McCarren Park Playground: A Filthy Mess

We live a few blocks from McCarren Park. I take Em to the playground there every single day. It’s often trashy, but the past couple of days have taken trashy to an entirely different level.

Earlier today I wrote the following two posts on Twitter:

The state of our playground the last 2 days has me feeling levels of rage I didn’t know were attainable. The filth! Mad enough to spit.

Not sure who I am more angry with: the idiots who don’t clean up after themselves, the parks employees, or myself for putting up with it.

The image below shows the front of the swing set. To the left (off screen) there is a jungle gym and a slide. (Yes, that’s a huge tablecloth.)


Below is a shot looking into the playground. The whole area was this bad. (Check out the broken chairs in the far right.)


Finally, the waste leftover from use of illegal fireworks.


Gothamist wrote a story about the state of Propsect park after July 4th to which I left a comment because I was JUST SO RAGING MAD!

And then later, Gothamist linked to a post on Curbed where a reader sent in pictures and wrote in about the state of McCarren park. So, it’s not just me, which makes me happy, but our anger isn’t changing anything.

I didn’t take pictures while at the playground today, but it was in the same poor shape. There were pizza boxes, hundreds of cans, paper plates, bags of chips, more boxes, balloons, juice boxes, the list goes on and on. I simply can’t do it justice. It was deplorable.

If there’s one trait about a New Yorker that makes me feel crazy, it’s the ability to make excuses about this city to the point of apathy. We overlook things that shouldn’t be overlooked. (Just look at how much a person is willing to pay for a 300 square foot apartment.)

There’s a triple homicide on the same street your million dollar condo sits on? “Let me show you my tall ceilings and private backyard!”

You can’t send your kid to public school because it scored a most horrific rating? “I’m spending 1200 a week to send my kid to private school.”

Your playground is covered in trash and filth and sometimes crack bags? “Kids get hit by cars in the suburbs! And there are sexual predators there.”

There’s an excuse for everything. No joke. Everything.

But I can’t fault any of us for it. I mean, can you imagine if everyone finally realized how much they are willing to let slide in order to live here? You think New Yorkers are mean now? Without that blissful denial, all hell would break loose.

I’m so sick of making excuses for this city and nonchalantly shrugging my shoulders whenever I see something totally uncool. And I’m tired of everyone around me pretending it doesn’t exist as well, like, that’s just the way it’s supposed to be, deal with it or leave. That retort makes me want to punch the person. Why should I deal with this? Why should I deal with a filthy playground? Why should you have to work 70 hours a week just so you can send your kid to private school?

One might say I’m a little more than angry. All it took was a filthy playground.

And so…

I have a favor to ask of you: if you’re a parent and you frequent a playground or park of some kind, can you snap a picture of it for me? Please send them to me via email (mihow @ mihow dot com). Ideally, I’d like put them all together and compare. Please include the name of your town or city.


  1. Holy Shit, you weren’t exaggerating! That is so disgusting, I can hardly believe it. Wow.

    Is it supposed to be cared for by the city? It is a city park, right? That is unforgivable, truly.

    The playground near me is ridiculously nice, but I’m in a very high property-tax suburb. I won’t be able to get a photo of it for a few days because I’ll be out of town. I want to get shots of one in Philly to compare, now.


  2. Sarah, if you could do that, that would be awesome. Take your time, this is an ongoing project.

    Also, if you can put your outstanding photography skills behind your work? I TOTALLY won’t complain.


  3. sending an email your way…


  4. Driving around South Pasadena one day, my husband turned to me and said, “I just figured it out. Do you know why people think it’s nice here?”

    “Why?” I asked.

    “It’s nice because it’s not shitty,” he said.

    This has become something of a running joke/slogan as we drive past new tagging and various other detritus around the “up and coming” part of LA in which we live.


  5. Marta: loved that story. Thanks for sharing. And I may use the line now too. ;)


  6. i’d be happy to take some playground pictures and send them your way (hopefully this week). all that trash would make me angry too. the playgrounds that i frequent with my 3-year-old pal are all cleaned every morning by the same man who comes in a big white truck and blows the sand out from under the swings with an electric leaf-blower. i wish your park could suffer from the same over-the-top orderly standards that mine does.


  7. Started following you on twitter somehow and realized we live in the same neighborhood sort of–we are in Greenpoint. I’ve noticed this about McCarren but we usually frequent McGolrick, which seems to be pretty well taken care of. I’m always seeing maintenance folk out and about. Next time I’m there with Fiona, my 8-year-old, I’ll definitely take some shots to see how it’s kept up at random times. Love the blog!


  8. That is really awful. I can’t imagine taking a child to a park like that.

    Tomorrow I’ll have my husband go out with the digital camera and take a couple of pictures of our local park. It ain’t much, but it’s clean and the kids love it.


