Taking Trash Into Their Own Hands

Budget cuts make cleaning up litter and collecting compost communal acts 

By Dimitri Fautsch

Cigarette butts, messy takeout containers and the ubiquitous plastic bag are a familiar, unwelcome part of the neighborhood. The pandemic added latex gloves and surgical masks to the layer of litter that can cover a busy sidewalk in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. 

One day, Ilana Yitzhaki, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, decided to start cleaning her block.

She started picking up litter by herself along Eastern Parkway. Neighbors approached her to say thank you for doing something they always only thought about doing. It wasn’t until she discovered a cleanup group in Williamsburg that Yitzhaki began to organize her own street.

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It wasn’t until I saw another cleanup group in Williamsburg that was really successful that I was like, woah, we can do this!

Ilana Yitzhaki

Organizer, Clean Up Crown Heights

Neighbors Answer the Call 

Queens volunteers help solve complaints 311 doesn’t resolve

By Anthony Medina

Residents in one part of Queens are taking a different approach to seeking solutions to their quality-of-life issues, as more problems remain unresolved.

When one Facebook user recently shared a post on the Ozone Park Block Association-Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol Board group page about two abandoned vehicles left on Old South Road and 126th Street for over a year, Daniel Coffaro Hill, a member of the civilian patrol, was the first to comment.

“We will handle this,” he wrote. “Thank you for informing us.”

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311 receives about 20 million calls a year, and receives about 3 million service requests a year that goes to various agencies.

Bill Reda

Content Operations Manager , NYC 311

Can We Paint Over This Problem?

Police and volunteers launch a new citywide swipe at graffiti

By Anthony Medina

The sidewalk underneath the long-abandoned Long Island Rail Road tracks along 97th Avenue and 101st Street were unkempt for years. Covered in bird droppings and pigeon eggs, this Queens underpass features piles of garbage scattered near the remnants of a car with a demolished trunk.

Intricate graffiti in a bright array of bubble letters displays the names of  taggers on the walls. There are other scribbles of words and plain lettering with flat black, red and blue paint.

Ozone Park Residents Block Association and Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol volunteers took a recent Saturday morning to cover the graffiti in the underpass and along a long stretch of walls leading to the desolate tracks stretching into Forest Park. Almost a dozen volunteers rolled off-white paint over the vandalized walls.

Daniel Coffaro Hill, social media director for then patrol and an active community leader, captured the moment volunteers painted over the graffiti with his phone. He saw the event as a first step.

“It’s about working together for the community,” Hill said.

The volunteers joined many across the five boroughs as part of the Police Department’s cleanup initiative, kicking off with Commissioner Dermot Shea and Chief of Community Affairs Jeffrey Maddry painting over a wall in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

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Graffiti, you can define it in lots of different ways and throughout the ancient world, we have lots of different types of evidence that people were making markings on spaces that were already completed.

Karen Stern

Professor, Brooklyn College CUNY

A Queens Plaza of Survival

Street vending has been a lifeline for immigrants

By Juanita Ramos

For Zheni Rivera, Corona Plaza in Queens was the only place that opened its doors to her when she became unemployed a year ago.

A mother of two who emigrated from Ecuador, she had to leave her job cleaning a school in Manhattan because of the pandemic.

“I never thought I would be a street vendor. But one day I was walking by the plaza and saw people setting up their tents. So I asked,” Rivera says.

In a week, she bought merchandise such as clothes, accessories and perfumes with the little savings she had left and started working in the plaza at 103rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue,

More than 20 street vendors, mostly of Latino origin, struggle every day to earn enough to put food on their tables. The number of vendors across the city reached 20,000 during the pandemic, according to the Street Vendors Project.

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I never thought I would be a street vendor, but one day I was walking by the plaza and saw people setting up their tents, so I asked.

Zheni Rivera

Street Vendor, Brooklyn College CUNY