These comments were submitted by a blog reader and frequenter of the woods on October 9th, in response to the contentious "We Have Been Noticed" post. I thought they warranted a post of their own, with his permission and nomme de plume.
By Wild Oreganose:
It might be safe to say that Olmsted & Vaux might not have envisioned the estimated eight million annual visitors to contemporary Prospect Park, and the effects such traffic would have without appropriate upkeep and governance, both personal and municipal.
Areas in the woodland are home to competitive plant species from around the world that, in undisturbed natural settings, would normally not co-habitate; however, these types of plants and trees were selected to co-exist in the man-made forests of Prospect Park.
Certain species have aggressively gained root space of neighboring flora, causing irreversible foliage extinction. Dirt run-off from hillsides has left other once-green areas with no soil for plants to to grow in. Artificial streams intermittently have clogged and dried up, and ponds had became stagnant and infested with aggressive phragmites reeds throughout the years.
Other examples of infrastructural problems have been evident throughout the park over the years, resulting in unintended—and at times—unsightly outcomes. (One example is the leaking water pipes of the three ponds in the Rose Garden; the ponds have been mostly dry since their initial failure in 1969, with the exception of a few attempts to get the southern-most fountain sputtering water again a few time within the last decade.)
Add in the natural curiosity of parkgoers to walk off of paved paths, to explore a wilderness unavailable in the city, or to seek out a rare moment of privacy in such a public arena, and it is understandable that the park's terrain will evidence the use it is unaccustomed to and unable to protect itself from.
This is lively conversation, and phenomenon. Surely, there are conditions of the park, and how the people in it—all of us— [behave] that are of concern. The Litter Mob collective has put in large amounts of work that most people would not be likely to do. I cannot image that many people aspire to working such custodial jobs, not the Doe Fund workers who are cleaning up other people's trash throughout the city's Business Improvement Districts or those of us who are not desperate for employment. Thank you for cleaning up, for spending free time volunteering to preserve what could be thought of as Brooklyn's largest backyard.
Commenter Sasha has contributed a good deal of understanding and consciousness of various aspects of humanity and equity (and social justice) that are important for anyone to consider, and especially for us all to be mindful of in practice given the intricacies of the subject matter. Thank you, Sasha.
My position is that litter is not tolerable. To change a careless behavior such as littering, one must change one's self. To not change a negative behavior is much easier. No one wants to feel bad about what they do, to be considered a culprit. To be defensive against a perceived accusation is different from being receptive to healthy and beneficial criticism.
A few times when reading this blog, I did feel targeted, as though anger is directed at my actions, as though a photo of a man taken without his permission or knowledge, perhaps, and recontextualized within a singular discussion of his perceived contributions to what angers you might need to be reexamined within a (personal or public) conversation about journalistic ethics. The writing on this blog has not been offensive. But, when you feel as though you may be discriminated against, but cannot find any concrete evidence of it to help others see your perspective, you still feel accused.
Where are am I coming from? I am a man who has been sexually active in Prospect Park for about twenty years. The spaces wherein men gather and interact have moved as a result mostly of police pressure, steering men away from one area, only for the men to reassemble in others regions. This migratory pattern is commonly observed within any public space that is, at times, co-occupied by people engaged in what I am comfortable referring to as illicit activity (be it sanctioned by law or not).
Heterosexuals have sex in the park as well, but not in the same quantity as male-only sex. I also feel comfortable making that observation without suffering from a myopic or even heterosexist perspective.
While increased garbage cans along paved paths are very useful, it means that more labor is involved to fill and empty them. As Marie pointed out, the Prospect Park Alliance seems to not want to talk about why the additional cans might be necessary. That they also don't want to be bothered chasing down men hanging around in the park for reasons that may related to the littering is a relief for this man who does not want to be chased away, even if down by law. Yes, I am existing in contradiction: I do not litter, but I am engaging in what could be considered by law as public lewdness, etc. (after dark when generally there is no one around to offend). This sense of problematization is not specific to my situation.
Important in the complexities of the many variables involved is that the mostly African-American and West Indian men who comprise the demographic of men who have sex with men ("MSMs") who are observed to be hanging out in Prospect Park from the entrance at Empire Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue, heading west across the East Drive and into the Midwood are is that they are not to be criminalized for who they are. It is essential that considerations of class, ethnicity, and racism are part of our thinking and discourse.
I know we were just talking about litter before, but like its origins—and its resolution—is never as simple as we would like. ;-) We cannot draw conclusions about "what type of person" is littering, aside from that they are selfish in their littering. And who is cleaning up the litter on their own free time may be likely to be different from who might be seen as litterers. There is no homogeneity upon which stereotypes can be conceived, but our differences in class, ethnicity, and social privilege are equally important factors in our explorations. I recommend Samuel Delaney's significant book, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue for thorough analysis of MSM aggregates and public spaces.
I imagine that the men of European descent that used to cruise the northern Prospect Park West embankment may have stronger financial agency and social networks that support their gay identification, affording them the opportunity to patronize such higher-profile, commercial sex venues, where anonymity or chance of recognition may not be an option. Perhaps they have traded in the perceived thrills of sex in public for ordering it online through various web sites as many have. For any men who comfortably identify as being gay and/or are living with relative financial ease, a major attraction of the park is the convenience. I don't mean to hijack this comments section to go on about sex, but feel this information is relevant. And marriage is not a resolution, unless the implication is that sexual interest completely dies for gay male couples as it might in heterosexual relationships, keeping both groups of men out of the park where they have sex and may be littering.
For men who go to the park for sex, or simply to socialize, they might not have in their homes space, support, or there is a spouse, et al. there to explain things to. There also are not many (or any other) non-monetized gathering spaces for MSMs in Brooklyn. These are social and personal dilemmas that are not unique to our localized conversation. But how to inspire people to stop treating the park as both bottomless garbage pit and endlessly renewable resource (to quote Noam Chompsky) is still the central focus.
When interacting sexually with men in Prospect Park, I always carry my used up stuff to a trash can, dismissing anxious and unfounded concerns that the Prospect Park Alliance will retrieve my used condoms to run a DNA check, discover my identity, and prosecute me; I have no such narcissistic disturbance. With my partners, I usually suggest that they do not litter either, and receive mixed responses. Sometimes my tricks are already wrapping up a condom in a paper towel and shoving it into a pocket for what seems like preparation for appropriate disposal in a trash bin.
Other times, I might be teased, being told that I should not hang onto used condoms since they are not recyclable, that throwing them on the ground makes sense since condoms are biodegradable. [I can't add perspective about why someone would want to leave an empty bag of potato chips or an empty liquor bottle in the woods, because I cannot understand the reasons for ingesting that toxic stuff in the first place.] Sure, none of the dismissive responses I get about post-coital clean up are reasonable talk. It is all self-insulating denial.
Denial might be what many men are engaged in order to live with any dissonance in their lives, and/or, they just don't care that not only are they trampling the earth in ways it is not prepared to accommodate, but that their litter is justified. Maybe they don't want to get caught with a reusable bottle of lubricant since it could be evidence of their activities, unlike a "disposable" single-use packet of lube.
Like any "bad" habit or negative behavior that is ultimately not healthy, the selflessness of such responsibility is hard to instill. How often can we change our own behaviors that we or others might not like? Changing our minds is difficult, and changing others' minds is even harder, especially since it requires them to do it, with patience.