Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The end, my friend.

This blog is no longer active. It documented the Litter Mob's work in Prospect Park's woods from May 2011 to May 2012.

By convening the Mob had hoped to encourage a change in the park management's approach to looking after these woods: a dedicated conserving presence, a budget for maintenance rather than purely for capital improvement. That has not happened. I do not see volunteers as the answer to problems that are structural. Support yes, solution, no. I know money is tight. I just have different ideas of how to spend it.

The blame cannot all be laid at the feet of the Propect Park Alliance, the not for profit that helps the city run its park. The City of New York should be funding the parks that serve its people.

The litter and the cruising activities that generate it continue. The last woods in Brooklyn remain underserved.

Exit Litter Mob, stage left.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Last Litter Mob

What we found, did and saw during the Last Mob

The first Prospect Park Litter Mob was held on May 10th, 2011. We wrapped up one year of litter pick up and forest restoration yesterday, on May 8th.

The weather is warmer and so cruising activities have picked up again. At the foot of grand old trees on the flats a lot more condoms and soiled tissues have accumulated. The Slope was the scene of several parties - lots of liquor bottles, Newport Light boxes and cigar wrappers. A lone dripping condom, hanging from a branch.

I started the Litter Mob in anger. The layers and layers of litter that I found in these woods in late 2010 were an eloquent sign, to me, that nobody gave a damn. Let them litter, we don't care. Or, We will litter, because they don't care.

A condom on The Slope

Then, I was surprised that no team of parks cleaners patrolled the woods on a regular basis.

Now, I am still surprised that no team of parks cleaners patrols on a regular basis. And I am not talking about driving by in a truck and tipping out one trash can. I mean on foot, with grabbers. A presence in the woods.

I have heard two justifications for this:

1. It would be demeaning to expect workers to pick up litter and nothing else.
2. We don't have the money.

I see people sitting around a lot. In the complicated strata of workers in the park there are people who -  in order to continue to qualify for welfare checks - are required to put in some hours here, working. Mostly I see them at the bathrooms where I try to wash my hands after the Mob; the bathrooms where there is never any soap the dispensers (There was no soap yesterday, either). Why insult people by not expecting them to work? Here is a workforce available. How it is managed or motivated I couldn't tell you. Poor management and poor morale seem to be a big issue, in general. I am beginning to wonder how work is defined. To me, it means action. Physical movement. Lifting and carrying and dragging. Results. I see a lot of resting, at all levels.

You cannot have a park and not remove its litter. That is maintenance.

In our year's work (a mere 3 hours every other week. How hard is that to duplicate?) we have removed all those sedimentary layers. Our current work was to remove the previous two weeks'-worth of litter.

Empty wildfower sign (they were defaced years ago and removed)

The best work we did -  in tandem with litter removal (which is about quality of life and morale) - was light woodland restoration: Planting perennials in pockets, removing invasive species which choke them out, restoring paths and putting up fences to protect - temporarily - trees.

So, what is my wishlist? Well, since you ask (and we spoke about this in summer with the Director of Government and Community Affairs):

1. A team to patrol the woods once a week on foot for litter.

2. A Keeper of the Woods - or a Zone Gardener, a la Central Park - to be appointed, to manage ongoing forest restoration and preservation. This person would be a qualified woodland botanist or ecologist. Suits are in charge of this park, and while businesspeople are necessarily charged with and qualified to raise money they have poor  appreciation and understanding of the nature of a forest and its unique challenges. And it shows.

3. Restored or new signs in the forest, directing visitors to native wildflowers, trees, and birds and explaining forest ecology: the groundwork for open air classrooms. These woods are uniquely placed to be the best outdoor classroom in the most populous Borough of New York City. If people are invited into the woods for a positive reason, their presence there will make the forest unconducive for the sex that produces all the litter.

Tiny new perennials planted

So, there it is. I had hoped that a year of our presence, with steady and time-consuming media and community outreach, would lead to some response in kind from the Alliance. There was a squandered opportunity here for some real change and some good press. I know their attentions were elsewhere, with the 74-plus million dollar ice rink, but the goodwill and attention we generated could have been harnessed to produce something lasting. Instead, we came and went like sunshine and shadow in the forest.

