Seventh Generation Stories

Sample 1

The Way We Were: Remembering Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village

Steve Joseph remembers ethnic food, burglary, murder and the relative tranquility of Stuyvesant Town. A 27-year former resident, on a recent visit from his home in Mexico Joseph recalled, "It was 1968: I lived here with my wife and later, my daughter. I moved in before the Lower East Side was gentrified." The area was dirty and full of graffiti, but Stuyvesant Town provided a contrast. Joseph felt the national race riots that year were tempered locally by "Mayor John Lindsay's willingness to go to Harlem, roll up his sleeves, and talk to the people."

Nearby "Alphabet City" was so dangerous and drug-laden into the late '70s and early '80s that "policemen didn't dare to walk alone on the side streets," recalled Joseph. "In the early'80s, I drove a NY taxi and once picked up a stabbing victim on 14th Street who died in my cab. I wanted to give up the job after that, but I couldn't because I needed to feed my daughter."

When he first moved here, he said he found Stuyvesant Town safe but institutional. "I wasn't impressed with the similar brick buildings and similar-looking people. I remember the homogenous quality of the population back then: although the streets were full of Hispanic and Black people, there were few that I saw in the complex outside of our family, since my wife and I were a mixed couple."

Working in public relations for Stuyvesant Town's then-owner Metropolitan Life, Joseph - who is white -- recalled tricky power politics: "The NAACP picketed the development because apparently, less than one half of one percent of the Stuyvesant Town population was Black. The story made the front page of the New York Times. My boss made a phone call, and the next day the story was buried on page 68. It was a long time before Stuyvesant Town reflected the cultural mix of the city."

Still, Joseph grew very fond of it: "Out of our windows I could watch the seasons changing: the green crocus shoots told me spring was coming. I saw kids play roller hockey, and one time sitting on a park bench, I caught a puck in the head through the fence. I was then instrumental in having wire mesh put up."

Other things changed too, more recently the rules to allow pets. "We had cats even though animals were forbidden. Word was that the resident manager had cats and was a cat lover. I once saw someone pushing a baby carriage near my apartment within the complex and when I looked in, there was a dog - I assumed that's how he got the dog in and out for walking."

Steve Joseph now lives in Mexico but still concerns himself with Immanuel Kant's three great questions: "what can I know, what ought I to do, what can I hope?" and his own question, "where can I find a nice pastrami sandwich?"

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