Monday, October 17, 2011

The coming war over Tompkins Square Park

It'll be middle-class parents against the homeless, indigents & winos. All over a rodent. The winner? Guess.

The outcry on EVGrieve's comment box against Occupy Tompkins Square Park is only the latest sign of a gathering battle over turf that will likely gentrify the park beyond recognition. It is coming in increments, and the first struggle will likely play out over the rats.

The parents who use the Avenue A playground have organized to rid the park of rats. Sounds harmless -- no one likes rats, and there sure are a lot of them throughout the park and particularly near that playground.

But there's a problem with rat control. Rats reproduce really fast, so killing rats doesn't make a dent, unless every last rat is dead and no outside rats move in. There are only two ways to control rats effectively. One way is removing their food source. If you do that, you'll see at first the overpopulated community eating everything in sight, then eating their own new litters of young, and finally, a reduced population.

But how to limit their food source? Well, one way is to remove the soup kitchens around the park. The kitchens create a steady flow of discarded food on the lawns and over the garbage lids. But remove the soup kitchens, you remove their clients, an entire demographic in the south west corner of the park. The resolution of the rat problem will lead to a cultural and ethnic cleansing of the park, leaving it to the yuppies and the middle-class families in the park.

For now, the city administration wants to keep the local indigent population on site in the park. They are easy to observe and control in the park. Equally important, there are many social services that can minister to them conveniently in one place. So for now the city supports the soup kitchens in and around the park. But parents are adamant, narrow in their interest, focused, active and communal -- they network effectively and regularly and give each other mutual encouragement. If they don't see results to their satisfaction, they will press their interests until they win, regardless who is hurt. Parents don't mess around, especially parents with a sense of entitlement. 

The local indigents are not organized, they have no clout, and they have no support beyond themselves and the missions, which have their own institutional commitments in their relations to city administration. In other words, the locals at the southwest corner are at risk. And you know where it will end.

The other way to control rats is introducing feral cats to drive the rats off their turf. This was effective for many years prior to gentrification on my street, when we accepted cat waste on the steps as the price to pay for a rat-free building and street. But park users will object to the cat waste on the lawns, and neighbors around the park would lose sleep to their high-pitched cat-screeching. Feral cats are an effective solution, but it'll never happen in the park. 

I didn't like having rats in my apartment, when about ten years ago gentrification spurred my landlord to turn the basement into apartments and drove the rats there up into the rest of the building. But I don't have any trouble with the rats in the park. I see them every night by the parkour course and handball courts. I don't bother them, and they don't bother me.

For my part, I'd rather have either rats or cats in the park than the parents: the parents are dangerous to humans.


Goggla said...

Ugh. Removing the soup kitchens? Are you kidding? If they're going to go that far, then shut down every restaurant and grocery in the surrounding square mile. The soup kitchen is not 100% responsible for all the litter in TSP.

Anonymous said...

"I don't bother them, and they don't bother me."

What a foolish comment! Rats don't distinguish between who they bite, or which diseases they carry. The rat problem in TSP is not becoming an issue because of the parents of kids in the playground but because of the sudden explosion in the number of rats.

And when did having children become "middle class" or something only "yuppies" do? Comments such as these scream out "young and white".

Anonymous said...