I have not mentioned Money, which is always the most cited reason for a lack of movement. Personally, I believe that better resource management could clear up a host of ills, without spending more.  But I can't dismiss funding. For that we need to turn our eyes towards our Mayor. Why does the City not give more money to its two most famous parks? New York benefits from them. But they are funded by private sources, not by the City of New York.  The Alliance does not have the money it requires for running this park.

Mr. Mayor: Give Prospect Park money. It's our money, after all. Really, Mr. Mayor. Give it back.

A naturally barred "desire line" or informal path

I loved my year in the park. It made me mad, it made more aware of the seasons in a forest in the city, it taught me how to crib a path, it introduced me to good people - fellow volunteers, park employees, bloggers and journalists. We were written up in The New York Times! It prompted me to get my Hepatitis vaccinations. But I am the angry volunteer, not content to labor in perpetuity. I was hoping for lasting results, inspired by a little momentum from us but initiated by the people who are paid to look after the park. I was disappointed.

Maybe that will change. You never know.  I like good news and good stories. Just give me a reason to write one.

Litter Mob 25 Results:

5 bags of trash collected
1 scythe and 1 leather bag of goutweed found
4 flats of geranium, geum, columbine and sensitive ferns planted

Thanks to Franck, Frank, Inge and David.

[And here are Franks' thoughts on Leaving the Woods]

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Leaving The Woods

I remember a cartoon by Gary Larson that depicted a safari-outfitted tourist at the edge of the woods. In front of him stood a bear with a broom, and above the bear a sign, edged with lights, that read The Woods. The bear instructed the man - one: we're closed, and two: we don't like your kind here anyway.

The woods cannot be closed, and the truth is that the woods are there for us. As one of Olmsted's and New York's finest works, we should cherish Prospect Park. And we cannot do this without feeling for the forest. In talking with WCBS radio today about the demise of this group of litter gatherers, I realized what is the most important task for all of us - to preserve the woods.

I've often talked with people about our cultural bias against the woods, any woods. On a warm day you can see the evidence of this firsthand -thousands upon thousands of people enjoying the greensward we call the Long Meadow, but hardly a soul in the woodlands. That grassy meadow would not feel the same, would not carry the intentions of Olmsted himself, however, if it weren't for the woodlands he designed to surround it. In other words, the woods defines the Long Meadow, and without it, we lose the essence of Olmsted's design. Try to imagine that glorious green lawn bounded with newly planted, ten-foot tall trees, or with no trees at all.

Prospect Park's woodlands are in danger. Several windstorms over the last 5 years have toppled several of the largest trees. Erosion from heavy rains on morainic slopes has undermined the foundation of a great woodland. Invasive weeds have moved into disrupted habitats. All of these combined is enough to threaten the health of Prospect Park's woodlands, but none alone challenge the future of them more than the trampling and disturbance caused by people regularly traveling and standing off trail. All these threats combined create a scenario of decline that we hope to stem, but feel discouraged from achieving. We understand that for the woodlands to remain healthy and viable, at a reasonable cost, we need the forest to regenerate itself. For that we need more than litter mobbing.

The discontinuation of Marie's volunteer group is not an act of hopelessness, it's a wake up call. The future of Prospect Park requires us, all of us.

Monday, April 30, 2012

May Day Litter Mob

[POSTPONED ON ACCOUNT OF RAIN: rain date is May 8]

The Last Litter Mob, No. 25, will be held tomorrow, May 1st, in the woods on the eastern side of Prospect Park.

We start at 9am and work till noon.

It will be a beautiful day. We promise lots of litter, gorgeous trees and subject-appropriate humour.

Here are directions.

Please leave a comment or email us at     littermob   at    gmail    dot   com to RSVP.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The 24th, and second last, litter mob

We found, in the course of our 24th Litter Mob:

Blueberry flowers, brandy bottles and condoms, trillium, an enema bottle, May apples, columbines, dryads' saddles (the mushroom), earbuds, condoms, condom wrappers, more condoms, and ostrich ferns. Also a lot of human kaka and underpants and more condoms and wrappers and wet wipes, and energy drinks and many malt liquor bottles and a glamour shot of a half clad man and drinks cans and gum and cigar wrappers drug baggies and empty cups and plastic bags and gorgeous, newly leafed trees and woodpeckers and songbirds and hawthorn blossom and field garlic and a ton of mulch.

