By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Respite from absurd Manhattan rents is not a lot to ask for. You just have to wait 10 years if you're looking for it in Peter Cooper Village or Stuy Town (PCVST), those redbrick risers east of Gramercy Park. Oh, wait, that was three years ago, when the waiting list still existed. PCVST?the projects that began mainly as middle-income housing for teachers, firefighters, and other civil servants in the 1940s?has since destabilized housing, shredding its legendary list and sending prices roof-ward. But the area still attracts youngsters on budgets (Alphabet City is minutes by foot), grandparents on HMOs, and pigeons on sabbatical from Union Square. "Stuy Town's my sanctuary," explains one resident. "It's rough out there and calm in here. There's multicultural cuisine around the corner, art in the windows, and local history in the air. Cooper and Stuyvesant. Those guys ruled. Didn't one of them invent Jell-O or something?" Yes, one did.
Boundaries: Stuy Town stretches from 14th to 20th streets and Avenue C to First Avenue, and Peter Cooper Village continues from 20th to 23rd streets along the same avenues.
Transportation: Take the L train to First Avenue and walk toward the red buildings, the M15 bus to 20th Street and walk east, or the M23 bus to 20th Street and Avenue C and, well, you're there.
Main Drags: Locals shop 14th Street from the East River westward for produce as fresh as the spray paint on the buildings, and First Avenue from 14th to 20th streets for colorful flowers. Teens convene at Stuyvesant Oval, a manicured stretch of grass between the tall buildings that admits sunlight and strollers, but few sirens.
Average Price to Rent: Since destabilization, prices have peaked. One-bedrooms in Stuy Town run $1975 to $2300, and in Peter Cooper, $2250 to $2700; two-bedrooms, from $2295 to $2700 in Stuy Town and $2995 to $3300 in Peter Cooper; and three-bedrooms in Stuy Town, from $2995 to $3300. Apartments are rent-only and include costs of air-conditioning and utilities.
Green Space: Where isn't there? Folks enjoy the playgrounds, ping-pong tables, sprawling gardens, and more than 3000 trees that make the neighborhood a horticultural hideaway for commerce-weary couples.
Famous Residents: Paul Reiser rose to sitcom stardom in Mad About You, but not before growing up in Stuy Town. Chess grandmasters, including Bruce Pandolfini, are said to enjoy the area for its think-tank quietude.
Best Restaurants: Ess-a-Bagel's business has not stopped booming since grandparents began racing grandkids to 359 First Avenue for warm bagels every work morning?and on weekends, when the line extends out the door. Lenz's deli (514 East 20th Street) is dependable for late-night longings, Coopertown Diner (339 First Avenue) for a mean spinach pie, Murray's Falafel and Grill (261 First Avenue) for lip-smacking shawarma, and Adriatic (321 First Avenue) for piping-hot pizza.
Best Bars: Locals gather at M.J. Armstrong's Public House (329 First Avenue), a trendy new bar serving trendy new residents everything from vintage sherry to Rolling Rock.
Happenings: Free summer concerts in the Stuy Town Oval get heated, so bring lemonade, or buy some there. The Stuyvesant Park Festival, held annually in the spring, attracts locals and tourists looking for flea-market finds, while a tai chi class is offered every summer in the Oval.
Community Groups: The Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association comprises tenants and merchants with a stake in keeping parks pleasant and construction regulated. These days, the hot-button topic centers on squirrels, getting residents in a huff. "We frown upon feeding them," says a security guard. "There's nothing wrong with tossing a peanut or two, but residents toss entire bags-worth. The squirrels get fat." "It's fine with me," contributes a passerby. The computer center in the Senior Lounge is a happening hangout for ladies and gents in their golden years, and the Stuy Town Chess Club scores points with children when it convenes by park benches after school.
Crime Stats: The 13th Precinct serves PCVST and many surrounding areas, including Gramercy Park and parts of Chelsea. As of December 15, it reported one murder, down one from last year; 23 rapes, up 16; 307 robberies, up eight; 191 felonious assaults, up 24; and 619 burglaries, up 95.