For a thriving social life, the stylishly renovated lofts, historic row houses, walkable neighborhoods, and nearby bars and restaurants of our cities provide the best backdrop. Increasingly defined by a new urban revolution, they are fueled by passionate locals and transplants that refuse to accept the notion that the word urban comes before blight.
Our state capital, Albany, has always had the benefit of being anchored by large institutions and employers. The state offices, the many colleges and universities, and the nanotech industry all keep money churning, and city property has always remained affordable, even in the most desirable neighborhoods. The mid-size city of about 100,000 offers row houses around Center Square for easy walking to the bars and restaurants on Lark Street, large homes with driveways and yards uptown, and everything in between — all within the city limits.
Times Union Center. Photo courtesy of Discover Albany
National acts routinely make their way through venues like the Egg, the Times Union Center, and the Palace Theatre; in the summer, concert series in Washington Park or Jennings Landing bring the party outdoors. The affordability, solid job market, mid-tempo pace, and relative ease of living and doing business landed it on U.S. News & World Report’s Top 40 places to live last year.
Energetic small business owners like Kaytrin Della Sala and Devin Ziemann, owners of Crave Burgers & Frozen Yogurt, are a great example of people committed to the city. DeSalla tells us, “We opened [Crave] right in the heart of the Pine Hills neighborhood because of its central location to two major hospitals, several colleges, and the Empire State Plaza. When a chance came to open another restaurant [the Cuckoo’s Nest], we didn’t think twice about staying in the neighborhood. We have seen a positive change in the city since 2015 and love being a part of it.” There is still demand for more and the barrier for entry into real estate is low. Well-maintained 3-bedroom, 2-bath houses in safe neighborhoods can be had as low as $185,000.
Rockin’ on the River in Troy. Photo by Dave Defrescente
Being that the “Collar City” Troy is only a 15-minute drive away, all of the same job opportunities and similar housing costs exist there. Troy, however, maintains a distinct city pride with a unique history and strong institutions. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest private engineering and technical university in the English-speaking world, funnels some of the country’s greatest tech minds into the region. Its glory days during the Industrial Revolution saw it reach a status as the fourth-wealthiest city in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century, leaving a legacy of architectural gems like the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, where concerts are still held, and buildings with stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Fitness in the park in Troy. Photo by Downtown Troy BID
Each year in early December, residents get a chance to relive the Victorian heyday as thousands walk the streets in full period dress for the Victorian Stroll. Troy offers some of the best culinary and nightlife options in the immediate Capital Region, with outstanding restaurants like Peck’s Arcade, Dinosaur BBQ, and drinks at Brown’s Brewing Co., one of the oldest craft breweries in the Hudson Valley.
Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. Photo by Caylena Cahill
In the Mid-Hudson Valley, the Walkway Over the Hudson (the longest pedestrian bridge in the world) spans the width of the river at Poughkeepsie, announcing it as the “Queen City of the Hudson.” Early weekday morning joggers, couples taking a romantic evening stroll, and families spending a Saturday outdoors all make their way across, greeting familiar neighbors and friends along the way. Locals often make their living at IBM, Global Foundries, or one of the many local hospitals or colleges.
Initiatives like the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, a former actual underwear factory retrofitted by Hudson River Housing to combine affordable art studios, small business incubation, and low-cost rentals, has been a bright spot in that movement.
Poughkeepsie Gateway Mural. Photo by Paul Hesse
Dutchess County Legislator Giancarlo Llaverias recommends: “Take a nice hike at Peach Hill Park, enjoy the restaurants on Raymond Avenue, and the farmers market that happens every week. Bowdoin Park is the greatest treasure we have, because you can have a family reunion at one of the villas or just enjoy the view of the river.”
Finding a base from which to explore all of this in Poughkeepsie is possible at a wide price range, spanning from under $100,000 for total rehab jobs to over $400,000 for renovated row houses. Conveniently, planned community projects like Eastdale Village, 40 Cannon Street, Queen City Lofts, Dutton Project, and Bellefield (just north in Hyde Park) are offering attractive units with on-site amenities like boutique shops, farm-to-table restaurants, libraries, gyms, and greenspace — a welcome addition to all that the city already has to offer.
In Ulster County, Kingston’s combination of architecture, nightlife, restaurants, schools, community, diversity, art, and affordability is hard to match. Maria Philippis, owner of popular restaurants Kovo Rotisserie and Boitson’s, moved here in 2008 for the affordability of opening a restaurant and says she has no plans to leave. She explains, “I get out of work some nights and just head right around the corner to BSP, where acts like Kim Gordon [of Sonic Youth] might be playing. People are always having dinner parties. I’m probably doing more here than I was in [New York] city.”
It’s true that Kingston is the hottest small city for creatives with and without families in the Valley at the moment; BSP has the most consistent lineup of national indie acts, Kingston’s Stockade District has some of the most historic and attractive architecture, the school system offers the public Montessori-based George Washington Elementary School and outstanding improvements at the middle and high school year after year, and the arts community puts together such gems as the O+ Festival.
With all of this packed into a city of 23,893 people, the housing stock is understandably dwindling quickly. A sustained effort to save up for a hefty down payment or renovation money will still be a good idea for anyone looking to move. If a single-family home isn’t what you had in mind, Kingston (like Poughkeepsie) has creative options like the Energy Square and Kingstonian, which will offer stylish, affordable units in mixed-use buildings that prioritize convenient amenities and community space.
Havana Central in Yonkers. Photo courtesy of Havana Central
The Valley’s largest city, Yonkers, is often lumped in as part of the New York City megalopolis, but it is not to be overlooked as a vibrant place in its own right. The recent “daylighting” project has excavated over a century of paved-over Saw Mill River, allowing it to flow freely once again. As the water follows its natural course through the city, it has brought wildlife back to its currents and urban social life back to its banks.
Brigitte Griswold, Executive Director of Groundwork Hudson Valley, and a Yonkers resident, tells us, “There was only a little green space downtown, and now there are three public parks” that came with the daylighting project. Along with revitalization projects like daylighting, the city and private developers are taking other industrial remnants that have been vacant and breathing new life into them. A series of stylish waterfront developments including Hudson Park, Uno, 66 Main, and Larkin Plaza offer an urban feel with amenities such as on-site basketball courts, rooftop club rooms, covered parking, and concierge service. With the Metro North stop blocks away, and a 30-minute ride to Manhattan, you could find work there, but you may not have to. Just around the corner sits iPark Hudson, a 24-acre corporate park housing a wide range of employers in biotechnology, education, office, and industrial industries.
In Yonkers you can spend your days kayaking the Hudson River with the popular local paddling club, strolling through the historic Persian Gardens at Untermeyer Park, or get an education at the Hudson River Museum or on the Science Barge.
At night there’s Peter Kelly’s X2O on the Hudson for dinner, the Yonkers Brewing Company for drinks, or the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — where you could do both, plus a movie, simultaneously. With a nod to prospective business owners, Griswold mentions, “There is still room for more nightlife options.” While no one would blame you for putting down long-term roots here, the $503,900 median home price can be prohibitive. In the meantime, those waterfront apartments sound ideal with rents ranging from $1,800–$3,600.