Finding a neighborhood like Sunnyside can feel like finding a soul mate; the excitement from discovering something new and perfectly charming, the comfort that comes from knowing you belong, the certainty that you will never leave.
Like many recent transplants to the area, my husband and I left Manhattan for more space and lower rent. A coworker had suggested Sunnyside and after visiting once we never considered looking elsewhere. Besides the quick commute to Grand Central and Times Square on the 7 train, and the large pre-war apartment we found for half our Upper West Side rent, the name Sunnyside seemed an omen of good things to come.
Where is Sunnyside?
Sunnyside is located in northwestern Queens, less than a mile from the 59th Street Bridge. Yet, despite the proximity to Manhattan, the difference is palpable as soon as you step off the 7 train.
“Sunnyside is a small town in the big city. All the benefits of living close to Manhattan, but under a canopy of leafy green trees,” said Katie O’Sullivan, a mom of two young children. “There is a community of parents who know my children and often look out for them.”
Maybe it’s because the neighborhood is only one-square-mile large, or maybe it’s because the brick houses that comprise Sunnyside Gardens are attached and share common outdoor space, whatever the reason, a strong sense of community is often what residents mention first when asked to describe Sunnyside.
“It’s a tight-knit community where people know and care about their neighbors,” said TV news anchor and mother of two, Tai Hernandez. “You have to leave your house 10 minutes early to make up for having to stop and say hi to someone every other block. I love that.”
Moms in Sunnyside
New moms tend to be introduced to the community through Sunnymoms, a Yahoo group with more than 650 members, where we seek advice about everything from breastfeeding to car repair. Through this group our babysitting coop, book club, knitting circle, writing group, and many other offshoots were formed.
When families need help, dozens of volunteers mobilize through Sunnymoms to bring meals to their neighbors’ homes.
Sunnyside Gardens Park
In warm weather, Sunnymoms and their kids tend to flock to Sunnyside Gardens Park, a private park that anyone can join with an approximately $400 family-membership fee and a commitment to volunteering.
The park has baseball fields, tennis courts, shared riding toys, a wading pool and dozens of sets of eyes looking out for each others’ children.
Parents count on the relationships that develop while their children are young to last long past their days in the park.
“I love that not only does everyone know each other but, as my daughter becomes a teenager, I know I can depend on other eyes in the ‘hood to help her stay safe,” said Rachel Thompson, a doctoral candidate and mother of a four year old. “It does “take a village” and our children will never be all by themselves here.”
Classes, Preschools, Playgroups and Shops
In the winter, moms of babies and toddlers tend to congregate at the playgroup in Sunnyside Reformed Church, more commonly referred to as Irene’s playgroup, since the director, Irene, is loved by so many Sunnyside families.
As I watch in awe as my daughter, 4, and son, 2, grow, I take pride in the development of our neighborhood.
Since my children were born the Sunnyside Arts Cooperative was founded, which offers top-notch music, dance, yoga and theater classes. Amazing Magic Beans, a progressive preschool, and Petunia, a hip children’s clothing store, appeared and are thriving.
We now have a Community Supported Agriculture program to buy local food, a Saturday farmers’ market and, as if we needed another reason to be compared to trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods, a food co-op is in the works. As I write this a movie starring Robert De Niro and a pilot for CBS are being filmed in Sunnyside.
Rent and Living
Sunnyside can also feel not just like a small village, but several small villages coexisting separately. New immigrants from Asia and Latin America, 20 somethings, seniors and new moms each have their own.
Despite the recent surge of hip bars and restaurants, real estate prices remain sharply lower than in Manhattan. My husband and I were paying $2,200 for a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom apartment on the north side of Queens Boulevard. A few months ago we purchased our single-family home in Sunnyside Gardens, which needed major renovations, for $550,000.
As my children get older, my concerns shift from mommy-and-me-classes and playgroups to schools. All three public elementary schools are well regarded. P.S. 199 and P.S. 150 received Bs on their most recent progress reports from the Department of Education. P.S. 11, the third neighborhood elementary school, got an A. They are among the most diverse schools in the city and face some of the challenges other city schools face, like high rates of poverty and, depending on the school, large class sizes.
There are a number of nearby charter schools, but competition tends to be fierce. St. Sebastian and St. Raphael are two parochial schools popular among Sunnymoms and the Garden School in Jackson Heights is a private school some of my friends are very happy with.
Although Sunnyside was ranked the third most liveable neighborhood in the city by New York Magazine and the Daily News recently included it among the best places to live in New York, city attitude has not yet permeated our streets.
“The mompetition level is relatively low, or we’re all good fakers,” said Gloria Wong, life coach and mom to a four year old.
While we appreciate the compliments to Sunnyside, most people I know don’t want it to become another Park Slope or West Village. We’re fine just the way we are.
“My kids are growing up with big trees above them, playing at a historic park and are minutes to Broadway shows and museums to feed their hungry young minds,” said Fallon Connolly, a stay-at-home mother of two. “The feel of a small community in the middle of New York City is priceless.”
Kim Brown Reiner blogs at www.sunnywoodkids.com
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