  9. I’m not quite sure what you’re angry about… Litter and refuse strewn everywhere does indeed suck, but it’s not surprising after the July 4th holiday. (I happened to be stuck at home with 2-year-old with fever most of Independence Day, but we ventured out to the McCarren Park playground at one point and I have never seen it so jam-packed with young familes.) What I find more irksome is that, so much of the time anywhere on Bedford Ave, one must often travel numerous blocks with one’s refuse in hand to find a trash can to put it in–they are mostly all overflowing. So, I think, to pick on the McCarren Park playground mess after Independence Day is to unfairly pick on young Hispanic families. Myself, I find the self-absorbed art-yuppies (er, “hipsters”) who are constantly partying and trashing up the boardwalk (er, “Bedford Ave”) far more odious.


  10. That’s awful.

    I’m pretty sure I would just move somewhere else altogether.


  11. Also, I’m not a parent, but I live in very close proximity to two different playgrounds. I will get some pictures of them for you.


  12. Have you called 311 or 7 on your side? We have a lot of playgrounds here that appear to be pretty well kept. I’ll snap some shots.


  13. Lauren: I used to live right near McGolrick. It is much better kept. I am going to start going back there even though it’s a bigger hike. (Also, there’s a lot more shade! Yay shade!)

    Lori: Yes. Many have. Have you ever called 311? It’s almost laughable. Unfortunately. Good idea though!

    NYC Rhymology: Anyone who trashes the park is who I’m angry with. But this isn’t about the type of person (for me, it obviously is is for you); it’s about the place. People should clean up after themselves. Period. Everyone. At the very least bring a big trash bag, ball all that crap up and set it aside for the Parks employees.

    And this isn’t just after the July 4th. This particular park is often in poor shape (particularly in the earlier morning hours, when we get there). If I need to prove it, I will.


  14. And so, since the trash cans on Bedford Ave are always full, should the partying hipsters there always carry trash bags too?


  15. Are you saying it’s OK to trash the park? Yes or no. You’re deflecting to another place—Bedford avenue. I do not bring my kid to play on Bedford Avenue. But Bedford Avenue should be spotless as well.


    Does that help? With the all caps?

    This post is about parks.


  16. There is never an excuse for trashing a public space, littering, or otherwise being lazy and irresponsible. Injecting race & class into the matter is of no value. It’s just obfuscation. Cut the shit and discuss the topic at hand.

    Anyone – no matter their race or culture or physical ability – who trashes a public space is scum. No excuses. End of story.


  17. Have you contacted the parks administrator for your area? The administrator where I live (Northern Manhattan) is super and seems to care about the parks and families who use them. Our neighborhood park, Inwood Hill, gets really trashed on the weekends, but it usually gets picked up the next morning by the parks staff.


  18. wow. Methinks someone lives near Bedford park and doesn’t like ‘partying hipsters’. Clearly off topic!
    No park where children are designated to have a fun, happy, enjoyable childhood should have to endure playing in such crap conditions. These kids are going to look back and have memories of playing in a garbage can! It’s disgusting. Public places such as parks and playgrounds should be kept clean because, HELLO, they are for the public! Not meant for use as a personal trashbin. Not to mention completely unsanitary.
    I agree, it’s pathetic.


  19. Lisa: Someone who read this sent me the name of the person in charge. I will do so this week. She’s apparently outstanding. I have ideas and suggestions as well.

    Christa: that’s what keeps Toby Joe up at night—the possible disservice we’re doing for Em. Granted, when the park is clean, it’s great. (Especially the freaking amazing water park right next to the playground, he loves it. We spent two hours there just yesterday.)


  20. Wow. Just wow. I am nearly embarrassed at how clean our parks are now. We spend a LOT of time at parks with our son, and they are all spotless. In fact, they are so clean that last weekend, when I saw a lollipop wrapper on the ground (note: one, just one wrapper), I commented to my husband that it’s too bad some people don’t know where the trash cans are located. I think I will shut up now, because really, one piece of trash is about all I ever see. Your pics are unbelievable.


  21. On this post if you are going to leave me a comment I want a real Email address. I refuse to approve any hostility from anyone who doesn’t use a real email. Sorry.


  22. Hey…sent you a picture. Like Milissa, our parks in the Harrisburg area are absurdly clean…even most of the ones found within the city limits. Lots of grass, nice equipment, dog areas and the like… Emory is welcome to come out to join us in Central PA any ol’ time. :)


  23. Be mad at the people who don’t pick up after themselves. Then be mad at the fact that Bloomberg has done a crap job with the city budgets, and be mad at the cuts in city services that are going to affect trash pickup. Be mad that it is more important for Bloomberg to put Snapple machines in schools and allow insane overbuilding of condos everywhere than to maintain a liveable infrastructure.

