Thursday, February 05, 2009

In defense of your grad-student neighbors

New York Magazine readers are not so pleased with the students living in Stuyvesant Town. I knew, from visiting grad-school friends in those apartments, how hated the students were, but it now becomes clear why: the residents think they're all undergrads! The housing is, as far as I know, offered at below-market rates to first-year grad students only, but since something like ten billion people live in Stuy Town total, surely college students are among the residents. Heck, Bin Laden could be in the mix, and no one would find him. ('Where is 987 14th Street, and why is it not on 14th Street?', asked the Bush Administration team sent to look for him.)

But, onto the matter at hand, which is how terrible it is that young people go to school and must live somewhere while doing so. So, some quotes for the commentariat. OK, the fury is mostly at some real estate developers who are, contrary to their career reputation, in it for the money, but the students don't come off so well, all the same. A sampling:

"The dogs and the NYU students that the Speyers have allowed into Stuy Town are echoing thru the paper thin walls and ruining every tenant’s chance for a peaceful existence."

"they are gleeful throwing elderly out of their apartments to turn stuy town into an nyu dorm."

"As for the other type of new tenant, in the past three years, we've slowly been surrounded by students. The result? Weekend parties until all hours of the night, and the regular smell of pot smoke drifting through where my kids sleep. One Monday morning, I found a kid passed out in the hallway. Try explaining that to a five year old!"

"six years old, playing with another six year old in Playground 12 for the entire summer, thinking I had a new best friend; I was raised in a nominally Jewish family, he in an Irish Catholic family. Childhood bliss, until one day in late August when he arrived at the playground and announced that he wasn't going to play with me or talk with me any more, since I killed Jesus. Stunned, I asked, 'Who's Jesus?'" (OK, not about grad students, but every Jew had a childhood moment like this. Really! One would think all American Jewish elementary school students helped kill Jesus. I wasn't going to say anything, but...)

"NYU students are WORSE neighbors than any loud family or fighting couple."

And finally, from another NYMag item on Stuy town:

"[...] renting to the NYU and New School kiddies whose mommies and daddies pay their rent."

So, Haters, two things. One, undergrads are people, too. The System makes going to college necessary for so many jobs, it's hard to fault individual 18-year-olds for signing up, or parents who can pay for doing so. Charles Murray will get around to it sooner or later. Two, first-year grad students are not undergrads. They may live in what looks like hipster squalor, but the Stuy-town ones are working to pay for their own hipster squalor, and usually by spring semester, the parties die down and the retreat into serious adulthood kicks in. Young-looking and debauched for grad students, by February they're... low-earning teachers, or teachers-in-training, i.e. the people the Defenders of Stuyvesant Town Authenticity Preservation are supposed to want in the buildings.

6 comments:

Petey said...

"undergrads are people, too"

Well, in the sense that dachshunds are people too...

"first-year grad students are not undergrads"

Obviously, you've never been a first-year grad student.

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May I just say that commenting on your blog while drinking my first cup of coffee really makes my day, Phoebe.

I'm not quite awake yet, but the Jackson Pollack-like style of your posts perfectly fits the muddleness of my mind before the coffee starts to really take effect.

So, thank you.

But seriously, are you really asserting that undergrads are people too? I mean, they're not even housebroken yet.

Petey said...

On the actual substance:

"the fury is mostly at some real estate developers who are, contrary to their career reputation, in it for the money"

I think you are missing the general vibe of the complainers, as well as their larger context.

Stuy-Town has historically been a militantly middle-class housing project.

The complaints are class-based, and should be seen as part of a general pattern on the part of the residents there to keep the housing project middle-class. They are worried about a future demise of rent control, and of being priced out of their buildings by an influx of moneyed residents.

Since, unlike Phoebe, I see class without needing to muddle it up with notions of hipster-dom, I'm generally in sympathy with the motivation behind the residents' complaints, even if they are unclear on some of the details. Preserving residential space in NYC for folks who are not either very rich or very poor is generally a highly worthy objective.

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Tangentially: the best description I've ever heard of Stuy-Town is "Little New Jersey". Living in Stuy-Town puts people very, very close to Manhattan without actually being in Manhattan.

Phoebe said...

No, I understood the complaints against the developers. I did not and do not, however, think grad students of all people are the residents whose presence should anger the complainers, if they think, as I agree they think, and as you think, and as I think, that "Preserving residential space in NYC for folks who are not either very rich or very poor is generally a highly worthy objective." How would grad students *not* fit the bill? I mean, are there funded doctoral students also supported by trust funds? Surely some, but not too many I've met, and at any rate the low(er) rent Stuy Town housing is aimed at, and typically enjoyed by, those who are indeed paying their own rent with their fellowship money. First-year grad students who fit the description of new-New-York filthy-rich are, I'd imagine, living in West Village market-rate apartments, not bunking up in dorm-furniture-furnished rooms with math grad students.

Petey said...

"How would grad students *not* fit the bill? I mean, are there funded doctoral students also supported by trust funds?"

Sure. As stated, the residents seem to be unclear on some of the details.

They hear "NYU students" and think of trust-fund NYU undergrads. The mechanics of how academia works is not something the general population spends much time thinking about.

I'm sympathetic to the residents' general class-based motivation, rather than actually agreeing with them on the details.

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All that said, and class- consciousness aside, one can also sympathize with the residents on not wanting a transient population shuffling in and out of their normally stable populations. NIMBY-ism is pretty understandable, even if it's not intellectually supportable.

Phoebe said...

"They hear 'NYU students' and think of trust-fund NYU undergrads. The mechanics of how academia works is not something the general population spends much time thinking about."

Clearly. Thus my post, pointing out their misunderstanding.

Petey said...

FWIW, I just around to reading the whole article, and it's pretty fascinating stuff.

My favorite passage:

"Whatever the case, Tishman Speyer hasn’t been able to recover as many apartments as it had anticipated. Tenants like the Fellers have reportedly fought off more than 50 percent of the cases brought against them. “Stuy Town is the quintessential rent-stabilized apartment filled with well-educated old Jews, and you shouldn’t fuck with them,” says one affordable-housing advocate. “What the hell were these guys thinking?"