Once considered a posh, ‘old money’ sanctuary, the Upper East Side in Manhattan is becoming more accessible and affordable recently although it remains affluent and – fun fact – is a large base of political fundraising.
The Upper East Side is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the borough of Manhattan, the most well-known of the boroughs which make up a metropolis that likes to call itself the center of the world, New York City.
The Upper East Side has a long, rich history. Pun intended. But is the Upper East Side safe? Let’s find out.
Not So Humble Beginnings
Before becoming the mecca it is today, the land that the Upper East Side encompasses was used as fishing and hunting grounds by the Lenape tribe. Later, the New York and Harlem Railroad brought commercial development to the area.
The wealthy and powerful influential families who would transform the neighborhood began developing after 1910, when the Park Avenue tunnel became covered. Luminaries like The Vanderbuilts and Andrew Carnegie built mansions along Fifth Avenue.
This period is famously known as ‘The Gilded Age’. Notable members of the gilded club include the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and the Kennedys.
The neighborhood has evolved since then. Read on further to find out how.
Between the mansions and the museums, the Upper East Side is a cultural hub of all five boroughs. Some of the most famous museums in the world are found on the Upper East Side.
The streak of museums along Fifth Avenue is known around the world as the ‘Museum Mile’. It includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, more famously known as ‘MoMA’. It also includes the Guggenheim Museum, El Museo Del Barrio, and Andrew Carnegie Mansion, home of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
Fun Fact! Before being christened ‘The Museum Mile’ the strip along Fifth Avenue was known as ‘Millionaires Row’.
Besides the museums, the Upper East Side also has not one, but three historic districts officiated within its borders. The Carnegie Hill District, which runs primarily along fifth avenue, from 86th to 98th street. Then there’s the Upper East Side Historic District, also running along Fifth Avenue, but from 59th to 78th Street.
Finally, there’s the Metropolitan Museum Historic District, which covers Fifth Avenue from 79th Street to 86th Street. Practically the entire neighborhood is a historic district!
So what are the borders of the Upper East Side? The Upper East Side encompasses, all together, approximately 2 square miles. NYC Fun Fact! In New York City, the commonly used estimate is that every twenty city blocks are equivalent to one mile.
The Upper East Side is bounded by 96th street in the North, 59th Street to the South, Central Park to the West and the East River to – guess where – the East! The Upper East Side includes the zip codes 10021, 10028, 10128 and 10065.
The Upper East Side also includes two designated sub-neighborhoods, Lenox Hill and Yorkville.
More than half the population of residents of the Upper East Side are working professionals. This is out of a population which hovers above 200,000. The average median income on the Upper East Side is over 130,000 dollars a year. Almost a quarter of residents make over 250,000 dollars a year.
Five percent of residents are undergraduate or grad students and another 19% of residents are retired. A whopping forty six percent of Upper East Side residents possess a master’s degree. That’s compared to – fun fact! – the national average of thirteen percent.
Another 37% have at least a Bachelor’s degree, which is a bit closer to the National average of 21%. Altogether it adds up to an astonishing 83% of the population of Upper East Side residents that have completed higher education. Impressive.
Around fifty percent of residents fall in the 18-54 age category. Children make up only another 13% of the population. The rest are in the 55 and over category. The median average is 41.
An overwhelming 73% of residents are white. Hispanics make up 9.7% of the population and Asians make up 9.4% and both are on the rise. The percentage of African-American residents has stayed steady for the last twenty years at three percent.
Almost fifty percent of residents are married and a little over twenty percent are foreign-born. A little less than twenty percent of residents are families with children. Fifty-five percent of the population is female.
The poverty rate in the Upper East Side is remarkably lower than the rest of the city. Only ten percent of residents live below the poverty line, compared to 18% citywide.
Upper East Side Real Estate
The Upper East Side is classified as a ‘dense urban’ environment. Over half the buildings on the Upper East Side have over 50 units. The neighborhood is dotted with all kinds of gorgeous architecture from brownstones to high-rises.
The majority of domiciles on the Upper East Side are 1 or 2 bedroom units. The majority of residents rent their living spaces as opposed to owning them. A one-bedroom will cost you an average of 3,800 USD per month. A 2-bedroom will cost on average 5,300 USD per month. A studio will run you a little over three thousand USD a month.
The median rent for apartments on the Upper East Side is almost double the citywide average. The average price to buy an apartment or house is close to one million, which is more than double the citywide average. A 4-bedroom? $7 million. Read that and weep.
Upper East Side Transportation
Transportation on the Upper East Side also has a long history connected to it. Besides the Harlem and New York railway mentioned earlier, in the late 1870s Second and Third Avenue elevated railways were constructed and opened to the public.
They were demolished in the fifties, leaving only the Lexington Ave line, now known as the 4, 5 and 6. The 6 line makes all the local stops, while the 4 and 5 lines are express lines.
