Volume 22, Number 21 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 2 - 8, 2009
It’s a tough city, big town or small
By Carl R. Hultberg
In the North Country there is the Town Meeting. Citizens get together to conduct the town’s business and generally shout it out. Of course everything that is important gets decided behind the scenes. From my experience working at the recycling facility in Danbury, New Hampshire for the last year and a half I’d say that many big decisions and deals went down right there at the dump.
When one of the honchos arrived in the winter to talk to our Selectman boss, that was my cue to find something to do outside. Perhaps this is the way it has to be in local government, unless we want to return to actual warlord rule. And believe me, there are people working on that project.
So how can a Town Meeting/ Community Board meeting be anything but a shouting match? That’s all that’s left, the outrage, the theater. I remember my last Community Board 2 meeting 10 years ago. Having been part of the Village Green Recycling Team center at the corner of Sixth Ave. and Fourth St. for over ten years, we had been a protected eco-project of the former Village community board matriarch Rita Lee (bless her heart).
But by 1999 our informal lease on public space was being challenged, to say the least. There were those who thought that since the New York City Dept. of Sanitation was running the curbside program, the Village Green dropoff facility was obsolete. Never mind that most people in the industry knew that the Dept. of Sanitation was disposing of most of the curbside material as trash while the Village Green could document all its markets.
Then there was N.Y.U. The university was my employer at the time (N.Y.U. Recycling) and the Village Green had certainly been useful to the university recycling education efforts, but it turned out the presidential penthouse afforded a view of the recycling operation.
The same problem for the folks who bought into the disaster co-op across Sixth Ave. After a long-waged war with the building’s former owner, who’d maintained ownership of the commercial properties, he got back at the co-op owners by bringing in porno stores. After losing many battles to this guy, the bitter co-op owners turned their eyes towards a more suitable target: the minority crowded basketball games taking place at the public courts on the corner of Third St. in the summer. The black presence that was supposedly lowering their property values. It wouldn’t have been politically correct to go after the courts themselves, after all they’d been the breeding grounds for future N.B.A. stars. So in their desperation to sell their poison co-ops at not too great a loss, the yuppies from hell from across Sixth Ave. targeted the Village Green.
It finally came down to that last C.B. 2 meeting in 1999 when I sat and witnessed an elaborately staged show trial.
Somehow these industrious real estate investors had gotten together dozens of “witnesses,” including elderly people from an old folks home blocks away from the V.G.R.T. These folks all stood there and testified to the villainous activities of the Village Green. Drug dealing. Trashing the park.
Breaking glass in the middle of the night. Releasing rats into the neighborhood. There were other alleged crimes I’m not sure I remember. Alone at the meeting late at night after six other meetings had exhausted the limits of my volunteer witnesses, I got up to try to counter this mob.
What could I say? We’d cleaned that park for years, chased out the drug dealers, processed hundreds of tons of materials without ever a single local complaint before this... the rats came from the restaurant. Boo, hiss. I sat down in tears.
Thirteen years of volunteer work and I get drummed out as a drug dealer.
Needless to say, the termination of the Village Green (like the earlier wipeout of the Garden of Eden) was a done deal. The theatrics were just for my benefit, I guess. Soon the Village Green haters had their own private viewing garden that just by coincidence extended the former V.G.R.T. facility right to the limits of the basketball court. Sorry fellows, no more viewing area for the tournament games. As the leader of the real estate crowd had told the basketball organizers at an earlier community board meeting: “Why don’t you boys play basketball in your own neighborhood?”
To be fair, Ann Arlen and the late Keith Crandell from C.B. 2 both tried to help. But after all those years, the V.G.R.T. volunteer base was stretched thin and the voices of property owners spoke loud. I suppose we were lucky to have had such a charmed life at the Village Green for so long. Rescuing the original curbside pilot program in 1986 (covered in The Villager, now a Downtown Express sister publication), hanging out with Susan Sarandon while her husband Tim Robbins played pickup basketball. Of course when she got to City Hall in front of the TV cameras, Susan forgot our name. That’s the way it goes.
Carl R. Hultberg was a longtime Downtowner active in environmental causes. He’s semi-retired in New Hampshire and writes RagMag, an email blast on politics and music. His email is email@example.com.