If the 20th century was about spreading out — the complexes are threaded with gardens, wide walkways, playgrounds and parking lots — the new phase of construction is more vertically focused.
First to stretch skyward is One Manhattan Square, whose 823-foot spire, with 815 market-rate condo units, is currently taking shape. At least three projects with similar towers from other developers — all of them a mix of luxury and affordable rental apartments — are planned nearby.
While the high-rises promise to add stores, parks and hundreds of units of affordable housing in an area where below-average salaries are common, many neighborhood residents oppose them. Not only are they too tall, critics say, but also the new wealthy residents will encourage retail landlords to install fancy, out-of-reach shops.
And thousands of those new residents, they add, could strain infrastructure like public transportation.
“This was a sleepy little town for a while,” said Trever Holland, 51, a lawyer and a founder of Tenants United Fighting for Lower East Side, or TUFF-LES, one of several local groups pushing for changes that include a rezoning that would cap buildings at 350 feet, or about 35 stories.
“What we’re trying to make sure of is not only that the area is properly zoned, but properly planned,” said Mr. Holland, who left New Jersey in 1997 for a one-bedroom unit in a rent-regulated building where apartments generally lease for between $1,300 and $1,600 a month (he declined to provide his rent).
But the public process required for any rezoning, which can be lengthy, wouldn’t begin until next year, proponents say, and time might not be on their side. At the same time, the developers behind the planned towers are working jointly to gain city approvals, which will be based on the projects’ impact on pedestrians and other factors.
One person’s oversized tower, of course, is another’s prized aerie, and Dr. Mathew Ulahannan, 65, an internist from New Hartford, in upstate New York, said he chose One Manhattan Square in part for the views.
His two-bedroom, two-bath unit in the building, which opens in 2018, cost $2.3 million, said Dr. Ulahannan, who expects to use it as a once-a-month pied-à-terre with his wife, Leena. His daughter, Netha, 32, who is studying to be a doctor in New York, will likely live there full-time, he said.
“Change is inevitable, especially in Manhattan,” said Dr. Ulahannan, adding that he is sympathetic about rising living costs. “But there is not a lot of room for everybody that wants to come to New York.”
What You’ll Find
Two Bridges, naturally, is near a pair of spans: the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, whose tall stone undersides offer majestic passageways.
Based on business names and residents’ opinions, the neighborhood’s borders roughly correspond with Montgomery Street, East Broadway, Division Street and St. James Place, although some areas may overlap with the Lower East Side and Chinatown.
Classic tenement-style walk-ups, with stores at the base and facades zigzagged with fire escapes, are on full display on Madison Street. Some of the older buildings are being upgraded, like 207 Madison Street, which now has amenities like a game room.
Facing the walk-ups is an example of the housing type that prompted the bulldozing of similar tenements: the sweeping La Guardia public housing development from 1957, where 1,094 apartments are populated by 2,513 residents.
The new crop of towers is taking aim at those 20th-century blocks. At 252 South Street is One Manhattan Square, a condominium from Extell Development Company, whose president, Gary Barnett, lived as a child in an apartment on Pike Street. The development, which replaced a popular Pathmark grocery store, is also adding a 205-unit income-restricted rental building next door, at 229 Cherry Street.
On a narrow site a few paces away, at 247 Cherry Street, JDS Development Group has proposed a 1,008-foot rental with up to 660 units, 25 percent of them with below-market rents. And close by, at 259 Clinton Street, Starrett Development has unveiled a 724-foot, 62-story tower with 765 rentals, a quarter of which the developer said will be affordable.
There is also a project with two spires — the tallest at 798 feet — from L & M Development Partners and CIM Group. The project, which will have 1,350 rental units, a quarter of them affordable, is planned for 260 South Street, currently a parking lot.
All of these developers are promising to include stores, and to replace that sorely missed Pathmark, a spokeswoman for Extell said a grocery is coming.
In a market dominated by rentals, condos are scattered and modest. They also tend to be in the northern blocks, which since the 1980s have been home to immigrants from the Fujian province of China. Those units are frequently owned by investors and rented out, said John W. Chang, an associate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty, who has worked in the area.
“Gentrification is happening,” Mr. Chang said. But with the large number of rent-regulated units, he added, the neighborhood probably won’t turn into an affluent address overnight.
