Westport Values Transform A New York Co-op

Earlier this month, the New York Times Real Estate section examined the challenges that coop buildings face during the pandemic.

The lead focused on Lori Levine van Arsdale. She’s the board president of a 5 -unit cooperative near Gramercy Park. Owners there have not always played nice.

Lori is also an 8-year resident of Westport. Her experience here — with great neighbors who look out for each other — has inspired her to make her city residence a more friendly place too.

That was not mentioned in the Times story. But the other day, she talked about it for “06880.”

Lori grew up in New York. She’s owned her co-op for 15 years, and loves the neighborhood.

When she she married her husband Jan 8 years ago, he’d lived in Westport for nearly a decade. They blended their families — she had 2 dogs; he had 2 dogs and 4 kids — and bought a new home. It’s off Park Lane, behind Trader Joe’s.

The van Arsdales (from left): Jansen with Kipper, Stedman, Carolynn with Casey, Jane, Jan with Suki, and Lori.

Many of their neighbors are older than the van Arsdales. Yet right from the start — when a woman brought herbs from her garden — Lori felt welcomed.

Everyone socialized, celebrated birthdays, lent leaf blowers. A neighbor called Lori once in New York, when she spotted an intruder in Lori’s back yard. The Van Arsdales’ stepsons shoveled neighbors’ driveways.

When COVID struck, Lori and Jan spent most of her time in New York. Westport neighbors checked in by phone. One told Lori that her stepchildren — 24, 22, 20 and 18 years old — were doing great. One had offered to go food shopping for homebound neighbors.

“That’s the way living should be,” Lori says. “I wondered why it wasn’t happening in my 5-unit brownstone.”

Owners in the self-managed 1851 building did not get along. When 3 units came on the market, Lori decided things could change. She ran for president, and won.

Lori Levine van Arsdale on the steps of her Gramercy Park co-op. (Photo/Katherine Marks for the New York Times)

She had a long conversation with the remaining owners about working cooperatively, and showing each other kindness and appreciation for all the extra work and effort needed to make their units a home.

She brought her Westport sensibility to the new owners too. Neighborliness became the norm. Her husband shoveled the sidewalk and steps; another owner did the patio.

The co-op bought 2 outdoor heaters for the back yard. They added a table and pop-up gazebo, so people could eat together outside.

“It’s lovely now,” Lori says. “It’s like house living in a communal environment.”

Adapting suburban values to urban living has changed the dynamics of her building. “I’ll never again come home to contentious people,” she says.

She’s changed her views on city life in general too. “This is what everyone should do for someone else. I’ve lived in high rises, where the only interaction you have is with the doorman — not even the people on your floor. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Meanwhile, Lori remains connected to Westport. This is where the family celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years (it’s the van Arsdales’ anniversary).

“When we blended our family, we wanted everyone to really feel at home,” she says. “We’ve created a home there. Westport has really rubbed off on us.”

Lori laughs. “From the outside, it must have looked like I was living a ‘Sex in the City’ life. Suburbia to me meant Westchester. I always thought Connecticut would be stuffy. But Westport isn’t. It’s charming.”

COVID has caused many city residents to move here, she notes. She hopes they find this to be a great community too.

But — unless they keep their co-op — they can’t bring Westport life back to New York the way she did.

One response to “Westport Values Transform A New York Co-op

  1. Good for her. I, too, live in a relatively small NYC co-op building, and the unique style of resident-led governance of a co-op does lend itself to occasional drama. The last thing you want is to be forced to avert your eyes from a hostile neighbor in the elevator.