Raising Families in High-Rises is Looking Up
Gina Song grew up on a cul-de-sac in Livingston, where neighbors could rely on one another, borrowing the proverbial cup of sugar over a backyard fence.
Now, as she and her husband raise their two daughters, the cup of sugar transaction takes place in a hallway in one of the tallest buildings in New Jersey, The Modern, which is in Fort Lee.
“I liked where I grew up because we could rely on each other, and now I have that here,” said Song, whose daughters, Isabelle and Genevieve, are 6 and 3, respectively. “When we first came I didn’t know how child-friendly it would be, but there are children’s programs all the time.”
When the girls were younger, the family lived in a garden-style apartment, but Song said she feels that high-rise living encourages more mingling among neighbors. They moved into their three-bedroom on the 30th floor about a year ago.
“You don’t really have to make a lot of effort to find playgrounds and play groups and make play dates because it just happens naturally here,” she said.
While many families see the house with the white picket fence as the ideal, others decide that a high-rise is the way to go.
“High-rises have more amenities in general, so parents appreciate that,” said Marin Brady, executive vice president of The Marketing Directors, which does marketing and sales for many North Jersey high-rise buildings, including Trio in Palisades Park, Hudson Lights in Fort Lee and Journal Squared in Jersey City. “I think parents also appreciate the doorman, which you are not going to get in a garden apartment.”
At Trio, about 46 percent of the apartments have children living in them, and the apartments were designed to be larger than many in the area.
“They have music classes there and reading time for kids,” Brady said. “I think the playroom is the most-used amenity in the building.”
About 10 years ago, some high-rise buildings didn’t even have playrooms as part of the design, Brady said, but in the past five years most new high-rise construction has made amenities and features aimed at children crucial parts of the design. At the 17-story Liberty Harbor in Jersey City, about 70 percent of the ground- level retail is school or day-care related, Brady said.
“People love that,” he said. “They are making a decision on a property based on factors like that.”
Song said she enjoys the story hour, held weekly at The Modern, as well as special events like an ice-cream social and outdoor movie nights. She said she thinks that people who are drawn to amenity-driven properties like The Modern expect that their kids will be as pampered as mom and dad.
“It’s a luxury high-rise, and the people who come here are going to want these things,” Song said.
High-rise living, she said, is like packing a city into a few square blocks, making it feel more like a neighborhood.
“Everything you need is here,” she said. “My daughter’s social life has expanded exponentially.”
Beth Polychromes, property manager at The Modern, said it was crucial for the building to develop programming and spaces for older kids. There is the Aquapella lounge for ‘tweens, with an underwater theme and funky seating, and tournaments for basketball, billiards, and Ping Pong. There are about 50 children among the 450 units.
Nelson Chen, a Realtor whose work focuses on high-rises on North Jersey’s Gold Coast, has childhood roots in a high-rise. During his middle school years, he moved into Fort Lee’s River Ridge, leaving behind a townhouse in Teaneck.
“As a kid I immediately thought high-rise living was the coolest thing,” he recalled. “Where I had lived before there was not really a gathering spot, but in the high-rise, there were people around all the time and there was this sense of camaraderie.
“I loved the elevator, I loved the idea that there was a doorman who knew who you were and always said hello, I loved that there was this cool view and there were always fun things going on,” Chen said. “In a high-rise, you can’t forget the view. The fact that you can see the city was amazing. Unless your parents were taking you to the city all the time, you don’t really feel connected to it, but when you live in a Fort Lee high-rise, you can look out and see it all the time, and the city feels much closer.”
So did he ever, as a kid, wish that he had that yard?
“I never missed having a house,” said Chen. “And to this day, I’ve been a condo person ever since.”
Terry Golden, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Fort Lee, said high-rises first appealed mostly to empty nesters. Then young couples started coming, and now they are staying there to raise their children.
She said that high-rises are often more appealing to families because they tend to be a luxury, amenity-driven product compared to a garden apartment, town-home complex or medium-rise building.
Paige Soltano and her husband are raising their two children at Fort Lee’s Horizon House. Both were grew up in single-family houses but were New Yorkers to the core.
So when they were looking for more room, a high-rise co-op was perfect because it had much of the same feel as city living. With her job in New York, she didn’t want a long commute to a house in the suburbs.
“I love my husband and he’s gotten a little more handy, but he’s not the handiest,” Soltano said, so home repairs would have been a drain.
“Originally, the plan was to stay for a few years and we did look at houses, but we never found anything as large as what we had and we were so happy where we were,” Soltano said. They live on the 28th floor of their 29-story building, in a 2,100-square-foot three-bedroom. “We have 11 closets, and two terraces. I like to say that we have a ranch house in the sky.”
There are times when Soltano said she wishes she had an extra room for guests, or an extra large kitchen for holiday meals. And she still shudders at the memories of getting around in a high-rise with two kids, their stroller and groceries.
“But when we have a snowstorm, we don’t have to leave the apartment,” she said. “They don’t have their own backyard, but they have all the grounds they can use.”
When her kids were younger, she said, apartment living didn’t necessarily cut down on the amount of kid stuff that accumulates. Now that they are older — teens — when they hang out with friends, Soltano said, she often has to give up the living room so they can socialize.
“You have to be a little more creative with how you use your space,” she said.
She said all her kids’ cousins live in single-family homes, but when family members come to stay, those kids refer to their apartment as “the hotel.”
“It’s fun to be in the lobby and take the elevator and look out and see the George Washington Bridge,” she said. “You’re not going to get that in a house.”
Her son, Jordan Sarnoff, 14, said he never had a desire to live in a house.
“My friends were always here and we always had playgrounds, so it was like one big backyard,” he said. He liked having the options for amenities, such as the pool. Now, as a teen, he said he appreciates some of the perks of high-rise living.
“I order a lot on Amazon and it’s nice to have someone to hold your packages,” he said.
Looking back on when he was younger, he said there were other benefits that an 8- or 9-year-old probably wouldn’t get in the suburbs. If he wanted to go visit a friend, he didn’t have to beg his mom for a ride.
“I’d just take the elevator down,” he said.