By Melissa Cooper

An urban wildlife habitat is a wonderful thing, don’t you think?

Before you answer… rise and walk with me to lovely 112th Street and Riverside Drive.

Here on the upper promenade of Riverside Park is a large twin-peaked mountain of cobblestones.

This, my friends, is Rat Palace, a superb rat habitat provided, free of charge, to the city’s rodents.

Walk with me at night,

and you will see NYC rats, the kings and queens of the Dark, whisking in and out of the piled stones,

like shadows, like dreams.

Whisk, swish, scamper: the stones are moving.

Too swift for my camera skills to capture, the rats regularly scamper across the path from the cobblestones to the playground, and back again. Yes, at night, sweet little Tot Lot One Hundred Twelve is a rats’ playground.

Rats love holes and tunnels, which the cobblestone mountain provides in plenty.  Assuming the city didn’t build the mounds for the sole purpose of enriching its rat population, just what is their purpose?

Nearby, in the street, a long trench runs down the center of Riverside Drive, from 111th Street all the way to 113th Street.

According to a neighborhood informant, a dangerous sinkhole was opening up in the middle of Riverside Drive, so the city removed the surface cobblestones in order to reinforce the roadway from below.  So Rat Palace is only a temporary habitat, and its cobblestones will eventually be returned to the street. But any construction, even essential roadwork, stirs up the rats that live below the streets and sidewalks.  It also creates new passageways and habitats.

And, believe me, we don’t need any more doorways leading up from the underground rat kingdom, not in this part of town.

We have plenty of holes, some right next to the Twin Peaks,

giving dark access to the mysterious bowels of New York.

Four blocks south is another large hole that reveals an encrusted and unidentifiable metal or concrete object as well as many  tunnels, leading who knows where.  Here, too, I often see rats appear or disappear.

Tunnels lead beneath the grassy square and, probably, under the street.

New York continually rolls out the welcome mat for rats, providing endless and varied opportunities for life’s three essentials: shelter, food and water.  Poisons and traps, while destroying individual animals, will never keep an entire rat population under control.  If we really want to rid the city of rats – or, at least, limit their numbers, we’ll have to manage our own behavior.  Yes, effective “pest control” necessitates behavioral changes on the part of Homo sapiens, with a priority on how we manage our garbage.

Because, let’s face it, New York, our garbage situation is flat-out insane. Our streets are a walk-up rat buffet with free food available 24/7 in open containers, over-flowing trash cans and discarded pizza crusts.  And leading the way to the buffet is an official, long-established system of garbage disposal that is flat-out crazy.  On trash nights, three times a week, we line our residential streets with garbage, set out in mountains of easily chewed plastic bags.

We leave the bags sitting all through the ratty night.  We might as well say, “Come little ratties, eat your fill!  Have seconds. There’s plenty more where that came from. Life is good. Why not expand your family?”  Is it any wonder we have a rat problem?

I’ll definitely be writing more about urban rats. I’m not sure if that’s a promise or a threat.

Watch the rats scamper in the videos below:

Melissa Cooper is a West Side Rag columnist. She runs the blog Out Walking the Dog, where she published a version of this column.

All photos by Melissa Cooper.

ART, COLUMNS, OUTDOORS | 3 comments | permalink
    1. New York City Rats, the stuff of legends.

      • The stuff of legends, indeed. But truth is wilder than fiction, especially in NYC. My dog has actually caught & killed rats – while being walked ON LEASH on the street. He ducks under the mounds of garbage & emerges with the monster in his jaws. Pretty horrifying. I wrote a couple of posts about it on my blog: “A Tale of Two Killers” and “Dirty Harry Dog Cleans Up NYC Streets.”

    2. A simple solution would have been to stack the bricks orderly instead of lumping them in a pile.

      Just sayin’.