The pale green-leafed woods provide welcome cover for the men who travel here to have sex, and it was clear that the pace of action had picked up. Only for trash bags were available that day, so once we filled them we broke for some much strewing. That post here.

Thanks to Inge, Franck, Frank and David.

Four bags of heavy trash collected, one woodland path mulched.

The next, and last, Litter Mob will take place on May 1st. May Day, Workers Day, at 9am.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why bother?

Here is the path we cribbed (layed logs across, to prevent erosion) some weeks ago. The one the Brooklyn Paper dubbed The Pathway to Pleasure. As unimpressed as we were with the lousy article, the name has stuck. Last Tuesday - our 24th Litter Mob, and almost one year since we started - David, a member of the Prospect Park Alliance's Natural Resources Crew, and known on this blog as Our Learned Leader, suggested we mulch it. Mulch makes for nice woodland. It encourages plants to grow in from the sides, too, narrowing this wide, ad hoc path. And, it looks purdy.

Course, some wheelbarrows would have been nice. It is a hill, and mulch is heavy. But apparently they were sequestered elsewhere. I had been asked the previous week if the Mob might assist this Tuesday instead with other plantings attached to the multi-million dollar (74, 000,000 and counting)  ice rink that is being built, and I had demurred. It's important to me that we focus on the woods. Prospect Park seems to be fraying at the seams and at its core and staying on target in this woodland is one way to keep track of progress, or the lack thereof. Spreading thinly just keeps the wound bleeding. I'd rather staunch the place we have chosen. And really. No matter what the justification - all those millions and you still need us to plant the damn thing?

The disarray is getting to me. The Parks Department, City of New York, that is, is letting go of more and more responsibility for the green spaces that make it proud, and which provide a tonic for its citizens. The Prospect Park Alliance (private, not for profit) has too little money to run a park of this size, but is expected to. And, very importantly, I think morale is shot. From my imperfectly clairvoyant and informed point of view mismanagement is a big factor, too. I believe in old fashioned elbow grease. A work ethic. Actual work. Not pushing paper around. I can hear paper rustling.

Take the employed bodies in that park on any given day and actually get the whole body to work? Then you'd see something. Marvelous.

In my neighbourhood, which still has some Italians left in it, I was taught the saying that the fish stinks from the head down. How true is it? Don't know. I think fish can begin stinking anywhere. But the stink is catchy. I am beginning to sniff myself suspiciously. I am tired of working for and worrying about a park where I don't see anything reciprocal to reward the voluntary labour. I don't want certificates from the president of the Borough of Brooklyn, or Tshirts or baseball caps or brunches. Save your money. Show me something else. Real. A willingness to chip in and match our effort and change the fact that unless we have people working for free in a crucial natural habitat of the park and the city, it will turn into a cesspit.

How much will it really cost to erect the wildflower signs, the biodiversity signs...to plant more perennials, to address the littering men in the woods? To fetch their freakin' litter?

We are not actually achieving anything. We are simply treading muddy water.

So, no wheelbarrows, I felt punished. Strong French Franck toted most of the mulch up that hill (below), boosted every now and then by Inge or me, or David, and at one point falling under the wheels of the blasted little cart we did have to play with. All we needed was little red beach spades.

I am the angry volunteer. I am mad. My own Frenchman tells me that this is because I am less a volunteer than an activist. If I am, I have failed. It has been a year since we have started, inspired by the sedimentary layers of litter detritus we discovered in the autumn of 2010. I had hoped, naively perhaps, for a small sea change. In attitude. A show of faith: If you guys do this we'll consider doing that.

The woods need more than I can give at this point. They need a material investment of faith by their bona fide custodians.

They need elbow grease.

I am speaking for myself alone. The members of the small band of regular volunteers who made our every-other-Tuesdays possible each have their own reason for showing up. And they will probably show up to other volunteer efforts if the Litter Mob, whose domain is Prospect Park's Midwood,  folds. Or perhaps they will carry on.

