The Soapbox: My visit to Stuyvesant Town

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood each week (space providing). All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 800 words, to editor@townvillage.net or Town & Village, editor, 20 W. 22nd St., 14th floor, New York, NY, 10010. 

This column was submitted by Stuyvesant Town native and current resident of Minneapolis Richard Luksin.

Dear T&V,

It has taken me a while to write this because it was so painful. Where to start?

On 8/22/13, on the way to my summer camp’s 50th reunion, I managed to briefly visit my beloved Stuyvesant Town for the first time since 1995 and I still loved it. In 1995, it still looked and felt as it used to. Now it looks and feels very different.

As I meandered purposefully to see my old apartments, playgrounds, the Oval, the fountain, the most striking feature was that no one was smiling! Everyone looked drained of life. Sad. Mad. Anxious. Busy. Troubled. Exhausted. Even the dogs looked exhausted (and out of place). Not one person looked happy except me — I couldn’t stop smiling in the presence of far too much security, a lot of construction, the blight of the fences. Also the whizzing by of so many carts and other vehicles (the only vehicles we saw in Stuy Town when I was growing up were snow plows in winter and trucks in the spring to collect the prunings of the trees.)

All this did not make for a friendly atmosphere. It looked like Superstorm Sandy had hit ST about a week ago and they were in the process of cleaning up the devastation that it had left behind. Even the playgrounds looked less fun and more regimented. There was even a security guard posted at the entrance to Playground 10, not allowing anyone in to use its beautifully tended field. God knows why.

Still, it was glorious to be back in Stuy Town again and I would still rather live there than any place on earth, but it’s not what it was and that’s not just nostalgia talking. I must be correct because no one looked happy. No one had a bounce in their step and a lot of the natural warmth of the Stuyvesant Town community seems to have been lost. Stuyvesant Town itself seemed to be in pain. I’m not just an oldie longing for the good old days. My friend who was with me said ST felt nothing like I’d often described to him. Even he could sense the paranoia; it was palpable. It felt like Sandy hit and never left.

I know the people in ST/PCV have been hit hard. Sandy, CWCapital screwing people over with both hands, possibly the tenants are worn down and weary with the uncertainty of their future and living in constant (and real) fear of what CWCapital will do to them next, mid-lease rent hikes, the looming “conversion.”

I didn’t care for any of the changes to ST. I looked into the lobby of 283 Avenue C (where I lived) and instead of the beautiful gold mailboxes with lovely filigree designs, now they’re silver gray institutional ones and I’m sure it was an MCI at the time they changed them.

My camp (Mohawk in the Birkshires) felt the same and looked the same as it did in 1963, possibly because very few changes (“progress”) were made. It felt like home. The original owners, now in their 80s, were still determined to keep it as much as it was. That made a big difference. The spirit of the place hadn’t changed while the spirit of my beloved ST had changed.

The people who have moved into ST are naturally not the same people who used to live there (the first tenants). Those people are what’s been called “The Greatest Generation,” the returning vets from WWII of their families, among others. Now there seems to be an age gap. In the late 1960s, when the “Generation Gap” really started and was in full swing, it didn’t feel as antagonistic as it does now. I apologize if I come across as some nostalgic jerk. I apologize to all the tenants who are being screwed because someone should apologize to you and the people who should, won’t.

I must admit I was in ST from the time of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on a dreary Thursday when the sky was a strange hue of gray and orange — not the optional time to see people ambling about and school kids laughing and frolicking. But still, some of the magic of ST was gone. Yet, I’d still rather live in ST than any place else. It’s not what it was, but then, what is?

Finally, what hasn’t changed — this is important — how quiet ST was compared to how noisy the city is just outside of it. That’s still great. A quiet oasis in the city.