Still, even if gradual, “low-income and long-term residents are being increasingly pushed out,” said Christopher Kui, the executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, a social services group based in the neighborhood.
Tenants in tenements are being harassed by landlords so they might move, to clear their homes for redevelopment, he said. Also, it’s been harder for residents to find places where they might buy “a nice $5 lunch,” as store rents rise, Mr. Kui added.
What You’ll Pay
With for-sale properties scarce, inventory is minimal, so market trends can be tough to identify. Still, a handful of condos offer some insight.
At 175 East Broadway, an ornate former office that went condo about a decade ago, the average price of the three sales this year was $1.59 million, according to StreetEasy.
A similar conversion is at 142 Henry Street, where units have exposed bricks and beamed ceilings, and where a one-bedroom with a bath and a home office sold this year for $960,000, according to public records. And at 48 Market Street, a newly constructed one-bedroom, one-bath condo sold this year for $625,000, according to StreetEasy.
Rentals can seem attractively discounted relative to those in comparable neighborhoods. A two-bedroom in a prewar walk-up building that might cost $4,000 a month in the East Village, for example, could be had in Two Bridges for $2,800, said Todd Orwicz, a salesman with Warren Real Estate, who works in both places.
Over the years, immigrants from various countries have moved through the area, including Irish, Italians and Chinese. Consequently, some buildings can seem like cultural Venn diagrams: A drugstore at Oliver and Madison Streets is identified with at least three signs — one in Chinese characters, another reading “farmacia” and a third that says “Generation Pharmacy.”
But now signifiers of neighborhood cool — coffee shops, interesting restaurants, places to buy art and music — are beginning to appear as well. Many owners of those businesses are taking pains to be joiners rather than disrupters.
“We all want to be integrated into the Chinatown community,” said David Fierman, 34, who moved his art gallery to Henry Street from the Lower East Side in 2016, and moved himself into a studio rental soon after. Mr. Fierman said he makes sure to put out news releases in Mandarin about upcoming shows.
Some attempts at introducing hipster culture in the neighborhood have led to interesting juxtapositions. The book and record store 2 Bridges Music Arts is on East Broadway, in a small mall where the hair salons, jewelry shops and clothing stores cater mostly to Chinese customers. “The idea was to be located in a place that forces you to step outside yourself and your comfort zone,” said the owner, Simon Greenberg, of his decision to open the store there last year. One of the things he has done to appeal to locals, he said, is to display Chinese-language books prominently among the English-language titles.
While arrivals to Two Bridges might be sincerely trying to assimilate, their presence is still controversial, said Mr. Kui, who added that upscale shops are a tough fit in a working-class area.
“I’m not saying these are bad people,” he said, of the new crop of retailers. “Some of them are probably here because they’re facing the same cycles of gentrification as well.”
A zoned option is Public School 1, on Henry Street, which enrolls about 350 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. On state exams last school year, 50 percent of students met standards in English, versus 40 percent citywide; in math, 59 percent met standards, versus 42 percent citywide.
For sixth through eighth grades, there is Middle School 131, just outside the neighborhood, which enrolls about 450 students. On state exams last year, 33 percent met standards in English, versus 41 percent citywide, while 53 met standards in math, versus 33 percent citywide.
Area students are given priority admission to Millennium High School in the financial district, which has about 640 students. On 2016 SAT exams, average scores were 562 in reading, 583 in math and 564 in writing, compared with 446, 466 and 440 citywide.
Subway trains may clatter across the Manhattan Bridge, but they do not stop in Two Bridges. The only line that serves the neighborhood is the F, at East Broadway. The M9, M15 and M22 bus lines are also options.
The neighborhood’s name was coined in 1954 by the founders of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, which today is a social services organization and affordable-housing developer, said Victor Papa, 72, the current president.
An earlier era is recalled at the Chatham Square Cemetery on St. James Place, also known as the First Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Revolutionary War veterans are buried in the graveyard, which had its first interment in 1683, according to the Congregation First Shearith.
The nearby 25 Oliver Street, a weathered three-story rowhouse, was a longtime residence of Alfred E. Smith, the New York governor and 1928 Democratic candidate for President.