Private Lives in the Big City

256 pages

40 halftones

March, 2013

ISBN: 9780814771549



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Constance Rosenblum, most recently the author of the Habitats column published in the Real Estate section of The New York Times, was a longtime editor of the paper’s City section and a former editor of the Times’s Arts and Leisure section. She is the author of Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope Along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.


All books by Constance Rosenblum

There may be eight million stories in the Naked City, but there are also nearly three million dwelling places, ranging from Park Avenue palaces to Dickensian garrets and encompassing much in between. The doorways to these residences are tantalizing portals opening onto largely invisible lives.  Habitats offers 40 vivid and intimate stories about how New Yorkers really live in their brownstones, their apartments, their mansions, their lofts, and as a whole presents a rich, multi-textured portrait of what it means to make a home in the world’s most varied and powerful city. 
These essays, expanded versions of a selection of the Habitats column published in the Real Estate section of The New York Times, take readers to both familiar and remote sections of the city—to history-rich townhouses, to low-income housing projects, to out-of-the-way places far from the beaten track, to every corner of the five boroughs—and introduce them to a wide variety of families and individuals who call New York home. These pieces reveal a great deal about the city’s past and its rich store of historic dwellings. Along with exploring the deep and even mystical connections people feel to the place where they live, these pieces, taken as a whole, offer a mosaic of domestic life in one of the world’s most fascinating cities and a vivid portrait of the true meaning of home in the 21st-century metropolis.


  • "The tales of luck or hard work that resulted in the securing of perfect tiny shoebox apartments, rehabbed brownstones, and converted industrial spaces provide a frisson of envy that keeps us reading; it’s the same urge that has us gaze up at lighted windows from the sidewalk below and wonder if someone else’s house, and thus, their very existence, is better than our own. Rosenblum’s profiles are a celebration of New York, and of what E.B. White called 'the gift of privacy, the jewel of loneliness'—the difficulties and pleasures of finding a place and making it a home."

    Publishers Weekly

  • "For a collection of newspaper columns, Habitats is a surprisingly cohesive book with little literary flourishes here and there. Rosenblum’s nimble portraits are written from the perspective of a sharp outsider, and personal details bleed between the individuals she interviews and the spaces they inhabit until you realize that there isn’t any border between them."

    New Republic

  • "a book rich with poignant, colorful, and endearing portraits of the common New Yorker"

    —Lauren Palmer, Urban Omnibus

  • "...a must-read for all of us New Yorkers who are forever obsessed with the never-boring topic of New York real estate and who are forever curious about how our New York neighbors, from across the street to across the river, live their domestic lives behind their curtains, blinds, and wrought iron gates."

    —Yukie Ohta, New York Bound Books

  • “Rosenblum is a fine storyteller, and it is this eye towards telling a good story that is one of the great strengths of this collection.  The primary downside to this collection, is, in fact, a plus: the short exposes often leave the reader wanting more, and after a few pages of hooking the reader, suddenly the fascinating story ends, and the interesting characters and their beautiful homes are gone.  If you like to peek into residential windows when walking down the streets of New York City and imagine the lives of the habitants, then Habitats will give you a satisfying look into how urban dwellings, and urban dwellers, come to be.”

    New York History

  • "Rosenblum writes evocatively about a city where 'neighborhoods, streets, even individual buildings are saturated with memory.' Reading these pieces is like walking down a street at dusk and glancing into people's illuminated living rooms...From these fragments of lives she weaves an intimate portrait of a city and its inhabitants."

    The Guardian

  • "A collection of recent newspaper columns on the homes of New York residents illuminates the ways in which the city has (and hasn’t) changed. The byline of Rosenblum (Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, 2009) may not be familiar even to regular readers of the New York Times, and the column she was the last to write no longer exists. Yet these 40 pieces have greater staying power than many collections of newspaper columns and show the ongoing fascination with the subject of how, where and why people live where they live. These expanded selections from the newspaper’s Real Estate section are less concerned with that market—prices and square footage, though such details occasionally highlight the pieces—than they are with the stories of the inhabitants. “I wanted to use the column to write stories,” writes Rosenblum. “I wanted to use the physical nature of a home as a wedge to delve into personal history, and to produce, as one reader nicely put it, biography through real estate.” The results, she continues, “offer a mosaic of domestic life in one of the great cities of the world.” There are examples of shelter voyeurism that will leave readers in other parts of the country amazed at how much some are willing to pay to live in New York (often for so little space). But mainly, the interest in the home reflects the interesting people who inhabit it: the two clowns who must combine living quarters and rehearsal space (so many of these stories find residences serving double duty), the woman who rescues and nurses ailing kittens, the artists in their communal building, the stepdaughter of a famous author. Whether the living space in question is a fresh start or a link to the past, the thread of continuity throughout is that “the story of urban renewal has been written, rewritten, and rewritten yet again.”


  • "Gracefully written and full of surprising insights, Rosenblum's book is a tribute to the capacity of New Yorkers to create entire worlds in the smallest of places: their apartments."

    —Ariel Sabar, author of Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York

  • "Part urban sociology, part journalistic snooping, Constance Rosenblum’s remarkable stories reveal the true variety of the meanings of home. Closely observed and beautifully written."

    —Witold Rybczynski, author of The Biography of a Building