Greenwich Village is a neighborhood that transitioned from farmland to the home of the city’s wealthy class in the 19th century and later became a bohemian enclave.
NYC’s village neighborhoods, collectively, stretch across Manhattan from Houston Street on the south to 14th Street on the north. The borders of central Greenwich Village are roughly Third and Sixth avenues (larger Greenwich Village includes the West Village, but the West Village has its own neighborhood vibe and is described separately). Greenwich Village is a neighborhood that transitioned from farmland to the home of the city’s wealthy class in the 19th century and later became a bohemian enclave. Today, a mix of residents are drawn by its lively energy and commercial activity around Union Square and on Broadway and Sixth Avenue. New York University, housed in a number of buildings around Washington Square, shapes the young and academic character of the area. Washington Square, the heart of the neighborhood, is one of New York’s iconic destinations. Visit on a warm spring day, with street musicians performing and political activists gathering under the arch dedicated to George Washington, and it becomes clear that much of Greenwich Village’s traditional character remains.
At the beginning of the 19th century, as New York City grew in population, developers cast their eyes north toward what had been farmland. The potter’s field of Washington Square was reborn as a leafy park, and handsome rowhouses were constructed along its edges. The institution that would come to dominate the neighborhood, NYU, also erected its first building here during this period. It’s a genteel period captured in print in Henry James’ Washington Square (the basis of the play and movie The Heiress) as well as the works of Edith Wharton, whose childhood home was at 7 Washington Square North. In the 20th century, thanks in part to institutions like NYU and also the New School, the neighborhood became the home of intellectuals, political radicals, artists, and writers. Today, some of the coffeehouses where they gathered remain, along with bookstores, arthouse cinemas, and off-Broadway companies.
While many neighborhoods may have one or maybe two commercial strips, Greenwich Village boasts a handful of them. The northern edge, 14th Street, includes many of the area’s big stores — Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Best Buy — while others can be found along Broadway as it approaches SoHo. (Broadway is also home to a store that qualifies as a cultural institution, the Strand Bookstore, at 12th Street.) Running south of Union Square, University Place is lined with restaurants, many catering to NYU students and professors, and independent boutiques. Eighth Street between Third and Sixth avenues consists mostly of stores for the young and young-at-heart with moderately priced clothing outlets and restaurants for diners on a budget. South of Washington Square, MacDougal, Sullivan, and Thompson streets embody the bohemian atmosphere of historic Greenwich Village with cafés and clubs, as well as newer arrivals selling T-shirts and gifts.