Home Sweet Home in the Heights

by Grace Lee, MPH ’14 in Sociomedical Sciences

As a West Coast transplant to Washington Heights, I have come to realize that this NYC neighborhood has everything I need within just a few blocks—from groceries, to laundromats, to shoe stores, bodegas of all sorts, and even two major subway lines! Washington Heights is a vibrant Dominican community offering all of life’s essentials. The truth is that after making two long treks to Ikea in Brooklyn, my boyfriend and I realized that cheaper furniture can be found right around the corner on Amsterdam Avenue and 161st Street. It’s there that we bought the dining room table and futon in our living room.

There is a neighborhood feel to the place, though I haven’t become totally rooted due to my lack of Spanish-speaking skills. There’s the old man who sits across the street greeting everyone who passes by with a “hello, beautiful!” on mornings when it’s not too cold outside. There’s the food vendor who stands on the street corner selling homemade tamales out of a shopping cart.  And there’s the little cat lady who feeds the strays every evening near an empty lot down the road. On summer nights, chatty men pitch chairs on sidewalks to play chess, and on Halloween, all the children dressed in sparkly costumes rush out onto Broadway.

Even so, Washington Heights is no Upper East Side. But every now and then I stumble across hidden treasures throughout the community that add to its charm. There are excellent jogging paths on both east and west edges, for example.  From June through November, there are a couple weekly farmers markets in the area – the Fort Washington Greenmarket­ on Tuesdays and the 175th Street Greenmarket on Thursdays. Perhaps one of my most pleasant discoveries was the Bubbles-R-Us laundromat one block away from my apartment. For my first year living without a washing machine in the apartment complex, I dreaded the chore. But the family-run Bubbles-R-Us has reliable washing machines, strong dryers, cheap service, and a short waiting time overall. The nice manager will even give you plastic bags for your clothes if it’s raining outside.

Ft. Washington Greenmarket

Fort Washington Avenue Greenmarket

I’d say that Washington Heights is not a bad place to live for the Columbia graduate student. It might not be as quaint as Morningside Heights, but the rent is cheap, the apartments are spacious (relative to New York City standards) and food is affordable. Plus my landlord is fantastic! And let’s not forget that when living in the Heights, you’re within walking distance of Columbia’s medical campus, where all the public health classes take place.

After a month of winter break in California, I was starting to miss the place I call home. Not just the school or the neighborhood or the people I’ve met, but the wealth of adventures NYC has to offer – all just one subway ride away.

Look for my next piece on places to grab coffee, lunch or drinks near Columbia’s medical campus­.



  1. As someone who is also from California, I really loved hearing your perspective about the school and the area! I was recently admitted to the sociomedical sciences program and I’m excited about what Columbia has to offer. At the same time, the idea of living in New York seems rather daunting. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, I’d appreciate any other advice you have about your transition across the country!

    • I definitely agree Nadia! What part of CA are u from? I’m currently living in Los Angeles and got admitted to the sociomedical sciences program as well. After reading this blog NY definitely seem do-able now 🙂

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