No, you’re not imagining it: Brooklyn’s streets have seen better days.

311 complaints related to dirty conditions in the city nearly doubled last year, rising from around 26,000 in 2020 to 45,000 in 2021, many of them mentioning Brooklyn’s parks.

Litter on Broadway Avenue and Thomas S. Boyland Street. 6/7/22 Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

Grassroots street cleanup groups have popped up in almost every neighborhood to combat the litter and rats accumulating from sanitation budget cuts made by Bill de Blasio during the pandemic.

But so far, the rats seem to be winning the fight.

Trash on the street in front of the Dunkin Donuts shop at Nostrand and Lafayette avenues in Bed-Stuy, 6/4/22 Photo: BK Reader

Despite this, the current mayor’s preliminary budget proposed to cut $48 million from the New York City Department of Sanitation in 2023.

At a Sanitation and Property Tax Town Hall that took place on Zoom Tuesday night, Comptroller Brad Lander said that City Hall has developed a scorecard for how clean they think each community is in order to try to direct resources, and they’ve given themselves a 94% for the roads and a 98% for the sidewalks—the equivalent of an A and an A+.

“There is a gap between the feeling New Yorkers have that the streets and sidewalks are filthy, and the score card that City Hall uses that says they’re immaculately clean,” Lander said.

“We believe that’s part of the reason the budget was cut in the preliminary budget.”

“The good news is that the city council is resoundingly united on addressing the sanitation issue,” said Sandy Nurse, a city council member who represents parts of North and Central Brooklyn.

Nurse is the chair of the Council’s sanitation committee and co-hosted the town hall.

Assorted trash in Southern Bushwick, 6/6/22 Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

“[City council] has been fighting back ever since through rallies, letters, and petitions, advocating as much as we can to not only bring back those cuts but try to expand in some key areas.”

Those proposed key areas of expansion from city council include $22 million toward increased litter basket service and $5 million toward rat mitigation. The budget, which is still in its editing stage, is due by July 1.

Over two hundred New Yorkers attended the town hall, and there was a considerable representation of Brooklyn residents from places like Cobble Hill, Bushwick, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Canarsie and East New York.

At the town hall, Sandy Nurse presented the sanitation program changes proposed by city council. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

During the town hall, Brooklyn residents asked about how to go about getting a litter basket on their street (here’s how); how to be a part of the new containerization pilot program; and what to do about the increased level of dog poop on their blocks.

Nurse gave Brooklynites some good, if schleppy, news: a full restoration of street sweeping, the program that was slashed during the pandemic, comes back in full on July 5, along with the clumsy dance that is bi-weekly alternate side street parking.

“We’re also starting bike lane cleaning and expanding the pilot for containerized waste, which we know many New Yorkers are excited about,” Nurse said.

Joseph Ottomanelli, a representative from DSNY who was at the town hall, said the department is aware of the increase in heedless dog owners, and the department is making an effort to issue violations and penalize pet owners who repeatedly don’t pick up after their animals.

The department has also begun placing security cameras near areas where frequent illegal dumping occurs, in order to catch people in the act and issue fines.

BK Reader hit the pavement to ask residents how they feel about the current state of cleanliness of their neighborhood and streets

Madisyn Brown moved to Bushwick 7 months ago from lower Manhattan. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

“If I had a dollar for every rat I’ve seen, I’d probably be living in millionaires’ row,” Madisyn Brown, a Bushwick resident, said. She said she’d give the block she lives on, where she moved to at the end of 2021, a 3 out of 10 for cleanliness.

“I’ve noticed that as it gets warmer, people are littering more, too. There’s more trash in the streets during the summer. I think everyone deserves to live in a clean place.”

Andrew Orobator, who lives in Ocean Hill, is getting a dog soon. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

Andrew Orobator, who just moved to Ocean Hill, said he’s worried about the litter because he’s getting a dog soon.

“There is a decent amount of litter on my block,” Orobator said.

“I’m always seeing little napkins and trash even in my little front yard space. It’s like a couple of pieces a day, not like heaps or mounds, but it’s definitely noticeable. I’m planning on getting a dog soon though, and I imagine that it is going to be picking stuff up off the street so I’m going to have to keep my eye out for that.”

C-Bass Chiriboga getting some work done on his laptop at Saratoga Park. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

For C-Bass Chiriboga, who lives at the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, his main concern with litter is when he’s on his skateboard, but he said the block he lives on is fairly picked up.

“I see a normal amount of litter per day for New York City, but that’s probably a lot compared to other cities,” Chiriboga said. He’s lived in the area for 6 years.

“Litter impacts me when I’m skateboarding places and I have to go around trash, but it’s not too bad at all.”

Kryssy Smalls is a life-long resident of Bed-Stuy. Photo: Miranda Levingston for the BK Reader.

Kryssy Smalls, who has lived in Bed-Stuy for 35 years near Saratoga Park, said her neighbors take excellent care of their street despite sanitation budget cuts—she gave her block a 10 out of 10 for cleanliness.

“We clean up after ourselves, we even make sure [Saratoga Park] has hand sanitizer and a working sink to wash our hands,” Smalls said.

“Everyone respects that we want a clean neighborhood and everyone picks up after ourselves.”

Registration for the sanitation worker entrance exam opens today for the first time in 7 years, Nurse said at the town hall.

She also added that the next public sanitation hearing is Wednesday, June 15, which will discuss 5 bills proposed by city council called the ‘Zero Waste Package’. Sign up to testify here.

“There are good things on the horizon when it comes to trash, thanks to our council members and our comptroller,” Nurse said.


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Miranda Levingston

Covering everything Brooklyn. Twitter: @MLevNews

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  1. I am glad that you did this story! I think that the streets have become unbelievably filthy, especially in commercial areas. Shop owners used to clean outside of their stores and hose down their sidewalks. Now nothing but rats and trash everywhere! We all have to help keep our streets clean and demand that the city utilize sanitation resources effectively.

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