For our members, we'll be sharing some behind-the-scenes looks into our research, things we're looking into or just some stuff that's on our minds this week. The Groove is a community, so we'll be using this space to ask for your opinions too.
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When we launched The New York Groove last month, we asked readers to tell us something that confused you about New York City. We got a wide range of responses, from "where do raccoons sleep?" and "why is the intellectual and artistic center of the universe is governed by the most dismal hacks?" to "why do bodega guys look at you weird when you try to order a sandwich by its silly name on the menu?"
We'll work on answers to those in time (here's the answer to the raccoons one for now). But one trend quickly emerged in the answers our readers gave: Everyone is pretty baffled by the state of trash in this city.
We got hundreds of responses, and the majority of them were related to one thing: trash. You griped about trash in the street, lack of containerization and the general sense that our city has a medieval style trash collection system. It's all a bit gross, even if we're all used to it.
"Other cities have figured out how to do trash, and yet not New York," one subscriber wrote. "I mean, I love New York so much, but it makes me sad that we live in filth; It feels that New York is so so dirty and only getting dirtier."
Another subscriber asked: "Why did we all just agree that parking was more important than containerized trash??? WHY DO WE HAVE TO BE THE STINKY RAT CITY?"
One person summed up the frustrations succinctly: "Man, can we just put our fucking garbage somewhere other than the sidewalk."
There are certain parts of New York City you just have to get used to. We're never going to prevent teenagers from screaming on the train, remove all the Australian tourists from Williamsburg or improve the fate of the Mets, apparently. But we don't think constantly walking on streets flooded with trash, dodging uncollected dog waste or dealing with storm drains clogged with plastic bags should be among the accepted inconveniences we all just have to shrug off.
(Trash on the streets happens to be a particular white whale of mine, if said whale were made up of thousands of plastic bags and Gatorade bottles full of urine, shooting chicken bones out of its blowhole. I feel embarrassed for our city sometimes. Have we let people feel so disconnected from each other that they feel OK throwing full take-out containers of food out of a car window, for God himself to clean? The photo at the top of this email breaks my heart: it's from an elementary school in my neighborhood, where the children this spring had to take it on themselves to post signs asking adult humans not to leave large amounts of garbage outside their building.)
We're not the first ones to discover how top-of-mind trash is for New Yorkers right now. Last year, WNYC's Brian Lehrer hosted a series where he brought in every City Council member to take calls from constituents, usually one a week. Nearly every council member (it may have actually been every council member, I can't track them all), took a complaint about the state trash in their neighborhood. Lehrer made a megamix of those complaints for the end of the series.
It's worse in some places than others. But at least this brings our city together. No one, from Riverdale to Canarsie, can walk out their door without being at least a little disgusted that we live this way.
In the coming weeks, we'll be tackling some of your questions about trash and what people are doing to improve it. One of the things we'll get into is how it's — maybe? possibly? please? — a good time to be a member of the anti-litterati right now.
Mayor Eric Adams is a deeply weird guy, but he has taken his blood lust for wet rats to an extreme that has allegedly already improved our trash situation. Composting is back, and will soon be so widespread we'll forget a time before we had it. The administration has a rat czar who is maybe already getting results; they're also hosting Anti-Rat Day of Action events to tackle litter.
The new later setout time for trash doesn't get rid of the unsightly bags everywhere, but it gives them slightly less time to fester and leak. As of this week, if you are a restaurant that serves food in the city, you have to use trash cans with secure lids, instead of just throwing your bags on the curb.
Well, OK: if we're just getting to the point we agree "lids" is the cutting edge garbage technology this city has been missing, maybe we still have a long way to go.
All of this is really small potatoes when it comes to the one solution lots of other countries, and some American cities, already manage: put the trash bags in a fucking dumpster. As one reader asked us: why does the city insist on "putting out the garbage in bags and not bins, and then wonder why we have rats problems!!"
Eric Adams is working on that too, though the process has been slow. It'll probably involve sacrificing lots of on-street car parking to make room for containers, which means it will take a billion years to happen, and involve hard negotiations with the "better things aren't possible" lobby. But hey, at least we're talking about it finally.
We'll be keeping an eye on what this city, and your neighbors, are doing to clean up the streets for us all.
Can't wait to do something about trash? Get up and go join a beach cleanup in the Rockaways this Saturday, there's one on the first of every month. And boy those beaches really need it some days.
Coming next for members only: Dave Colon goes on video to answer your (apparently numerous) questions about what "his whole deal is." Join so you don't miss it.