3 thoughts on “The Soapbox: My visit to Stuyvesant Town

  1. YOU’RE NOT PARANOID IF SOMEONE IS AFER YOU

    I have been critical of the many changes that have occurred since MetLife went from a mutual insurance company to a for-profit corporation. Then, CEO Robert Benshome quickly converted ST/PCV into “high end” apartment complexes. The “greatest generation” is quickly being overrun by the “greedy generation” to match the now materialistic nation that has been wrought.

    MetLife sold ST and PCV to Tishman/Speyer for $5.4B. They defaulted and sold off to CW/Capital. Many widows of the “:greatest generation” in their 80s were manipulated out of their 50 or 60 year old apartments by devious and false allegations. Too scared (and old) to challenge — they moved out. So the very members of families who fought in World War I I were usurped by the new generation who only fought for more money.

    Under the Rent Stabilization Law (with significant input from monies given to the “pols”) allowed any vacated apartment to go into “free market” status. So, a $2,000 apartment (with minor additions and renovations) could now be rented for over $5,000.

    Pity the poor landlord(s)! Each month and now online, management includes a “bonus” of $500 to anyone who recommends someone and they sign a lease. (The new tenant also gets $500.) What a scam. Luxury sans a doorman or large staff that few needs. Get with it guys! This means that there is a dearth of people seeking these neo-luxury suites.

    Then there is the conundrum of global climate change… Sandy! Since we are near the East River, waters overflowed to First Avenue. As bizarre weather patterns evolve with speed, if ST/PCV may well end up (as Tony Soprano might have said) “with the fishes,” These two giant real estate properties will be worth zip! (Not to mention all of Manhattan — remember it’s an island!) And, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

    All of the changes here are designed for the always changing CEO’s and shareholders to make more money. All are already wealthy. but want more and more A study was done which compared “happiness and fulfillment” between those New Yorkers who were making $150K and those “super wealthy.” And the results: once you made $150K there was no increment in having a good life.

    The greedmongers of Wall Street, the banks, real estate, and… are just playing a game with our lives. It’s a sort of obsessional compulsive disorder (OCD) — except it is destroying our economy, country and people — into an Ayn Randish hell!

    I have lived here for 38 years and remember fondly and sadly (the late) Resident Manager Potter who when I had had a life threating illness said, ‘Don’t worry about the rent, until you get better.’ Those were the good old days which are now gone.

    Now, methinks that the neo-management would want me to die so they could get more money for my apartment — lseriously!

    Thank you, Mr. Richard Luksin for not forgetting!

  2. Both comments are so apt for the conditions today in StyTown. This community that has existed for generations has been thrown to the wolves of wall St and Real Estate families of NY.

    Bin Ladin would be smiling at the enhanced security, hundreds of cameras, large security SUV’s, ticketing and cuff bearing “security officers” led by a former NYPD official who thinks this is crime central.

    Case in point, building and expensive central security office instead of a place for our community youths is part and partial of the new mission.

    The new mission is to provide services to NYU students who can pay 2 to 3 times the average rent, who have to have a combined parental income of 3 to 4X’s average income of our community census data.

  3. I lived in ST with my husband as a young couple (1973-1981). Our two children were born while there. At 280 First Avenue every floor had a different smell of cooking – the Indian family on the Mezzanine, the Italian family on the first floor, etc. Having young children meant we got to meet a lot of neighbors, young and old.
    Some families had three generations living at various apartments within the development. As a mother I shared responsibility for managing a play group. We went to birthday parties and watched our kids ride Big Wheels through the Oval, occasionally dodging stray hockey pucks at playgrounds frequented by neighborhood teenagers on roller skates. In the summer the sprinklers were turned on and we shed our shoes. Our kids played for hours with their buckets. When we moved away I cried for years, missing the times we had..
    In the coming years we visited. During the past ten years or so, the life has gone out of it. I am a big believer in making space for young people, but there are too many NYU students living there without any real commitment to the community. The children who grew up there have moved away. I no longer wish I still lived there. A wonderful place to call home has become just “a space to store your stuff for awhile.” A shame.

Leave a Reply to David Chowes Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.