But I am not sure that I can, or want to.

I love seeing the woods twice  a month. I know them well, now. I like them more than ever. I know where what blooms when. I expect the high drill of the woodpecker, the sudden squeak of the spring chipmunks. The hateful patches of soiled condoms and shitty tissue and trash trash trash. The lace of pale leaves in April, sunshine streaming through the high branches, the empty fretwork of winter. I'd like to keep going back. I enjoy the camaraderie, the feeling that I've made a difference.

But it is not sustainable. Effort should be met, halfway. Unless you are a saint, and that I am not.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Litter Mob 23 video

I was out of commission for the 23rd Litter Mob. My first sick day. David, our Learned Leader, suggested it was shame at having helped create the pathway to pleasure - The Brooklyn Paper's headline a couple of weeks ago. Mob fatigue. But I have the sniffles.

Elizabeth and Franck were on site, though, and were followed by Columbia University documentary film student Nathan Vickers, who intends returning for some more material.

Here is the video he made of the Litter Mob in this first week of April. It's great to hear voices other than my own, for a change.

Litter Mob 23 saw the usual trash, as well as some more planting of native Rubus (blackberry) on The Slope.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Intense interest in...a path?

Photo: NYCgarden

One rather inaccurate and perhaps predictably salacious story in The Brooklyn Paper about the path we cribbed two weeks ago and all hell breaks loose in the linkosphere, where stories are not so much written, as repeated...

New York Magazine - their angle? We hate Park Slope.
The American Conservative (?!) - same angle: We also hate Park Slope! (Who knew?)

Thanks to Brownstoner and Gothamist, and recently, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, for sticking to the facts. It's refreshing.

As a reminder, here is the path in question

The assumptions about and hate towards Park Slope fascinate me. First, how is it relevant? Second, the volunteers come from all over: Cobble Hill, Kensington, NEW JERSEY, Prospect Heights, Manhattan. Plus two bona fide Park Slopers.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Surreal spring

Above, on this first day of spring (running approximately 23 days ahead of schedule) we have: The woods.

Condom, plastic enema bottle. 


Moss and (possible) Ornithogalum umbellatum - star of Bethlehem.



Sanguinaria canadensis - bloodroot.

Human excrement.




Ranunculus ficaria - lesser celandine. 

There you have it. The woods in Prospect Park. A surreal day. And I didn't even mention the fish.

Thanks to Franck, Frank, Mary and Joni, and David our Learned Leader.

Litter Mob 22 Results:

7 bags of trash gathered
12 Rubus plants transplanted from the Butterfly Meadow to The Slope
1 bag of fish dispersed

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Litter mobbing during the vernal equinox

Photo: Franck, the Scooter-riding Frenchman

Tuesday, March 20th. That would be spring.

Come and join us at 9am for three hours of litter gathering and woodland restoration in the last woods in Brooklyn.

Here are directions. Please comment or email if you are able to be there.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The log haulers

There is this compacted, eroded informal path - desire line - leading to a ridge and Rick's Place in the woods. It has been ceded to the foot traffic. But in order to help prevent more erosion, David brought us these logs. Laying them across the path is called cribbing. Like making log steps.

All images courtesy of the NYCGarden

They were formidable, though lighter than they looked - nice and dry. Still...

Franck the Frenchman's lumberjack impersonation was impressive.  Monty Python, anyone?

We used David's medieval log pinchers - I don't remember their name - to haul off our first log. Later we carried logs two by two.

Yes. I always haul logs in white. Always have, always will.

We laid them all the way up that path, nestling them into the soil after digging it up with mattocks. Our cribbing looked pretty good after an hour-and-a-half.

Luke, above, lower left, is a student at NYU, and took lots more pictures. I'll post them when they arrive in my inbox. Luke is studying anthropology and working on project called The History of Kindness, and thought the Mob might be good place to start.

He can wield a mattock and hammer in stakes. And he says he'll come back.

Litter Mob 21's Results:

One eroded path cribbed with nine logs and stakes
Four bags of trash collected.

