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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.