Living in the Lower East Side
The Lower East Side is the trendiest hipster neighborhood in NYC (Manhattan). While it is becoming more yuppiefied, it has a little ways to go before it runs into the West Village "so over it vibe." The boundaries are pretty well known as being below East Houston Street to the Manhattan Bridge and from the East river to the Bowery. Much has changed over the years. Some consider the L.E.S. as the once great Jewish neighborhood of America, but now its more hipsters, galleries, and upscale boutiques. It was a Spanish slum at one time, too. If you want to be in a trendy area and have no interest in being in Brooklyn then this is the place for you.
Rent is cheaper here than in other neighborhoods, but that will probably change. There are mostly tenement and pre-war buildings here, however you can find modern luxury buildings as well (there seem to have been a lot built over the last few years). The neighborhood is dense and slightly claustrophobic with old murals and graffiti from the days when this neighborhood was basically a Spanish ghetto. If you like the old school look of NYC before the "Corporate Manhattan Evil Empire" takeover than you might want to hang here. Lots of walk-ups so bring your sneakers. The streets can be noisy with all the bars and nightlife so if you don't like loud than you'll want live further uptown. You're also pretty close to a lot of other Downtown neighborhoods like the East Village, Soho, and Nolita which gives you a lot of options. Chinatown also spills into the L.E.S. which is great as well.
There are lots of artist types here. There are posers here too, which can get really annoying, but nothing is perfect. You still haves Spanish families with their kids milling about which adds an authentic feel to the neighborhood. Some young yuppies are moving in too, but it's hard to tell because they dress like the artists (think young guy from Long Island who wants to start his own music label). So the people here are creative, young, fresh ideas kind of crowd (although it's starting to feel manufactured). Uptown people come here during the weekends so it becomes more conventional as the week ends, but when Monday rolls around, you'll see plenty of people with those trendy metal studded belts and girls in "vintage dresses" with slipper shoes on. If you want to be around creative people in Manhattan than this is one of the few options left.
It's not bad here, but there are definitely some NYC characters walking around. If you don't like the feel of having to be aware then it's not a good idea to be here. Other neighborhoods are so safe now you feel like you're in the suburbs, but that has not been accomplished here. Remember there are streets with nothing going on, dark, and slightly hood-ish. Other streets have so much going on that the only thing you have to worry about is the screaming drunk falling on you. On a scale of 10 (10 being the safest), I'd give it a 7. For the most part people will leave you alone.
Parks and Recreation
Well there are only really two parks here. The Sara D. Roosevelt Park is a long stretch of park with an astroturf soccer field, handball courts, basketball courts and gardens, although sometimes people steal the flowers. But it has been redone and has a great neighborhood feel. Very Kid friendly.
The Seward Park is way at the bottom of the neighborhood and has a lot of Chinese people hanging out there. Old guys playing Chinese games etc. Either way there is not much for park-life here but the ones they do have have a ton of character and are great for people watching and finding your inner inspiration.
Pubs, Clubs and Entertainment
One of the best things about L.E.S. is it has a really great nightlife. There are loads of bars and clubs to hear new music and see some great bands. Bowery Ballroom, Arlene's Grocery, and Pianos, just to name a few. There are tons of places to go so much that a few years ago they had a big debate about whether to allow more liquor licenses in the neighborhood. This is a rock and roll alternative music kind of 'hood, so don't expect to see some type of Top 40 Lady Gaga act around here. You can catch a lot of fringe type shows here as well as fascinating bars. This entertainment vibe reminds me of the East Village/Soho late 80's (without the druggie trying to rob and stab you dangers). Lots of coffee shops and such for developing that left of center thinking, too. Walking the streets here is a lot more interesting than other neighborhoods. Think Zach Galifianakis and Bencio Del Toro in Che vibe kind of thing going on.
Shopping and Eating
The food you can get is just about anything and on the cheap. French Bistro, tacos, street empanadas, Katz deli, Chinese juicy buns. Food options are limitless and at all hours. Some people swear by Donut Planet on Grand St., or get a corn beef sandwich at one of the famous old school Jewish delis, Chinese Dumpling houses are cheap and wonderful too.
L.E.S. is out of the way so options for transportation are limited. There is only one subway stop that hits this neighborhood (F/V train); which makes it difficult to get around the rest of Manhattan. There are buses that you can take as well but for the most part to get out of the neighborhood borders on tedious. Your best bet is to get a bike. If you have car you can access all the Brooklyn bound bridges very easily, but like all neighborhoods in Manhattan parking on the street is a pain in the ass (especially with the night parking regulations). Three words... get a bike!