By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
For many years the The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the first owner of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, advertised our environs as a “park-like residential community.”
A community of 110 buildings housing 25,000 persons situated amongst acres of green grass, trees, plantings and shrubbery removed from the teeming streets of Manhattan. Met Life was pretty much on point.
But the current ownership has taken this now-quaint community to greater heights of amiability and helpful amenities. So last week while visiting my mom, I decided to do something I have not done in years… to walk the length and breadth of our unique neighborhood.
I crossed over 20th Street from the redesigned playgrounds and basketball courts of Peter Cooper Village over to Stuyvesant Town. I walked passed Lenz’s, the venerable local deli/grocery store owned by the equally venerable Naz who has been a friend and merchant to our community for decades.
Then I made my way past the ice skating rink that occupies Playground 10. Mind you, Playground 10 is where I spent my childhood and adolescence. In those days, it was an empty square-shaped asphalt area perfect for all kinds of sports. I played football with some of Stuyvesant Town’s greats like Peter Meisel, Mitch Orfuss, Jerry Hirsch and Richard Witkin. With Meisel at quarterback that team went virtually undefeated for five consecutive years until inevitably college and life interfered.
As I walked by, all that nostalgia came rushing back like it was yesterday. It was there I met my teenage love, the beautiful Claire Heaphy.
I proceeded to the Oval which is the reconfigured hub of community life in Stuyvesant Town. The biggest changes are right there. Oval Study, 5 Stuy Cafe and more. I continued towards the resident services available near the Oval in customer-friendly locations.
I stopped by one of those service centers and spoke with Edith Gonzalez about an issue for my mom (an original tenant). Like this new generation of employees, Edith, a twenty-something young woman, was efficient, friendly and eager to help. Since she has only been working here for a few months, I described the many changes our community had undergone in seven decades. She was fascinated or perhaps just being polite. But she was fully engaged. I think she has a bright future in public relations.
From there I continued on my walk inside the interior of Stuyvesant Town encountering some veterans of the earlier years. It was my good fortune to run into John “Butch” Purcell. At times he has been referred to as mayor of Stuyvesant Town. He earned that title for his always gregarious nature and his friendships with so many residents. He helped dozens of young men and women escape drug dependency through his work at Beth Israel hospital. He also excelled on the basketball courts much to the chagrin of his opponents. Seeing Butch again reminded me that it is the residents who inhabit our living places as much as the grounds that makes this community special.
As I weaved my way around towards First Avenue, the vibrant community life was all around including the great shops along the perimeter.
Perhaps this community is not Utopia; it never was, especially during the exclusionary renting policies of the original owner. In 2019, we have problems like every other part of New York City.
But for my money, there is still no better place to grow up, raise a family or grow old. I need to get out and walk more often. We all should. It’s good for our health and good for our souls.