we'll get Forest Hills included if we do this next year.
-- A bigger problem, frankly, is that the neighborhoods vary a lot in size (both in terms of geography and population). To be on the right "side" of a large or varied neighborhood may entail significantly better amenities, but also significantly more cost. If we do this again, we will probably break some of the relatively larger neighborhoods (Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Flushing, Astoria, Williamsburg, Ditmas Park/Kensington) into two or more parts.
-- While we can get something approaching an objective answer regarding the relative importance of the non-cost categories (e.g. through survey data), it is inherently very hard to know where to set the cost parameter since this will vary so much according to individual needs. We went with 25 percent simply because it reflects the midpoint between the cost-is-no-object (0 percent) and best-bang-for-the-buck (50 percent) scenarios. However, this is best handled by establishing your own priorities via the livability calculator.
-- The apartment prices listed at various points throughout the article reflect the monthly cost of 800 per square feet of commercially marketable space. We refer to this off-handedly as a "two-bedroom" on various occasions, which is probably about right for Manhattan, but is somewhat stingy for something in the outer boroughs. To reiterate, the calculations are ultimately made on a price-per-square foot basis -- which is the only real way to do it (IMO).
-- The list is targeted somewhat explicitly toward someone who commutes frequently into lower and/or middle Manhattan. If this isn't you, you should reduce the influence of the 'transit/proximity' variable in your calculations. While it would be nice to customize the ratings to individual commuting needs (e.g. you work in Hell's Kitchen, the wife works in Connecticut, you fly out of JFK twice a week, you have Rangers' season tickets, and you have a bunch of family in Bay Ridge) that would be a considerably more massive project.
-- I don't even like Park Slope, particularly.
-- A fairly comprehensive list of the metrics included within each category proceeds below. All component indicators are not necessarily weighted equally.
An index of housing prices aggregated from six sources: StreetEasy, Zillow.com, PropertyShark, Trulia, Jonathan Miller and the Census Bureau. The index reflects the cost of both rental properties and purchases. It was compiled on a cost-per-square-foot basis. StreetEasy and Zillow.com data were determined to be the most reliable and were given (by far) the most weight, although they may not be available in some outlying areas.
- Rates of housing code violations and housing complaints
- Average monthly utility bills (a proxy for energy efficiency)
- The number of cockroaches per rental unit (per housing survey)
- Percentage of units with dishwashers and washing machines (per Streeteasy listings)
- Self-assessment of area housing quality (per housing survey)
- Percentage of residences within Historic Districts.
Quality of public K-8 schools in or near the neighborhood, as measured by test scores (both raw scores and relative to the demographics of the student body), parent satisfaction ratings, and attendance. Private schools are not factored into the calculation.
Transit and Proximity
The largest single component in this category was commute times to four busy stations in Lower Manhattan and Midtown (42nd Street, Fulton Street, Union Square, and Columbus Circle), as measured by MTA’s Trip Planner. We also looked at the number of trains, train lines, and train stations that pass through each neighborhood, survey data on satisfaction with bus service, and a separate calculation on commute times from the Census Bureau.
- Rate of murders in last 5 years (counted by hand assigned to individual neighborhoods)
- Rate of other violent and non-violent crimes (as extrapolated from police precinct data).
- Perceived safety in walking alone at night, per NYC’s 2008 citywide survey.
Shopping and Services
The density (relative to both population and square mileage) of 15 types of businesses within each neighborhood: supermarkets, delis, laundromats, day care facilities, banks, libraries, hardware stores, gyms, bookstores, clothing stores, coffee shops, liquor stores, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices, and nail salons. Special attention was paid to the supermarkets category, and especially the presence of a highly-rated produce mart (including but not limited to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fairway, etc.)
Food and Restaurants
The density of restaurants per square mile in the neighborhood, as well measures of quality as determined from Yelp.com reviews and New York magazine critics’ picks. Quality restaurants far from the city center, which were less likely to be reviewed, were given a bonus multiplier.
Similar to the food category: we looked at the density of bars per square mile, as well as their quality as measured by Yelp and New York magazine critics' picks. We also took a count of dance clubs, and the number of restaurants in each neighborhood that are open past 3 AM.
- The number of art galleries, theaters (movies and live performance), and concert venues in each neighborhood.
- The percentage of a neighborhood’s workforce that is engaged in the arts (measured both relative to the population and to the number of bankers), per Census Bureau data.
- The number of out-of-state students enrolled at four-year colleges and universities within the neighborhood.
Racial and income diversity, as measured on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood and (via census tract data) block-by-block basis. The statistics are race-blind: neighborhoods did not automatically receive points simply for having a large number of nonwhites, with the highest scores going instead to those with a roughly even mix of races. We also looked at the number of distinct ethnic populations within each neighborhood, the percentage of foreign-born U.S. citizens, and the number of same-sex partner households.
- The amount of park acreage: large parks like Central Park were divvied up between several different neighborhoods as appropriate.
- The percentage of residences within each neighborhood that are within walking distance of a park
- Street tree density as measured by New York City’s Tree Census
- Survey data on satisfaction with local parks
- The number of points of beach and waterfront access within each neighborhood.
Health and Wellness
- Air quality complaints
- Asbestos complaints
- Noise complaints
- Asthma rates (a good proxy for pollution)
- Lead poisoning rates
- Infant mortality rates
- Street cleanliness (per NYC government data)
- Counts of rodents, potholes and graffiti
- Frequency of pedestrian and bicycle accidents
- The number of environmentally hazardous facilities within each neighborhood
- Satisfaction on access to emergency services, and to hospitals (per NYC 2008 survey)
- Satisfaction with garbage pickup.