“If we were deciding between a compost unit and a wine chiller, we’d probably go with the wine chiller since more people would be interested,” said David von Spreckelsen, the president of Toll Brothers City Living division. “But here we had large kitchens and a lot of the units have outdoor space, so we thought people could compost in their kitchen and go right out to their garden.”
While such amenities might be aspirational for some, others are yearning to get their hands dirty. Christine Blackburn, an associate broker at Compass real estate, said that for a woman to whom she recently sold a condo at 144 North Eighth Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the roof garden was the most important amenity.
“She didn’t care about the gym, she didn’t care about the garage,” Ms. Blackburn said. “They live in a $2 million condo, but for her to be able to grow tomatoes with her son, that was it.
“The garden plots in that building are tiny,” she added, “but it makes some people feel like they’re not living in a high-rise.”
Public green space has always been a priority, of course, and let’s not forget that large swaths of all five boroughs were once farmland.
Green rooftops have some historical antecedents in the city: The Ansonia, on the Upper West Side, kept 500 chickens on its rooftop farm in the early 20th century, with eggs delivered daily to the tenants, according to “The Sky’s the Limit,” a book by Steven Gaines. But the roof was shut down by the Department of Health after just a few years, in 1907. And for the past century, it was accepted that living in New York meant leaving nature, and local honey, behind.
“It definitely used to be an either/or mentality,” said Rick Cook, a founder of the architecture firm CookFox and a designer of 550 Vanderbilt, who moved to New York from a small town upstate in 1983. But after studying abroad in Florence, Italy, he said, “I understand you could have both. That, in fact, the highest quality of life is to have both.”
Indeed, the explosion of the wellness industry has left many craving a different kind of New York lifestyle.
For a younger generation, practices like organic gardening and meditation may not carry any whiff of the counterculture.
“Being green is modern, being organic is modern,” said Jordan Horowitz, 26, an assistant manager of Enterprise Rent-a-Car who grew up gardening in suburban New Jersey and was excited to get a studio at Urby, where residents have an entire city block of gardens. But he is equally enthusiastic about the pool, the giant bean bags strewn across the grounds and learning to make Vietnamese cuisine from scratch in Mr. Costello’s cooking classes.
That many such offerings tend to be far more upscale than their 1970s counterparts no doubt helps to remove any lingering hippie vibe. Rather than a stable of rusty Schwinns, for example, 50 West, in the financial district, allows residents to pedal out on Porsche bikes that cost $3,700 a pop.
“Yes, it’s sharing, but in a luxury manner,” said Javier Lattanzio, the sales manager at the condo.
The adult treehouse at One Manhattan Square on the Lower East Side, likewise, is hardly primitive, with Wi-Fi and a staircase. As for all those rooftop herb gardens, asked if they are actually used, one broker replied that they definitely were, though not necessarily for a Moosewood recipe: On a recent trip to 338 Berry in Williamsburg, she saw people with Aperol spritzes clipping herbs to put in their cocktails.
Frank Monterisi, a senior vice president of the Related Companies, emphasized that the new generation of renters and buyers “like to see sustainability, they like to see rooftop gardens.”
At Hunter’s Point South, Related’s massive affordable housing complex in Long Island City, Queens, residents can receive deliveries of fresh vegetables from a C.S.A. — community-supported agriculture. There are also an apiary, about 2,300 square feet of rooftop gardens and a waiting list for the gardening club.
“Everyone wants to garden now. I think New Yorkers have gotten comfortable with the amount of concrete we have, but they also want to see green,” said Joyce Artis, a retired Port Authority worker who helps organize the gardening program at the complex and grows microgreens and lemon trees in her apartment.
Ms. Artis said that when she was growing up in Brooklyn, she was sent to visit relatives in North Carolina in the summer, and hated having to get up early to weed. “But then as I got older, I started missing it,” she said. “And I started growing things in my apartment. No matter how small your space I always say: ‘You can grow one thing.’”
Ms. Blackburn, the Compass broker, said that gardening, for some, is a version of meditation. “Maybe they’re not sitting there with a meditation app, but sticking their hands in the soil — it doesn’t matter if someone’s making $10 million a year — it can be very therapeutic.”
She expects the enthusiasm to continue and intensify. “I wouldn’t be surprised in a year if a luxury building had a chicken coop,” she said.