City Sidewalks: Community in the Chaos


Coming from a suburban town in the Bay Area- certainly not desolate, but a very tight-knit community, one of the things I feared the most about living in New York City was living in that extreme opposite; Sidewalks full of strangers.

At home in California, I loved that I knew people every where I went. I talked with my pharmacist about her pregnancy, visited our local florist just to check in with the owner and resident duck (named Pete), and always ran into friends at the playgrounds in town. It was a feeling of safety… with people stationed all around us, knowing that if anything should happen someone would be around to help. When Zoe took a tumble down two stairs and knocked herself out at 10 months old, our neighbors were at our door within minutes, along with the fire department (apparently she just “forgot to breathe” when she screamed and passed out. She was fine). We had taken a trip to Tahoe the winter before when Zoe was just 4 months old, and ended up in the emergency room for 16 hours with her. She contracted a virus of some sort and had a bunch of fibral seizures, eventually requiring a catheter, spinal tap and countless blood tests. It was the first time that I felt utterly alone and scared- but in hind sight, a great preparation for the few trips we’ve taken to the ER here in NYC.

When we moved to the city, of course we knew no one. It was really, really good for us though. We became self sufficient and confident in ourselves, knowing that we were the only ones around. When Jack went into anaphylactic shock from a surfacing nut allergy, Justin stayed home with Zoe while I ran Jack through the rain to the emergency room and sat with him while they administered 3 rounds of steroids. It was a feeling akin to walking the plank and learning quickly to sink or swim.

Needless to say, we’re pretty good swimmers at this point.





After we enrolled Jack into a pre-preschool program, something happened that changed the way I felt about New York City forever. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I would strap Zoe into the Ergo carrier and walk Jack to school. The parents would gather in a small room to chat while the children were in class. There were probably 4 parents and 4 nannies that joined the sessions, and we all got to know each other pretty quickly. The friends that I made in that program are some that I consider my very closest to this day.

One cold Tuesday morning, one of the nannies didn’t show up. It was slightly surprising, as this particular woman, K, was always on time and had the girls in class religiously. We found out later that she had collapsed while pushing the girls in their double stroller to school that day. With the nanny down and two toddlers in the stroller, stranger after stranger came rushing to help. The girls were scared, but were able to tell the paramedics where they lived. While they waited, a woman who had walked up the subway stairs to see the scene stopped to play her recorder for them. Another acquaintance contacted the children’s mother. K, who the girl’s referred to as their “big sister”, later passed away at the hospital from a heart related issue. The loss of K not only devastated the family, but all of us in our preschool group as well. She was the kindest, most nurturing soul until the very end.

This was, in essence, my absolute worst nightmare. The community that formed from the streets in an instant that morning was incredible, and opened my eyes to the truly unique sense of brotherhood amongst utter strangers in New York City. I suddenly realized that this is, in fact, a very safe city as they say. I’ve never taken the subway or bus without someone offering to carry my stroller. Countless times, random people have held taxi doors for me and helped me with my groceries. One time, a man came calling after me after I dropped a wad of cash in the snow. I was so stunned and in awe that I just let him keep it.


I’ve been very fortunate in my personal experiences out and about in Manhattan. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for a dear friend of mine, who is also fairly new to Manhattan. Last Friday, the morning after spending a lovely night with her listening to the great Diane von Furstenberg speak at the 92 St Y, she headed to her spin class in the Tribeca area. Moments later, she found herself vomiting and fell unconscious after failed attempts to call her husband or wave someone down to help. When she came to, she was still in the snow in below zero temps, and was able to dial 911. No one stopped to help her. She was later treated for hypothermia and has undergone testing. (You can read about her personal account here).

So, while I am comforted by my own personal experiences in the city, I still remain guarded and aware of myself and situations. It’s a very simple thing to be kind to strangers, and I certainly do my very best to be aware of my community- even if I don’t recognize their faces. Your children are paying attention when you help the elderly across the street or assist strangers with their groceries. I’m certain that they are learning important life lessons by being amongst people that may or may not not look like us or talk like us. That’s what community is, even in the biggest city you can find.

Join the Conversation


  • Beautiful post.

    The thought is being in such a big place makes me get so scared but then very excited at the same time. So much to do and see, but so much can happen. I think having children has made me more fearful of the world and it is so important to remind ourselves that while horrible things happen, there is always beauty to find as well.

  • Jess,

    Beautiful story –
    My heart goes out to the family of K and hope your dear friend is going to be ok.

    The lessons you have taught your children is shaping their life. Good for You!!

    Keep up the good work

  • humanity at its best and worst…LOVE the post!

  • I’m from a small town, but most of my family lives in New York and DC. And I always feel comforted by the hustle and bustle of being surrounded by so many ppl whenever I come up to visit. It’s crazy I know but I love it.

  • I found New York to be vibrant and full of friendly people. Some of my friends who live there said I obviously didn’t see the real New York, but I think I did.

  • Beautifully written… my heart is breaking for your friend and all that she went through- I simply cannot imagine. I pray that she recovers fully and hopefully by telling her story you will inspire many to never let a neighbor stand by helpless.

  • Simply beautiful. I especially like your point that your children are watching your interactions. Very true.
    Love your little one’s boots!

  • I’m so sorry to hear about your friend but also glad to hear of the good experiences you’ve had. I think it’s like any place really, just on a bigger scale, in which there are mostly good people out there but unfortunately not all…

  • I have recently found your blog and am transfixed by your exciting (NYC!!) adventure and your emotions and feelings that would apply to a “normal” person like me. I too would be terrified to go live in a such a HUGE city, with no friends or family, knowing nothing of the world other than what I’ve learned in my nice, safe hometown (barring a few vacations here and there). I don’t know you a bit, but I’ve found myself strangely proud of you and how you’ve adapted and I love your wonderful posts. I think this one is my favorite so far. Take care of yourself and your family!

  • Wait, let me get this straight…you gave him all that cash?? I know, you’re thinking, “…And this is what you took away from my post?” Well, yes but don’t worry I got a lot more from it too. It’s amazing how you can find community in so many different places. Having been to both towns you speak of in your post I know how amazingly different the “atmosphere” can be. However, I can also appreciate your new found love of community and support in the Big Apple.

    One of your last points about being an example for our children resonated with me. I often times think about how my actions will be permanently engrained in the growing sponge of a brain of my little ones. Nice to see that yours will be soaking up so many great experiences no matter where you might live!

  • It’s natural to feel afraid to move in other place that you
    are not familiar and no friend their when you need help.
    On the other hand, it feels like a new beginning and new
    nice post!

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