Washington Heights: Is it safe? What can you do there? Should I move there? Here are answers to your questions and more about this neighborhood.
Washington Heights, nestled in the northern expanse of Manhattan, is a neighborhood steeped in history and cultural vibrancy. Often dubbed the “Little Dominican Republic” due to its significant Dominican population, the area serves as a melting pot of traditions, cuisines, and artistic expressions.
Washington Heights occupies a unique position in the vast landscape of Manhattan. Bordered by the Harlem River to the north and the Hudson River to the west, its natural boundaries provide both isolation and scenic beauty. To the south, it’s flanked by Harlem, while Inwood lies to its north, marking the very tip of Manhattan.The neighborhood stretches from 155th Street to Dyckman Street, encompassing a vast area characterized by steep streets and historic step-streets, a testament to its hilly terrain.
This topography grants Washington Heights some of the most breathtaking views of the George Washington Bridge, especially from the vantage points of the J. Hood Wright Park and Highbridge Park. One of the area’s most notable geographical features is the Manhattan schist, the bedrock foundation that supports the island’s towering skyscrapers. In Washington Heights, this schist is prominently visible, especially around the grounds of the renowned Cloisters Museum.
The neighborhood’s main thoroughfares include Broadway, St. Nicholas Avenue, and Amsterdam Avenue, each bustling with local businesses, eateries, and cultural spots. These streets, along with the expansive Fort Washington Avenue, serve as the primary arteries, guiding both residents and visitors through the heart of Washington Heights.
The Origins of Washington Heights
Washington Heights is located in New York City’s Manhattan borough and is named after Fort Washington. The fort was constructed during the Revolutionary War by the Continental Army to defend against British troops.
The construction of the George Washington Bridge in 1931 significantly impacted the neighborhood, connecting it more directly to New Jersey and facilitating the flow of people and commerce. Furthermore, the introduction of the subway system, particularly the A train in the 1930s, further integrated Washington Heights into the fabric of New York City, making it more accessible and spurring development. Once the subway lines connected it to the rest of Manhattan, the area started to develop rapidly with more real estate beyond single-family homes and mansions.
Washington Heights Demographics And Culture
Washington Heights is a vibrant neighborhood with a mix of professionals, college students, and new families. The area has a large Hispanic and Latino presence, with over 30% of residents identifying as Hispanic. It is also one of the most leading Dominican communities in the U.S.
- Population: As of 2021, Washington Heights/Inwood had an estimated population of 216,768.
- Ethnic Composition:
- Asian: 2.7%
- Black: 7.3%
- Hispanic: 67.9%
- White: 19.7%
- Household Income:
- The most significant household income group in 2021 was those earning between $100,001 – $250,000, making up 25.3% of households.
- The median household income in 2021 stood at $58,060, approximately 20% less than the citywide median household income of $72,150.
- The poverty rate in Washington Heights/Inwood was 21.0% in 2021, compared to the citywide rate of 18.0%.
According to the 2020 population, Washington Heights has a population of 1,830. With the low population, the neighborhood offers a close-knit community experience filled with cultural diversity.
Washington Heights Real Estate
Do you enjoy the amenities of a bustling metropolitan city but prefer to live in a small, residential community? Washington Heights offers a great solution. While the area has numerous historic brownstones, most of the real estate is renovated prewar buildings. Gentrification has been on the rise as well, so you can expect additional developments over the years.
In 2022, 70 new residential units received certificates of occupancy, an increase from the previous year. Over the last decade, 633 units in buildings with 4 or more units were constructed in Washington Heights/Inwood. Of these, 73% were market rate.
- The real median gross rent increased from $1,170 in 2006 to $1,490 in 2021, marking a 27.4% increase.
- In 2021, 27.8% of renter households were severely rent burdened, spending more than 50% of their household income on rent.
- 49.9% of rental units were affordable at 80% Area Median Income in 2021, a decrease of 10 percentage points from 2010.
- The rental vacancy rate was 2.4% in 2021.
- The homeownership rate in 2021 was 12.0%, lower than the citywide rate of 33.3%.
- The home purchase loan rate was 27.4 per 1,000 properties in 2021, and the refinance loan rate was 33.5 per 1,000 properties.
- There were 8 properties with a filing of mortgage foreclosure in 2022.
Washington Heights Education
Washington Heights is in Community District 6, which has multiple high-rated public schools. These schools include Muscota elementary school, Washington Heights Academy, and Middle School 324 Patria Mirabal. Two main higher education options are Boricua College and Yeshiva University. This neighborhood also has multiple students attending nearby Columbia University and City College.
For self-educators, there are two New York Public Libary branches in Washington Heights.
Washington Heights offers breathing room with lots of green space and limited towering buildings. There are numerous playgrounds and parks to enjoy outdoor activities. For example, Tryon Park hosts an annual autumn Medieval Festival. You can also watch kids star in original performances at the People’s Theatre Project or enjoy art workshops and toddler storytime at the library. Additionally, you are close enough to travel to nearby areas for a variety of other attractions.
One downside, however, is the neighborhood is known to be noisy based on logged 311 noise complaints. With the number of block parties and events, it can be a boisterous area.
