Talking trash ... and rats

Photo: Daniel X. O'Neil, via flickr
By Meredith Kurz

I think my 221,000 nearest neighbors would agree: the Upper West Side is the best place to live, not only in New York City, but on the planet. We’ve got bookstores, store stores, seven subway lines, three crosstown buses, the American Museum of Natural History and the Beacon Theatre. And we have food.

We grab groceries at Gristedes, Fairway, Zingones (a tiny grocer that has fresh fruit and veggies and necessities and there’s always a grandchild behind the counter after school, doing their homework), 24-hour bodegas, Citarellas (the fish!), Trader Joe’s, Pioneer Supermarket, Zabars and Barney Greengrass, with its retro chrome and just enough banter to shmear on your bagel.

We are the food mecca of Manhattan.

We have the best and the most restaurants, outdoor cafés, bakeries (I mean, Levains, come on!), coffee shops, and late night bars. Food carts line Central Park West and dot the inner streets. We’re flanked by the largest city parks, so you can grab a nosh and head to nature.

There’s an overabundance of wonderul things to eat: and this is true whether you’re a human, or a rat.

All this food generates a Mount Everest of garbage. Of course, the Department of Sanitation realizes this and provides us with the optimum amount of trash bins, right?


While we have more restaurants and markets, the Upper West side trash district has fewer trash cans than the Upper East side. In response to his squeaky wheel constituents, East Side Counci Member Ban Kallos used discretionary funds to purchase 284 “High-End Litter Baskets,” with narrow apertures to discourage large trash bag dumping.

Similar squeaky wheels made complaints to the Upper West Side’s Council Member Helen Rosenthal, but report that her office has been unresponsive. One irate Upper West Sider wrote on a neighborhood app, “I sent photos to Council Member Rosenthal’s office every day for 3 months and they proceeded to fight me every step of the way.”

Recently our paper reported on an Upper East Side turf dispute between two non-profits that employ people to empty trash cans. ( So the UES not only has more cans and better cans, it has people fighting to help empty the trash.

Certain areas of the UWS are cleaner than others, such as areas with Business Improvement Districts, known as BIDs. The Columbus Avenue BID runs roughly from 67th Street to 82nd Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus. It has just two people assigned to clean-up duty, but that helps to keep the streets swept and the trash picked up.

The Lincoln Square staff is larger, and you can see the difference.

If you stroll up Amsterdam during or after a weekend, you’ll see the strain of having an enormous amount of foot and food traffic on the sidewalk. At night, it’s time for the vermin to come out and feed, plain and simple.

I recall a romantic, early evening hand-in-hand stroll in Central Park, that morphed into a horror scene. As soon as the sun set, rats began gamboling noisily among the leaves, running in droves across the pathway. They seemed annoyed that we dared to be in their area.

Daytime parkgoers reported to Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (not to be confused with Council Member Helen Rosenthal) that rats were jumping into baby strollers to steal snacks.

None of us would leave open trash on our apartment floor, or leave out stale bread thinking we’re feeding pigeons when in fact we’re increasing the vermin population, right? All this open food is a rat magnet and multiplier. Without a sufficient number or types of cans to accommodate the amount of trash generated by all our popular food venues, we invite rats and mice to an endless bouffet. We will not reduce the rat population until we increase the amount of receptacles and the frequency that the trash is removed from the area.

So, what can you do? You can start by contacting your Community Board, or Helen Rosenthal’s office:

I love my Upper West Side. I want to keep all our “breadbasket of the city” charm. To do this, we need to get rid of a few million of our unwanted visitors.