We went down there with some friends and family to see a young playwrights presentation recently. A real slice of New York. NY is to drama what LA is to movies. NY has Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, Off-Off-Off Broadway - a hundred indie theater companies. It's a world unto itself. In NY, people go to the theater. It's a theater town. This indie black box theater we went to on Suffolk St. was sold out with 150, and after the performances there was a party with dancing etc. but we old folks did not stay for all of that. Too late for us.
We walked about Suffolk, Riverton, etc. There were hordes of highly-attractive, polite young people all over. Perfectly safe, lively, but with plenty of the good old grittiness and funkiness which indicates that it has not been gentrified. (Unlike Chelsea and now even Hell's Kitchen which are being so improved that I call them "Disney NY". Too quaint.) Lower East Side is a place for youth. People talk to strangers on the streets, pleasantly. "Where ya going?" No cops needed, no cops around. Tons of pubs, cafes, music clubs, and little restaurants of all sorts. Like Greenwich Village c. 1960 - or like the old medieval city centers in Europe.
Ambitious and well-educated young people from all over the US flock to NYC to test their mettle, and to mate. I did that, too, but it's much better and more fun now. The challenge is affordable places to live. Always roommates, always cramped. But you do not stay indoors - you go out and just use your place as a dormitory. Work 14-hour days, work two jobs, go to clubs and pubs and hang out and meet pretty people with all sorts of interests and ambitions. Network. It works.
I envy those youth in NYC today, living in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side (being priced out of the West Village, Chelsea, and Hell's Kitchen now).
The Lower East Side of Manhattan has a colorful history, from the old farms and orchards on Orchard street, to the starting point of immigrants from the 1860s through the turn of the century, to the large Jewish dominated immigrant population, to crime and drugs when those immigrants moved uptown or to suburbia in the 50s and 60s, to its present "transitional" wonderfulness.
Hey, Jacob Riis: Those terrible tenements were welcome, neighborly housing for immigrants coming from nothing at all. There was lots of cultural support without government intervention. Riis was a self-made entrepreneurial Danish immigrant, but failed to understand that the tenements - with a chance for economic improvement and freedom - were a Godsend to the Germans, Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, Puerto Ricans, etc, where they started their lives in America. Riis had no faith in the immigrants' moxie.
Truth be told, my daughters, when starting out, lived in quarters similar to those in the Tenement Museum. Many people still do, without complaint - except they have toilets in their apartments.
You can get a good history of the Lower East Side on wiki.
Small streets and small venues make for a neighborly atmosphere. For such a colorful, lively, multi-ethnic, youth-dominated friendly neighborhood, it remains fairly inexpensive thus far - by NY standards. Here's a random one on Riverton.
Around 20 years ago a colleague bought a brownstone and a five-story walk-up building down there, back when it was not nice and you could see guys with needles in their arms in the gutters - and when they were giving buildings away. He moved there. At this point, his retirement (which I very much doubt that he will ever desire) would be assured in great comfort should he ever sell one of them now.
My only problem with that neighborhood is that I do not understand the trains. I do not know these trains. F Train? What? Have to use Uber to get around some of these places in NYC. Why Uber? Because cabs mainly hang around midtown, where there is most of the business.
Note to Bulldog: Our next urban hike has to go through there, and then up through the East Village (technically still Lower East Side. Blame the realtors.)