BATTLE OF THE BOROUGHS The cost of living in Manhattan tops that of Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx -- or so goes the traditional rap about New York City. But as Brooklyn continues drawing families and hip singles, not to mention media attention, prices for basic necessities (including real estate) are edging closer to and sometimes surpassing what Manhattanites pay for the privilege of living on that congested island. Brooklyn still claims the "cheaper" mantle overall, with a cost of living 13 percent lower than Manhattan, according to Numbeo, a worldwide database populated with crowd-sourced data. But a comparison of select expenses shows that many things are just as pricey in Brooklyn (not to mention Queens).
Brooklyn vs. Manhattan: Is the Outer Borough Still Cheaper?
Manhattan's Upper West Side (the area west of Central Park) and Brooklyn's Park Slope (in northwest Brooklyn near Prospect Park) are known to attract relatively affluent couples and families. In some quarters, both neighborhoods are considered highly desirable, if not chic. According to the real estate brokerage MNS, average rents in non-doorman buildings on the UWS are higher than in Park Slope: Studios go for about $100 more per month ($2,200 vs. $2,100), one-bedrooms for about $300 more ($2,900 vs. $2,600), and two-bedrooms for $500 more (about $3,800 vs. $3,300). Winner: Brooklyn.
Real estate in these demographically diverse areas is comparatively cheap. Harlem stretches east-west across the island and north-south between 155th Street and 110th Street; Crown Heights lies at the end of a train line in Brooklyn. Average rent in non-doorman buildings in Harlem sits at $1,700 for a studio, slightly more than $2,100 for a one-bedroom, and $2,600 for a two-bedroom, according to MNS. Average rental prices in Crown Heights are the same for studios and slightly lower for larger apartments: $1,950 for a one-bedroom and about $2,400 for a two-bedroom. Winner: Brooklyn.
The West Village, between Houston and West 14th Street west of Sixth Avenue, and Williamsburg, just across the East River from Lower Manhattan, are both characterized by arts communities, nightlife, loft-type housing, and steady gentrification. In the West Village, Zillow listings show studios and one-bedrooms going for $3,000 to $4,000 in most buildings. Naked Apartments places the median one-bedroom rent at $3,700 in the Manhattan neighborhood compared with $3,100 for a one-bedroom in Williamsburg. Winner: Brooklyn.
Midtown Manhattan (running east to west across the island and bordered by 59th Street to the north and approximately 34th Street to the south) and downtown Brooklyn (in the borough's northwest) are among the top central business districts in New York City. Both areas are studded with towers and bustling with residents and workers. In Midtown, renters pay about $2,200 for a studio, $2,600 to $2,800 for a one-bedroom, and $3,400 to $3,800 for a two-bedroom unit in non-doorman buildings, reports MNS. Downtown Brooklyn is significantly more expensive: Studio rents average $2,600, one-bedroom rents average $3,200, and the average two-bedroom rent is $4,200. Winner: Manhattan.
The transit fare is consistent throughout the boroughs: $2.75 a ride, with unlimited-ride packages available by the week and month. It's possible that Brooklynites might spend more on transportation if they live far out in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan; by contrast, some Manhattan residents could bike or walk to work. Regardless, relying on public transit to get around is dramatically cheaper than driving. Parking in Midtown and downtown Manhattan costs more than anywhere in the country: a median rate of more than $40 a day for a spot in a garage or open lot, according to a 2012 survey by Colliers International. Free street parking is easier to find in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, and paying to park a vehicle is less costly, as well. A spot check of 24-hour rates at BestParking found a range of $20 to $49 for downtown garages and lots. Winner: Tie.
GROCERIES Based on January 2016 cost of living data from Numbeo, the average price of a dozen eggs in Manhattan is $3.62 compared with $3.30 in Brooklyn and 1 pound of apples goes for $2.34 and $1.75, respectively. Price differentials for meat are notable: The average price for 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts is $5.71 in Manhattan and $4.81 across the East River; 1 pound of beef round costs $6.50 in Manhattan but only about $3 in Brooklyn. Other foods such as bread, milk, bananas, oranges, and tomatoes also cost slightly more in Manhattan, although potatoes are pricier in Brooklyn: $1.47 vs. $1.39 a pound in Manhattan. Winner: Brooklyn.
The cost of eating at inexpensive and mid-range restaurants trends higher in Manhattan than in Brooklyn, but fast food customers pay the same, Numbeo reports. The average cost of a meal at a modestly priced restaurant is about $18 in Manhattan and $17 in Brooklyn. In the finer dining category, a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant runs an average $80 in Manhattan compared with $70 in Brooklyn. Winner: Brooklyn.
Tickets for live performances at Manhattan Theatre Club, a popular off-Broadway venue, start at $60 and climb to $130. At Theater for a New Audience, an equivalent site in Brooklyn, tickets typically settle in the $50 to $85 range. The Brooklyn theater also offers better discounts -- on packages to multiple plays, for example, and for students and patrons under 30. Winner: Brooklyn.
Manhattanites can expect to pay about twice as much as Brooklynites for gym memberships, according to Numbeo. The average monthly fee for a fitness club in Manhattan is about $80 compared with $40.50 in Brooklyn. Want to rent a tennis court for an hour on a weekend day? Expect to pay $42.50 in Manhattan but just $11 in Brooklyn. Winner: Brooklyn.
Travel to Brooklyn for shoes, where average prices are lower on comparable items, according to Numbeo's data. Mid-range Nike, Adidas, and other running shoes are more costly in Brooklyn, though, at $92 compared with $85 at Manhattan retailers. The disparity in men's leather business shoes cuts the opposite way: $106 in Brooklyn versus $118 in Manhattan. For clothing, neither borough holds a clear advantage. The reported price of a summer dress from fast-fashion retailers is about $38 in Manhattan and $39 in Brooklyn, while non-designer jeans cost more in Brooklyn ($59) than in Manhattan ($52). Winner: Tie.
Consolidated Edison provides gas and electric service in New York City. Miron Properties estimates that the average monthly bill runs about $75, with negligible differences between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Heat and hot water in most New York City buildings are included in rent. Some Brooklynites pay for gas used for cooking, which runs about $15 to $20 a month. Numbeo data on Internet service show monthly rates of $43 in Brooklyn and $53 in Manhattan. Winner: Tie.