With Street-Sweeping on Hold, One Block Takes Matters (Brooms) Into Their Own Hands

By Renée Roden

With sycamore leaves catching the golden hour sunlight and its distinctive “shepherd’s crook” wrought-iron street lamps, West 69th Street lives up to its title as “leafiest block in Manhattan.” Debby Brown, who has lived on the block since 1969, observed that the plentiful foliage causes another problem: leaves in the gutters.

Debby Brown along with neighbor Margery Cohen took part in the West 69th Street Block Association’s “Sweep-a-long” on Tuesday night.

West 69th St. Block Association President, Eileen Vasquez, decided to do a community clean up after the city announced that the street cleaning would be suspended until June 28th.

At fifty-one years old, their block association is the second-oldest in New York City, and Vasquez said the community prides itself on being a “very involved block.” “We like to say that we’re the most beautiful block on the Upper West Side,” she added.

But the interruption of city cleaning services had dulled the block’s beauty. “It was looking very dingy, gutters are blocked up, water’s sitting” Vasquez noted with frustration. Vasquez observed the standing water caused by blocked gutters had started to smell.

Brown stated that because 69th is a “pass-through block” to Central Park, pedestrians with dogs often leave the block messier than they found it. Brown said passers-through “often don’t clean up after their dogs, they’ll throw cans and trash in the tree pits.”

And so Vasquez sent an email out on Sunday to the block announcing the sweep-a-long.

In her email, Vasquez wrote: “After 3 months of quarantine, and only one visit from a city street cleaner, the street could use a little attention.”

As the day’s humidity began evaporating, Brown and Cohen swept up leaves and styrofoam alongside their neighbors. Initially, Vasquez had received ten responses to her initial call to action. But as the sweeping began, several more neighbors trickled out of apartments with brooms to help clean up. “They just jumped on the bandwagon,” she smiled.

This is not the first time the block has rallied together in the face of Covid. In cooperation with surrounding blocks, the block association started an online resource and information hub in March for the surrounding blocks, so that community members could easily get information from one centralized website.

In March, they started a volunteer group and sent out flyers to each building offering grocery deliveries and other supports. This year, they had their planters professionally done to help with social distancing and to keep morale up. “Very important for the morale,” according to Vasquez.

Vasquez noted that the block has impressive longevity, “There’s a lot of people who have lived here for decades and decades.”

Like many Manhattanites well-polished coifs, the block has gotten a little shaggy during Covid, but overall “the block has actually held up really well,” said Vasquez.

The neighbors talking together and sweeping up leaves in teams clearly showed why.

NEWS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. A. Passerby says:

      ALL of the above…PLUS:
      1. their wonderful Halloween decorations every year!; and
      2. their clever signs in many tree beds, including “Doggy, Don’t “Go” Here”…yes, UWS pups CAN read!

    2. uwsguy says:

      great stuff!

    3. Charles says:

      The streets on the UWS are an absolute disgrace. Trash and broken glass everywhere. And this is before the layoffs and service cutbacks!

    4. PMae says:

      I love this. I live on a block where no one seems to care, including supers who think cleaning the sidewalk means spraying all the garbage into the street. So, I’ve started going out on my own with my grabber tool. It helps me get outdoors and get some exercise without risking my health further. I’m hoping that every building has at least one volunteer who cares about keeping things nice. It really doesn’t take much effort. I enjoy it.

    5. JS says:

      So terrific – but so sad there is so much garbage on the streets.
      (It is continually mind boggling that West Side residents leave trash – Starbucks, pizza boxes etc – everywhere)

      Hopefully some younger residents will volunteer as well.

    6. Wijmlet says:

      I’m amazed to see so many single (presumably used) rubber gloves on the street–why one only? And why thrown away IN THE STREET?

    7. Catherine Wynkoop says:

      Thank you, thank you! What a shining example for all. Kitty Wynkoop, Pound Ridge

    8. Hal says:

      Bravo! Every community should follow your lead!

    9. Ruth Bonnet says:

      Lovely to see this! True UWS community spirit. As for the dog owners (and I am one) – pick up! I do!!

    10. Keep the streets clean says:

      I love this. Every block should have a sweep-along. How about around 7pm every night?