New Yorkers come together to clean up their streets
''It's my block, and if I'm going to live on it, I'd like it to be the best block around.''Skip to next paragraph
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That is the sentiment of members of block associations all over New York City. Literally thousands of New Yorkers are rolling up their sleeves and tackling every kind of neighborhood need, from personal safety to cleanup campaigns, from recreational facilities and beautification projects to care programs for children and the elderly.
A block association is an organized gathering of neighbors who get to know each other and talk about grass-roots issues of importance to them such as housing conditions, safety, and sanitation.
Block associations have been around for about a century, but their recent growth and success have evoked notice from many other US cities that are now looking in to see what New York is doing right. Currently there are 2,000 block associations in Manhattan alone, and almost 14,000 in the five boroughs of New York City.
Nothing much deters an energetic, well-organized block association whose members have a glint in their eye and steel in their resolve. They are tireless, civic-minded watchdogs and hard-working supporters of a higher quality of urban life.
Many observers feel that the block association movement has been one of the most positive and formidable forces for good the city has yet experienced. It has returned some of the city's earlier amenities, they say, and has brought back a small-town sense of knowing one's neighbors and of caring about them and sharing with them.
''New York is still no utopia,'' says one enthusiastic block association member, bending to pick up trash out of the ivy beds around the trees her group had planted. ''But it is certainly a lot neater and cleaner than it was, and it's improving all the time.''
The scope of projects is as wide and varied as the blocks represented. Jules Schulback, president of the Lex/61st Street Association, maintains Dial-a-Neighbor, explaining, ''In a city this size everyone needs a number they can call if they need assistance or a friendly visit. We provide that 24-hour number for our members.''
Mr. Schulback came to New York as a German refugee 40 years ago and has never ceased to love and appreciate it. ''We first banded together here to fight a discotheque coming to our block,'' he explains. ''Having won that battle, we went on to plant trees, work on garbage problems, and clean up sidewalks. Some of us think of our street as our outdoor living room, and we want to look after it and make it prettier.''
Harry Schwartz, president of the Riverside Drive Residents Association, says most of his group's work has revolved around improving neighborhood safety. ''We've seen street crime go down steeply as a result,'' he says. The association hires a guard from a private security service five evenings a week. Its members have sought better police protection and have invited police security surveys of the buildings on the block. They have also repaired all the street lights.