Photo by Heather Dubin
Nina Choi and her sidekick Star in Tompkins Square Park.
BY HEATHER DUBIN | Spotted at her favorite place in the neighborhood, Nina Choi was recently soaking up some mid-September sun on a bench in Tompkins Square Park. The 22-year East Village resident sat across from a flower garden in the park’s southeast corner with her dog, Star, as she waited for a friend.
Choi owns her apartment on the park, and has been there for three years. She has previously lived in lots of different apartments throughout the neighborhood.
Over the past two decades, the 39-year-old photographer and director of commercials has seen many changes in the neighborhood. Luxury housing, which has been on the rise in the East Village for years, is part of a national trend.
“I don’t think it’s bad; I don’t think it’s good,” she said. “The whole city has turned into a white-collar, upper-middle-class to upper-class place, and there’s definitely some arts that are suffering that I would like to see more of.”
But Choi also pointed out a few positive aspects that gentrification has accelerated.
“The neighborhood has really been cleaned up, and my roommates aren’t getting robbed or stabbed,” she said. And after a quick glance toward the flower garden, Choi noted how nice the landscaping looks in the park.
While she initially moved to the East Village for its music and arts, Choi now laments their diminished presence.
“It’s sad, but everything changes,” she said. But Choi, in turn, put an optimistic spin on things, and spoke about change as a catalyst for growth and improvement.
Some of her go-to restaurants in the neighborhood — ChikaLicious (for dessert), Caracas Arepa Bar and South Brooklyn Pizza ($4 a slice) — would not be here if it were not for change, in her view.
“I’m just always on to the next,” she said.
Choi hopes to stay in the East Village, and has not yet decided to abandon ship for Brooklyn, which she thinks is more tailored to artists nowadays. She will, though, if the neighborhood becomes unbearable and no longer feels like home.
For now, she’ll stick to visiting the outer borough when a friend drags her there to hear music.
“I have crossing-the-water phobia and a phobia about getting home,” she joked. With the recent L subway service cuts, she is not alone in her fear.
As for the East Village, Choi loves it. She never has to leave the neighborhood since there are so many restaurants, and all her friends come here to hang out.
“It’s still awesome,” she said. “Anyone I know that’s still a diehard here feels the same way — they’d rather be in a shoebox here in the city. I feel like we’re so lucky as artists to be living here in the city still.”