Wednesday, November 2

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village


Walking down 14th Street, it’s hard to see what lies behind the neatly rowed red brick buildings. Seemingly endless lines of them continue from First Avenue to Avenue C and from 14th to 20th Street, forming a perfect rectangle on the East end of Manhattan. This building complex is Stuyvesant Town, an 80-acre residential development and home to over 50,000 people.

When the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company started the development of Stuyvesant Town - or Stuy Town, as it is known by its residents - in 1943, the area had been known for its enormous gas storage tanks, giving it the unappealing nickname of Gas House district. With this new apartment complex, MetLife promised New Yorkers the possibility to “live in a park.” Soldiers returning from World War II were promised a priority position when tenant applications started pouring in. Robert Moses, who was the Park Commissioner at the time, took interest in the project early on, and Robert Caro has described Moses as a “dominant force in the creation of Stuyvesant Park.” The development thus became a public-private partnership and the City Planning Commission backed the project by fifty million dollars. Moses’ involvement came with controversy, however, as his Commission and MetLife decided that African-Americans were not allowed to live in the complex. A very similar building complex called Riverton Houses, which in turn did not allow Caucasian residents, was soon built in Harlem by MetLife.

Stuyvesant Town today is a community unlike any other in lower Manhattan. With densely populated streets and rents starting at a steep $2,500 for a single bedroom apartment, it fits all the characteristics of living in Manhattan but still somehow stands on its own like a distant cousin of a bustling city. Walking down the looped streets of Stuy Town, watching children play around the massive water fountain in the heart of the complex, it’s hard to imagine that you’re in one of the biggest cities in the world. With its fitness centers, movie theater and playgrounds, the complex is nothing short of its own community. A Stuy Town Security officer rolls down the street in his golf cart as families return home from work and the sun sets behind the seemingly identical buildings. On the other side of them is New York City with all its raw glory, home to countless fates and an anchor for this strange little shelter nestled on the edge of it.

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