Politically, a majority of Washington Heights residents voted Democratic in the 2020 elections. The neighborhood is in New York’s 13th Congressional district and also part of the:
- 31st State Senate District
- 71st and 72nd State Assembly districts
- 7th and 10th districts City Council
Is Washington Heights Safe?
If you are wondering, is Washington Heights safe? Residents have reported saying that although there is crime, the area is a safe neighborhood filled with kindhearted people. However, depending on the location, there can be areas with drug users on the street.
Two police precincts serve Washington Heights: the 33rd Precinct and the 34th Precinct. While the area used to have high crime rates historically, there have been many improvements over the years. For example, the 34th Precinct saw a decrease in crime rates by 87.3% between 1990 and 2020.
Washington Heights also has three fire stations and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The hospital campus also includes the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.
Washington Heights, like many urban areas, has its challenges, but it’s essential to contextualize these numbers within the broader scope of Manhattan and New York City as a whole.
Comparison with Manhattan:
- In 2022, the serious crime rate in Washington Heights was 14.5 serious crimes per 1,000 residents. This figure is slightly higher than the citywide rate, which stood at 14.2 serious crimes per 1,000 residents.
Types of Crimes:
- Violent Crimes: These include offenses like assault, robbery, and murder. The specific breakdown for violent crimes in Washington Heights was not provided in the source, but such crimes typically make up a portion of the “serious crimes” category.
- Property Crimes: This category encompasses crimes like burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft. Again, the exact breakdown for Washington Heights wasn’t specified, but property crimes often constitute a significant portion of reported incidents in urban areas.
Trends Over the Past Decade:
- While the data provided doesn’t give a year-by-year breakdown for the past decade, it’s worth noting that crime rates, like in many parts of New York City, have seen fluctuations. Factors such as community policing efforts, socio-economic changes, and citywide initiatives can influence these rates.
In conclusion, while Washington Heights has a crime rate slightly above the citywide average, it’s crucial to interpret this data with nuance.
Dining And Nightlife Options In Washington Heights
If you enjoy Hispanic food, you’re in for a treat. About every block of Washington Heights has many Hispanic-owned restaurants, bodegas, and mom-and-pop shops. Grab Cuban and Dominican food, including a Cubano sandwich, at El Floridita Restaurant. Or try a different cuisine completely by visiting a long-time neighborhood haunt and Irish pub, Coogan’s.
When in New York, we can’t leave out the pizza experience. Order by the slice at George’s Pizzaria or enjoy a pizza with beer at Bodega Pizza. The Uptown Garrison also provides a combination of good pizza, bar food, cocktails, and wines on tap.
Washington Heights Transportation
Washington Heights is optimal for walking, has accessible public transit, and is very bikeable. It is served by the subway A express, C local, and 1 local trains. There are multiple bus station stops in the area. The George Washington Bridge Bus Station can also take you to New York, New Jersey, Rockland County, and more.
Here’s an overview of the public transportation options available in the neighborhood:
- A Train: The A express train serves Washington Heights, providing quick access to downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. Key stations in the area include 168th Street, 175th Street, and 181st Street.
- C Train: The C local train also serves the neighborhood, stopping at 168th Street.
- 1 Train: The 1 local train runs through Washington Heights, with stations at 157th Street, 168th Street, 181st Street, and 191st Street. This line offers connectivity to the Bronx and the length of Manhattan’s west side.
- MTA Buses: Several bus routes traverse Washington Heights, ensuring that even areas not immediately adjacent to subway stations are accessible. Key routes include the M3, M4, M5, and M100, among others.
- Express Buses: For those looking to travel to other boroughs or farther distances within Manhattan, express buses like the Bx7 can be a convenient option.
- PATH Train:
- While not directly in Washington Heights, the nearby PATH train at Journal Square in New Jersey is accessible via a short trip on the A train, providing additional connectivity to New Jersey.
- Many of the subway stations in Washington Heights, like the 168th Street station, have been upgraded or are in the process of being upgraded to be ADA-compliant, offering elevators and ramps for those with mobility challenges.
- With the expansion of bike lanes and the availability of Citi Bike stations, biking has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation in the area. The greenways along the Hudson River provide scenic routes for both commuting and leisurely rides.
- Taxis and Rideshares:
- Washington Heights is well-served by both yellow and green taxis. Additionally, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are readily available in the area.
Do be aware, if you are biking or walking, Washington Heights is on Manhattan’s highest natural elevation. This neighborhood has multiple hills and steep step streets.
Washington Heights Main Attractions
There are plenty of green spaces and cultural attractions in Washington Heights. The three biggest parks are Fort Tryon Park that is 67 acres, Highbridge Park, and Fort Washington Park.
For a fabulous art collection, take a visit to The Cloisters. The museum itself is a piece of architectural art. The Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library also educates the public on Latino culture. Every November, they host a big Day of the Dead festival. For an evening of moving and unique music, unwind at the Marjorie Eliot Parlor Entertainment Jazz.
What to Look Out For
The increase in gentrification has caused some tensions. Long-time residents that have contributed to the neighborhood are being pushed out by increasing rents.
Approximately 8% of homes in the area are at risk of flooding. If you are by water, you may be required to have flood insurance.
With this information, you should now be able to make an informed decision about Washington Heights.
(Article was updated on February 2024)
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.