Grimy Greenpoint: The Neighborhood Calls for Another Cleanup

New cafes, boutiques, and trendy restaurants popping up in Greenpoint lure young professionals to hop on the G train and travel to this North Brooklyn neighborhood.  But while the area looks more polished than in years past, it’s far from clean; trash spills over garbage cans on to the sidewalks and graffiti decorates many of the businesses’ walls, windows, and doors.

“My office gets graffitied every couple of weeks,” said Nick Balalis, a construction worker and part-time manager at Manhattan Restaurant.

Greenpoint came in at the top of the list of the dirtiest neighborhoods in New York City in an August study by MIT that used Google Street View to compare random city streets. NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy’s 311 data shows that during the summer of 2012 Greenpointers’ most frequent complaints concerned vermin infestation.  Councilman Steven Levin recently announced a new plan to clean up the neighborhood, though only one business owner has signed on so far.  In the meantime, local leaders are concerned that a controversial proposal for 10 residential towers on Greenpoint’s waterfront, if passed, will bring in over 10,000 more residents and the trash problem will only get worse.

“There have been different groups that would come and clean up. They would work from time to time. Anything is good, but it’s not going to resolve the overall problem of cleaning up a city or a neighborhood that’s going to be inundated with the kind of changes we’re expecting,” said Christopher Olechowski, chairman of Brooklyn’s Community Board 1.

Levin’s new “Clean Greenpoint” initiative is the latest effort to solve the problem.  Sponsored by the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce, the program requires business owners to sign a pledge that they will sweep their storefronts once a day, pick up litter, report graffiti, and adopt a planter box to “beautify” the streets, said Matt Ojala, Levin’s communications director.  It also encourages owners to recycle by offering recycling bins in their stores.

Charlotte Patisserie is the first and only business so far to sign on.  Jeff Mann, owner of the Greenpoint Gazette and president of the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce, approached the bakery first because, he said, “They’re my neighbors and I like their coffee.”

Magda Lechowicz, owner of Charlotte Patisserie, said she thinks it’s a good idea.

“The whole of Greenpoint will be cleaner, nicer,” Lechowicz said.

But not everyone is enthusiastic.

“It’s clean enough. It adds to the charm—the grit. It’s good for tourism, but not good for the residents,” said Rebekah Thompson, an employee at Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream.

Mann admits that “Clean Greenpoint” is to promote tourism, and he’s proud of it.

“The more people that come in, and visit our community, and spend their money the better everybody is. I’m proud that it’s a ploy to bring in tourism—please come!” Mann said.

Mann and Ojala both say the initiative will be up-and-running in the next month. By then, more businesses will know about it and sign the petition because, Ojala predicted, this is a very low hassle program—sweeping is not a big chore.

Around 20 Greenpoint business owners and employees interviewed recently said they already make sure to keep their stores clean.  Anthony Mikolajczyk, owner of Green Farms Supermarket, says he sweeps every day and it’s the vacant storefronts that produce the litter.

“Their trash blows over and I get the ticket,” said Mikolajczyk.

One owner said that every morning, when he opens his store, there are used condoms, bottles of alcohol, and food on his sidewalk.  The businesses are not the culprits, but rather the unlucky receivers of garbage left by anonymous litterers.

Steve Michael, a manager at No. 7 Sub Restaurant in Greenpoint, said he is aware of the waste problem.  In his own neighborhood, Prospect Heights, there are plenty of trashcans, he said, but not in Greenpoint.

“I notice that there’s trash all over the place. We need more trashcans. People just finish stuff and then drop it,” said Michael.

The Department of Sanitation has not yet responded to inquiries regarding trashcans in Greenpoint.