Responding to complaints from residents tired of the raucous behavior and piles of trash left behind in Harlem’s northern Riverside Park, the NYC parks department on Thursday announced a plan to deal with the problem through stepped-up enforcement and additional cleanup crews.
For years, the grassy swaths of Riverside Park that surround two parking lots near 148th Street off the West Side Highway have attracted huge weekend crowds who often stay for many hours, barbecuing and drinking, even though alcohol is forbidden.
In recent weeks, residents have circulated a petition and met with local elected officials and the police. In addition to amplified music and the illegal sale of alcohol, they complained about mounds of trash on the ground on Monday morning in the wake of barbecues, picnics and birthday parties.
William Castro, the parks department’s Manhattan borough commissioner, said at a news conference that the department recently added nearly a dozen maintenance workers to pick up trash between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. That way the crews that arrive as early as 4 a.m. on Monday do not face overwhelming fields of trash, which now sometimes take until midweek to clear.
In addition, the department is handing out garbage bags to large groups to encourage their use, while also increasing the number of garbage cans. And the New York Police Department has stepped up enforcement of the rules, issuing summonses for consumption of alcohol, public urination and refusal to pick up dog waste. In the past month, two cars were seized from owners who were illegally selling alcohol from the parking lots.
“It’s a combination of education and enforcement,” Mr. Castro said. “The public sees a cleaner park as soon as they come in Monday morning.”
Still, Mr. Castro said the parks department was not likely to issue summonses for littering, citing the difficulty of identifying a single culprit in a large group, or even observing the behavior.
Heasook Rhee, a local resident active in the Northern Riverside Park Alliance, praised parks and police officials for the crackdown. “The past two weeks have been much better, but we still have a long way to go,” she said. “The park is known as the party spot in the city.”
City Councilman Mark D. Levine, whose district includes the northern portion of the park, helped win $16 million in additional money for parks maintenance and security staff under the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The additional money allowed Riverside Park to hire seven new seasonal workers.
“It takes staff to keep our parks well maintained,” said Mr. Levine, chairman of the Council’s parks committee. “There’s no shortcut around that.”
State Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell Jr., who represents a portion of Upper Manhattan, said he was encouraged that the parks department added more garbage cans. “The garbage cans are overflowing, and there is garbage on the ground around the cans,” he said. “We will fight to bring the problems in Riverside Park under control.”
But for some residents, the new approach did not go far enough.
In a recent letter to Councilman Levine that outlined their “frustration, anger and revulsion,” residents called for closing the parking lots, which, they said, encourage overflowing crowds from across the region. The list of complaints was long, including not only the garbage, but also amplified music, fights, rats, drug use, drunkenness and hot coals left behind on the ground.
“The parking lots make it easy for people to bring massive amounts of party supplies and speakers,” said George Moffly, a member of the park alliance, who was in the park on Thursday morning. “I can’t play soccer with my 12-year-old daughter because it’s deafening.”
But in the news conference, Mr. Castro said that closing the lots was not under discussion (source).