These days there is a lot of activity, noise and conjecture about the new second avenue underground subway line, parts of which finally opened in 2017 after – fun fact! – first being proposed in 1919 .
The commute to Wall Street, where lots of residents work and is one of the most downtown points in Manhattan, takes about forty minutes by public transit. The commute to Rockefeller Center, the major artery of midtown, takes about twenty minutes by public transit.
There are a number of bus routes you can use as an alternative to the subway. The neighborhood is also served by an additional set of subway lines, the N R and Q trains.
The average travel time to work for Upper East Side residents is 29.4 minutes. 28% of residents took public transportation to work according to the most recent data, while 21% walked to work. An additional 38% worked from home.
Wealthy But Healthy?
According to the most recents data, 89% of residents described their health as good, very good or excellent. The Upper East Side scores better than the rest of the city in almost every major category, from obesity to smoking rates to diabetes. Ninety four percent of residents claim to eat fruits and vegetables every day.
Which is good, because the one downside of the Upper East Side is that the neighborhood has a higher concentration of deadly air pollutants compared to citywide. Fortunately, the neighborhood has an extremely low number of uninsured residents – only about 4 percent.
If you do need medical attention, you’re in a good place. Mount Sinai, one of the best hospitals in the whole country, is located nearby. Two other excellent medical centers are located on the Upper East Side: New York Presbyterian Hospital and Lenox Hill Hospital.
As mentioned in our opening paragraph, the Upper East Side is an epicenter of political fundraising. The top ZIP code for political fundraising in the nation is the aforementioned 10021.
Although still heavily Democratic-leaning, the neighborhood is one of the few areas in Manhattan where more than 20% of the voters are Republican. The Upper East Side falls in the 12th Congressional District and is represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Jerry Nadler, a Democrat.
For The Children
Although a low percentage of residents are families with children, the Upper East Side is exceptionally family-friendly. It is rated #19 in the category of best places to raise a family in New York City.
There are lots of parks and green space near the Upper East Side. Most of all, there is Central Park, one of the most beloved parks in all of the world. Central Park has plenty of activity spaces for children from Adventure Playground to baseball fields. And The Central Park Zoo!
On the other side by the East River you’ll find an alternative: Carl Shurz park. This park counts playgrounds and athletic fields as well as two pools within its fifteen acres.
Besides parks, the New York Public Library hosts four separate branches of the library in the neighborhood so a good book is never far away!
Edumacating Your Kids
Upper East Side public schools are overseen by Community District 2, one of the most highly-rated school districts in New York City. The neighborhood is also ranked #2 in the category of most diverse school districts, so this is one of the best neighborhoods to send your kid to school in.
The average ratio of students to teachers is a healthy thirteen to one. The rate of absenteeism in District 2 is just 8%, way lower than the citywide average.
Besides the top-rated public schools, the Upper East Side is home to some of the most prestigious private schools in New York City. You might remember the tv series ‘Gossip Girls’, which was set at a posh Upper East Side private school.
A local public school, Talent Unlimited, which started as a pilot program, boasts among its alumni notable names such as Laurence Fishburne, Mos Def and Lisa Lisa. If you have a talented kid, there’s no place better to send them.
But Is Upper East Side Safe?
The Upper East Side is part of Community District 8 and is patrolled by the 19th precinct of the New York Police Department. It is considered one of the safest neighborhoods in New York City. Really, the worst thing you have to look out for is pickpockets.
The 19th Precinct patrols one of the most densely populated residential areas in the city, according to their webpage, and the beat includes a large commercial area. Crime has decreased across the board in the 19th precinct since the nineties, the height of the crime epidemic in New York City.
If needed, you can consult their Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCO’s) for problem solving. The contact information for the NCOs can be found on their webpage.
The police presence is palpable and augmented by security cameras posted around the neighborhood, in addition to community watch groups and other safety initiatives.
Crime rates for violent crime are remarkably low. Almost half the rate of the entire city. Property crime rates are higher than violent crime rates, but not too much. Theft and assault are the most prevalent, according to recent crime rate data.
Besides all that, many residential buildings have their own private security and state of the art security systems. According to recent surveys, residents say they feel very or pretty safe on the Upper East Side.
What Upper East Side’s Residents Say
On the whole, Upper East Side residents tend to have pretty nice things to say about their neighborhood. Two-thirds of residents say there is a good sense of community. Their tips for people moving to the area include not being afraid of crime and to get involved in the community. They add to beware the second avenue subway construction.
They call it a clean, safe, great place to live. They love being near Central Park and all the culture. If there is any complaint, it’s that the neighborhood is a little quiet.
The one word most residents would use to describe people on the Upper East Side is entitled, but in second place are ‘friendly’ and ‘fortunate’.
Maybe it’s time you become an Upper East Sider! First tip: The cool kids call it UES.
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.