    I am out every morning at 6am with my dogs at either McCarren or McGolrick park, and the trash situation is really escalating. I expect it to get worse because the city is going to have less money for these things (although Goldman gets a big tax bracket for operating on Wall Street.) The mayor has systematically been encouraging the city to be, au fond, a habitat for the rich or the pretending-to-be-rich in a craptastic glass “loft” funded by their parents, and you see it everywhere — No room in kindergarten! Tishman-Speyer buying Stuyvesant Town! Let’s give the MTA surplus money to cheap farecards for tourists one year instead of spending it on infrastructure repair!

    as far as “There’s a triple homicide on the same street your million dollar condo sits on? “Let me show you my tall ceilings and private backyard!”” — This is part of the “suburbanization of New York” phenomenon that Jeremiah of the Vanishing New York blog writes about so eloquently.

    We should just start yelling at people who litter and shame them into throwing their trash away. I plan to do the same with the jerks who ride their bikes on the sidewalk.


  24. Lillet: I am very mad at the people who don’t clean up after themselves—predominantly them. The parks employees are not maids, and that’s precisely what’s been taking place lately. They are becoming maids having to clean up beyond what they are meant to.

    We were just at the park. Spent all morning there. And there were about 25 or so employees (some of which I think were actually from a local high school) cleaning up the playground. They were also painting trash cans and park benches. They do a great job, far better than they should have to, imo.

    Anyway, I was obviously very upset when I wrote this. And I still am but I have a clearer head about it now. I want to change it. I really do. I have to figure out how. I’ll start with this post and put my head together with a number of other local families and see what we can do.


  25. There are two separate issues, and they should be discussed separately, I think.

    Is the city doing a good job acting as a nanny to a bunch of lazy scumbags? Good question, but less important than what we can do to get rid of the scum.

    Snipers on rooftops, I say. Your trash hits the ground, YOU hit the ground.

    Maybe more cops around the parks, or the parks dept employees working during the day, yelling at folks and kicking them out for trashing the joint?

    Or maybe we let the vermin have their city and get the hell out. Roaches 1, Mihow Family, 0. Or is that reversed?


  26. The only reason I can’t condone what Toby Joe suggests is because I hate guns almost as much as I hate littering. :]

    But! I’m all for shame. I did grow up Catholic, after all.


  27. Instead of taking the time to take photos, why don’t we all take 5 mins to pick up some of the litter and throw it out?

    Like the subways being cleaned of spraypaint every night by the NYPD in the 80’s – clean begets clean. People are less likely to trash a clean area.
    We are all in this together!


  28. Stacey: I have done that. I will continue to do that. But I didn’t want to write that for fear of making this post about me in that fishing for compliments sort of way. (But given some of the comments I have gotten and deleted, I could have used a little bit of that! Kidding.)

    But, yes, I actually picked some stuff up just this morning and the parks employee thanked me, which is just crazy.


  29. Hey. Wow. That’s pretty gnarly. Not sure I’ve ever seen a park in quite that bad a condition.

    There’s a little park we take Luca to near our place in New Rochelle. Not bad. Pretty neat, certainly nothing like this ever AFAIK. Next to a small lake/large pondy thing and a great children’s library. Kids of many ages. Will try to get a photo this wkend.

    As for solutions (short of homicide or translocation, both of which, I agree, should be on the table), the Central Park and Bryant Park programs seem to work remarkably well. They’re run by nonprofits that are basically private, but with city support. Funded by donors and city grants like any nonprofit, I think. There are actual staff hired by the nonprofit, not by the city, and they’re pretty well managed. Visit Bryant Park after movie night in summertime, or Central Park after the symphony concert (or whatever) and you’ll find them pretty well cleaned up within, say, a 12-hour span. And it’s not the city that does that, at least not directly.

    But yeah, no excuse for leaving your crap around. And definitely not reflective of any one demographic. I ride on Metro North and have watched some very well-off suburban white folk do positively astonishing things with newspapers, bags of food, etc. I think you ought to be able to invoke some kind of public good to get away, legally speaking, with giving them a good cuffing across the melon. No warning, just BAM, as soon as the wrapper hits the floor. I don’t want to converse; I just want to hurt, moshpit style, up against the plexiglass view.


  30. I’m going to email Miss Heather of nyshitty and ask her advice on what to do re: community board stuff about the litter problem. I’m tired of yanking chicken bones out of my dogs mouths and I know you’re tired of having Em play around trash! I’ll let you know what I find out.


  31. Michele Chaves July 7, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    We pay taxes so that parks can be maintained to an acceptable level. Someone is failing with your park. I also feel that the community should take pride and responsibility for their community spaces — maybe you could organize a group of moms to put pressure on the city and maybe organize a clean-up once a month.