Thanks to Franck, Frank, Elizabeth, Luke and David. Precious little litter recovered, except in the lowlands where Frank was working. The notorious Slope? Practically pristine. What it all means I cannot say.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Forward motion

Last mob, last Tuesday, we called the litter-gathering quits at half time. Four of us had gathered 6 very heavy bags. Our Learned Leader* (David, from the Natural Resources Crew) had a job for us - erecting a  temporary fence to stop foot traffic from compacting the soil on the forest floor between two main paths. Compacted soil is dead soil. The sexual activities in these woods create a lot of litter, yes, as well as the unwelcome gifts of human waste we must side-step, but the soil compaction is actually worse for the woods themselves. The litter is unsightly, and in some cases hazardous to health, but it doesn't kill the woodland. Compaction does.

With mattocks we broke up the path and then spread leaf litter. We hauled dead branches across other entrances. We hammered in rebar fence posts, cut wire and twisted it to secure fence to post.

Below - the trashcans had disappeared late last year. Either stolen or moved to other parts of the park. They had returned, and had fresh bags. I looked into them. Some food litter, nicely thrown away, but mostly? Bagged doggy poo. So at least dog owners are doing their bit. I have stepped in human poo, horse poo...but never doggy poo. Thank you, dog people.

And after it all, we fanned out to our various homes and work spaces.

How to leave a litter mob:

Franck, scooting off in style.

* Learned leader:  from the BBC's  Rumpole of the Bailey

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love in the woods

The woods look pretty good! chirruped the reporter from Channel 12 as I side-stepped a liquid pile of human poo. The first of three to come.

Somehow this mess seems worse when bulbs are breaking ground and buds swelling on slender branches. It's an old song, but I'd like to be planting native wildflowers, not continuously picking up trash that simply reappears every week because no one is paid to pick it up. And because the people who party in these woods keep leaving it behind! I'd like to get going on the swathes of invasives to help restore the woodland to its indigenous best. That kind of volunteerism I can go for. But I am tiring of being the picker upper. We need paid picker uppers.

Blablabla. I may as well knock my head against the trunk of tulip tree. We fenced one off yesterday. The ground around it like dark concrete from trampling. Its base is a spot for sex, and it's on a "desire line" - an informal path cutting across the former forest floor. Compacted earth can harbour no life. Basically, it dies.

Litter Mob 20's Results:

6 bags of trash, one television segment, 2 fences raised to protect an old tulip tree

Thanks to Inge, who kept the Mob running in my absence, Franck, Sophie and David our Leader

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Litter Mob soundbyte

The Litter Mob made the news today after Channel 12 came by for a quick interview.  They spent about 10 minutes on site so you can't call this an in-depth story! I wish someone would dig a little deeper.

Visit the link for the clip.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Litter Mob call up

The 20th Prospect Park Litter Mob happens tomorrow, 9am, in the woods.


Please join us if you can - RSVP in comments or via email. Bring your own work gloves. Disposable gloves, bags and trash grabbers are provided.

Perk: Tuesdays are free entry to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, just over the road. After trash grabbing in the woods head over for some good, hot chile in the cafe and stroll though the witch hazels near the Rock Garden, above.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Forest Litter, Feb. 7 - Litter Mob 19

Parks needed us to help with fallen timber today. Guess there'll be more trash in two weeks. Beautiful day. Yet I think of those waivers we signed.

The pics with bright yellow coloring we believe to be yellowroot. Brilliant.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Litter Mob 18 - January 24

I've begun to call them Marie's magic Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, twice a month, it's been warm and humid.

Even in January.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Mob is born

Linda "Redbird" Finnegan. Photo: Joyce Rowley, for Village Soup

Linda Redbird became sick of the litter in public spaces in her hometown of Wareham, MA. After many months of letter writing (hm, sounds familiar) the litter around her local public library stayed put. Inspired by the Prospect Park Litter Mob she launched the Wareham Area Litter Mob whose first, frigid clean up took place on Christmas Eve. Village Soup, a local community newsletter, documented their efforts.

Anger is supposed to be so bad for us. I beg to differ. It can be pretty motivating.

One of the views I've heard, more than once, from people involved in public park maintenance is that it is "demeaning" to have a job whose sole purpose is to pick up trash. This perplexes me deeply. Demeaning? It is a very spoiled society who calls performing an essential function demeaning.