I don't normally respond on comment boards like this, but I think it is important to clarify a misperception here before it gets out of control. The group I founded, the Tompkins Square Park & Playgrounds Parents' Association (TSP3A), cares very much about the hungry New Yorkers who look to Tompkins Square Park for a source of generously donated food. We understand their struggles (as much as is possible) and would never consider adding to them by trying to restrict their access to the park. I understand that actions speak louder than words, so let me give you two examples of how TSP3A's work has intentionally avoided conflicts with the hungry in the park. First, we secured a donation of 10,000 mint scented garbage bags that apparently rats do not like. We made sure 2,000 of them were given to the food charities. This was to work with them in pursuing a solution to the rat problem and to enable them to continue their great work, not to drive them away. Second, when the Parks Department (rightly) kept pointing out that leaving around excess food was a major cause of the rat problem, we pushed very hard (and suceeded) and getting poisoning restarted. Yes, we all (including the charities) need to keep the park clean, but we were not willing to rely on a food elimination strategy alone, as we knew that would put us at odds with the food charities. Let me be clear. Parents who care about their children are neither yuppies by default nor suffer from tunnel vision that prevents us from looking beyond our most immediate issues. We want to raise our children to be kind, compassionate, generous and to understand that no group of New Yorkers is any better than any other. We all share this City and its Parks as equals. How could we teach our children these lessons if we set such a terrible example by telling the hungry in Tompkins Square Park to look elsewhere for food? News thrives on conflict, but with respect to the TSP3A, the Tompkins Square Park food charities and the people that rely on them, there is none.

Best wishes,

- Chad Marlow, TSP3A Founder

Susan Stetzer said...

The parent group publicized the rat issue, which is good, but the Dept of Health, the Community Board, the Council office, and Parks Dept have been intensely working on this for over a year. Regarding the groups that feed the hungry, the “city administration” is Rosie Mendez’s office and the Community Board, and we have been working with these groups to establish cleanup protocols. The Bowery Mission has taken a lead in this effort. There is NOBODY talking about removing these groups and we would never let this happen. It is not true that these groups have no support—we are committed to supporting their efforts. The choice is not between feeding the hungry or removing groups, it is how to more effectively clean.

Anonymous said...

Too funny. "The Dept of Health, the Community Board, the Council office, and Parks Dept have been intensely working on this for over a year." Right. And they got NOTHING done until the parents got involved and did all the work. Now, the old groups who accomplished nothing and had nothing to do with the recent improvements are claiming credit. Please! I guess everyone needs to justify their existence.

susan stetzer said...

anon--the comment was not to put down the excellent efforts of the parent group--it was to say we have been working on this for a long time, including with the organizations that feed the hungry. We are committed to supporting them and helping create clean up protocals. It was to assure people that these organizaztions would not be removed.

rob said...

Actually, rats do discriminate between whom they bite. 84% of rat bites occur indoors (substandard housing), 86% of all rat bites occur while the victim is asleep, 83% of rat bites occur between midnight and 6am. 24% are infants asleep at home. Also the disabled and the drugged are more likely to be bitten. I have not yet found an incident of a rat biting a human in Tompkins Square Park, though I did search.

Now, one bite in the park is too many. I'd prefer to see feral cats for a solution. It worked on my block before gentrification eliminated them.

My post is intended to point out that, because poisoning is ineffectual and temporary, as well as potentially dangerous to small children, the recent attention to the rats in TSP will lead in the long run, I fear, to an inevitable confrontation between increasingly frustrated parents -- regardless of their current leadership and its politic gestures however sincere -- and the missions & their clients.

For data on rat bites:

Jenifer said...

What a ridiculous post. I'm a parent who uses the playground. And not only do I support the soup kitchens I have not even heard of any effort to get rid of them. "Ethnic cleansing"?? Are you kidding? Last time I checked, there were people of multiple different ethnicities on the soup kitchen lines. This is just hipster stereotyping BS. Grow up.

glamma said...

thank you so much for writing this, and i wish that all would understand where it is coming from, the EV has been absolutely pummeled by gentrification, we need to send the tide the other way. parents - by all means, PLEASE prove us wrong. guarantee that in your efforts, you will protect the soup kitchens, to start.

Anonymous said...


Unfortunately you fall into the supremacist trap of assuming that parents are all white and well-to-do. I guess Avenue A is as far east as you go?

rob said...

@last anon commenter: I don't see glamma mentioning race anywhere. But she did capture exactly my purpose in my post, and expressed it with as much generosity and fairness as anyone in this comment section including Chad Marlow. My thanks to all the commenters.

glamma said...

hi rob, i am a native new yorker and live on avenue c, go f*ck yourself.

glamma said...

hi rob, i am a native new yorker and live on avenue c, go f*ck yourself.