By Sally Koslow
In early January I hit the tipping point as I observed trash smothering our sidewalks, spilling into gutters and taking up residence around trees lining our Upper West Side. I wasn’t sufficiently nimble to snap a picture of a cheeky rat that raced across my path in midday, but I did photograph random piles of refuse—used pizza boxes, unbundled remnants of cardboard boxes, liquor and beer bottles and gaggles of assorted garbage–between 96th and 106th on Broadway, my neck of the woods. I sent the photos to the West Side Rag, which published them along with my short screed, “The Dirty, Rotten Truth About Upper Broadway.”
Plenty of neighbors, it seems, had also become disgusted by the jumble of junk that seemed to be everywhere, though the general agreement was that the east side of Broadway between 104 and 105th Street, under the scaffolds near McDonald’s, won the prize for garbage most foul. My grumble hit a nerve, with 10,312 views and 100+ people chiming in with observations like that of “Jules,” who said, “The whole area along Broadway looks like a dump in a third world country.”
The good news is that our area’s longtime New York City Council Member, Gale Brewer, reacted. Working with James Leavy, Manhattan’s Department of Sanitation Borough Chief, the piggy-ist pigs were read the riot act. Mom and Pop establishments, I was informed, were far more responsive than businesses owned by conglomerates. No surprise there. But the improvement is impressive, even if you choke on your cynicism when passing two brooms conspicuously parked outside McDonald’s or a sanitation truck on sweeping detail that, like a float in the Thanksgiving Day parade, merrily tootled by city officials at the exact moment they stopped to inspect trash levels. Improvement is improvement. The ‘hood looks cleaner and it’s gratifying to see. For that I wish to express public gratitude.
I was pleased to discover—and hope you will be, too–that trash bins (and more of them) will now be emptied twice a day. Also, soon the City will vote on the future of our abundant controversial eating sheds, which some Covid-concerned residents appreciate as healthful alternatives to indoor dining, even in sub-freezing temperature, and others see as cozy rat motels that gobble up parking spaces.
In the spirit of fair journalism, I must report that some of my questions went unanswered. For example, “Why is the West Side so much dirtier than the East Side?” Enquiring minds really do want to know. In her verbal equivalent of an exclamation point, Brewer informed me, “I concentrate strictly on the West Side.” Next!
“Have you noticed fewer dog owners picking up pets’ poop?” She hadn’t. I have.
“Have people gotten lazier since the pandemic?” I wondered. Radio silence.
Of Superintendent Leavy I asked, “Are you looking into organizing clean-up volunteers?” “That’s not his job,” Ms. Brewer responded. “It’s my job.”
Are the improvements I saw on a sunny morning permanent? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, my takeaway is that while it’s the legal responsibility of owners and landlords to keep the fronts of their establishments tidy, bottles, bags and assorted drek doesn’t land there by magic. As we were taught in second grade, it’s our responsibility not to be litterbugs.
Now let’s talk about rats.