Diminished Street Cleaning Services Leave Seventh Avenue Trashed

Home Brooklyn Life Diminished Street Cleaning Services Leave Seventh Avenue Trashed
A diverse group of students play sports at J.J. Byrne Park on Fifth Avenue beside William Alexander Middle School 51. (Maane Khatchatourian / The Brooklyn Ink)

Park Slope’s primary commercial district has transformed from an immaculate strip of small businesses to a garbage-ridden spectacle.

The New York Department of Sanitation reduced its trash pick-up schedule last year and local councilmembers eliminated a city-funded street-cleaning program this summer. Although the repercussions of these measures were not immediately felt, Park Slope merchants and residents have recently noticed the foul impact of diminished sanitation services.

Joseph Blake, who works at the local YMCA, said litter and bursting garbage cans greet him whenever he walks on Seventh Avenue.

“It’s nasty,” he said. “It’s horrible to see such a lack of care for the environment. I come to work on Seventh Avenue and walk back down on Seventh Avenue after. The trash is overflowing in the barrels.”

Blake said he fears loose trash on the street will attract rodents and pose a health threat for children who play in the area.

Although there are stretches of Seventh Avenue that are relatively tidy, litter accumulates around overflowing trashcans on most street corners. The area between Second Avenue and First Street is always flooded with trash, especially during mealtimes in the afternoons and evenings, when customers from the Connecticut Muffin coffee shop use the patio on the street as a hangout. The area between Third and Fourth Streets across Lion in the Sun Paperie, on the other hand, has become the neighborhood’s unofficial furniture drop-off zone.

Beginning last year, the Department of Sanitation reduced its street sweeping and litter basket collection services on commercial strips from thrice daily to twice weekly. The effect on Seventh Avenue was dramatic.

“This avenue used to look great,” said Abel Cambrano, who works at the Park Slope Deli Farm. “A long time ago the city would clean the streets every day, now it’s every three days.”

Making matters worse, the city cancelled a supplemental cleaning program run by the nonprofit Doe Fund. The program employed two homeless men since 2007 to sweep streets, bag litter and empty trashcans on Seventh Avenue.

According to Park Slope councilmen Brad Lander and Steve Levin, discretionary funds for such local projects have been slashed by almost 50 percent in the last three years and the council couldn’t justify spending almost a quarter of its $200,000 annual budget for the neighborhood on a supplemental street cleaning service not offered on other major commercial streets.

Community members and organizers have proposed various solutions to
ameliorate the situation.

Resident Mike Mastrogiacomo said the city should reduce its trash receptacles to force residents to hold onto their trash until they get home.

“If you’re not going to pick up garbage on a regular basis, don’t put up garbage bins,” he said. “It makes things worse. People hold on to garbage when there’s no garbage bins. If there’s one there, even if it’s overflowing, they’ll throw it in.”

DSNY Public Information Officer Kathy Dawkins suggested that merchants volunteer in the Sanitation Dept.’s adopt-a-basket program to monitor and bag nearby litter baskets.

Councilmembers Lander and Levin, business owners and community members, on the other hand, proposed forming a Seventh Avenue Business Improvement District to fund extra sanitation services.

Although the “preliminary leg work” has already been completed, Park Slope Chamber of Commerce member Bob Kalb said it would take another year to year-and-half to establish the organization. While the chamber depends on voluntary contributions, the BID would require all merchants to contribute $300 to 500 in annual taxes — the rate is based on a business’ square footage — to the development of their retail district.

The Fifth Avenue BID deploys three maintenance workers to clean its bustling boulevard five days a week.

Melinda Morris, co-owner of Seventh Avenue’s Lion in the Sun Paperie, said a BID would drastically improve the retail strip. Although Peggy Patsis, owner of Lumiere Gifts and Accessories, agreed that sanitation should be a community-wide priority, she isn’t willing to pay for the amenity.

“We pay enough taxes,” Patsis said. “Being a small business is an ongoing struggle.”

Instead, Patsis said the Sanitation Dept. should dole out more tickets to merchants who don’t clean their storefronts.

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