Love Nests Repopulate Financial District

Also, top-flight retail has emerged: Thomas Pink, Tiffany & Company and Hermès, a lot of it clustered around Wall Street (why didn’t anyone think of this before?). Plus, Giorgio Armani got into the district, via designing the interiors of 20 Pine: The Collection, a high-rise condo marketed by Michael Shvo, himself young and monied (and, at last check, in a couple), that caters to the styles and tastes of Wall Street’s vernal titans—“a neighborhood rich with landmarks and full of possibilities,” declares Mr. Shvo’s Web site for 20 Pine.

It’s this “full of possibilities” part that might surprise the veteran New Yorker, the cynic (or the realist) from points north of Chambers.

On weekends in the not-too-distant past, the financial district might teem with activity, but much of that sprung from tourists streaming among the landmarks and toward the South Street Seaport. On summer weekends, the winding streets would choke on pasty people, and most traffic only crept along, dodging out-of-towners and the locals dodging them; the Staten Island Ferry Terminal was never busier than on a Saturday afternoon.

Otherwise, forget it. The financial district was where people who had to went from approximately 9 to about 5, maybe 6, on weekdays. A few pubs and restaurants dotted the landscape, enough for after-closing-bell beers and maybe to take a client for a mildly frilly dinner. Otherwise, come dusk, the district crackled with all the energy of New Year’s Day morning. (This reporter lived at Fulton and Gold streets in the neighborhood in 2003 and 2004.)

Now, a swell of fresh locals blurs the perceptions and the boundaries of the district, bleeding it into Tribeca, Soho, even the Lower East Side and Chinatown—all the neighbors that made the transition long ago from edgy and iffy to post-Giuliani, gentrified Manhattan. The financial district’s population has increased by more than 11,000 since 2004 to over 44,700; before Sept. 11, 2001, the district’s population was just under 27,000.

It still is, however, tourist flypaper of the stickiest magnitude and a transient locale for the mighty financial-services industry. Simply too much history packs itself into the district’s blocks and just beyond, on the harbor’s islands; and capitalism’s temple remains Wall Street, whatever the New York Stock Exchange’s electronic future.

And nearly 60 percent of the district’s residents do rent, though the rents have increased steadily; a one-bedroom in a non-doorman building goes for $3,225 a month now, according to brokerage the Real Estate Group New York, up from $3,026 in January and pricier than similar apartments in Soho or the East Village.

Still: When a major survey concludes that nearly one in five financial-district residents stayed there when last he or she moved, then something’s up—a neighborhood, redefined.