  32. Sigh. It’s not just parks. It disgusts me how much filth people leave behind on the trains, too. I watched a mother encourage her son to just throw his empty juice box on the floor last week. (I picked it up.) Or, look at any movie theatre floor after the film is over. How hard is it to pick up something and throw it in a trash bin? I feel like a lot of people aren’t learning the most basic of manners anymore. It’s depressing.


  33. Just to add a few things:

    The North Brooklyn parks budget is pathetic and really strained. They’re trying to do their best, but the cash just isn’t there. They even had to fight to open the bathrooms past 5pm. IIRC, there isn’t a budget for any one park, but areas… and McCarren, McGorlick, the one on Morgan and a few others are shared. The dismal funding they do get is spread across them all — not one is super clean, but not one is decrepid.

    Few people know this, but NYC has pretty much no money for parks — no matter who they’re supposed to service.

    In fact, even Central Park is pretty much entirely run by donation. “The Conservancy provides 85% of Central Park’s $27 million annual operating budget and is responsible for all basic care of the Park.” [ ]

    There are many reasons for this, city mismanagement is one. Another one are developer kickbacks and sweetheart deals from an essentially bribed-by-developers City Council.

    You mention that you pay taxes… would you be surprised to know that many of your neighbors don’t?

    Almost no taxes paid on any of the luxury condos around McCarren park because of 10+yr tax abatements… and that little-to-no city taxes were collected during construction — as most of the contractors are from LI/NJ/CT firms that shirk city taxes , and that no taxes were collected on the overnight 20x appreciation of lots from rezoning.

    So WB/GP has an influx of new residents in 600k+ apartments around the park, who pay $0 in property taxes. Not to suggest that they litter — but the NYC Council **REFUSED** ( and I can’t bold that word enough ) to increase the area’s parks in terms of funding or square footage in step with the rezoning. ( They also **REFUSED** to address fire, public transport, or anything else ).

    If you want to blame someone new for this, I suggest you also direct your blame to former city council speaker Gifford Miller, current speaker Christine Quinn, and the rest of their developer-ass-kissing in exchange for massive campaign contributions colleagues.

    /end rant


  34. I appreciate your rant. And I agree with what you’re saying. And I have to state again (just to be clear!) that I think our parks employees go far beyond what they should. I think they do their jobs really well, far better than one would imagine after having seen what people do to the area every day/weekend/whatever.

    No matter who’s at fault for the money and parks, etc. It still doesn’t take away from the fact that there seem to be people out there who think it’s ok to leave trash strewn about the place. That’s what bugs me endlessly about this city. Like Amber said, it’s not just in the parks, the subway, the streets, everywhere. People care so little. I do say stuff from time to time to folks I see littering, but I’ll be honest, sometimes I am just too scared to butt in.

    And I hate that. I really do.

    Anyway… I hope we can figure out some way to change it, on the local level.


  35. i’ve always toyed with the idea of becoming a cop , just for a month, so i can ticket people for flipping cigarette butts onto the street.

    i’m with you on people being slovenly.

    it’s not hard to clean up after yourselves.

    we picnic’d in mccarren on saturday. somehow 10 of us managed to use the bags we had to not only put trash in, but recyclables too… and get them into the right bins.

    it’s totally not that hard.


  36. Wow. I live in Baltimore and our parks (at least the three I frequent) are in much better shape than that. Although once my husband claimed he saw human excrement under the big kids’ playground at Patterson Park. No doubt, but I never heard another word about it, so it must have been cleaned up quickly. Other than that, just your standard city stuff–drug paraphernalia, etc. Honestly, I saw more of it when I lived in Brooklyn and used to walk to the pier in Red Hook.


  37. Michele Chaves July 7, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I think you’re right mihow that there is an epidemic of irresponsible behavior that goes far beyond the issue of playgrounds. I think it is an epidemic in the larger culture and I think it has been going on for decades. (I worked retail in college, over 20 years ago, and I was shocked at the condition people left dressing rooms in and the way they treated the merchandise.) I am the person who, when my toddler had an accident at the playground, went to my car and returned with cleaning supplies (that I keep in my car) and proceeded to scrub the area clean. But that’s how I roll and others clearly don’t roll that way. Parents who turn a blind eye and encourage irresponsible behavior raise children who become the next generation of irresponsible adults. Honestly, I don’t think there is much we can do about it. I think your best bet is to organize some who do care and help out on your own so you at least feel you’re part of a solution and not powerless. We can’t change others. We can only change ourselves.


  38. The parks in the communities north and west of Boston – and those in the center of Boston, for that matter – are pretty spotless. As one of the posters mentioned above, when we see just one stray piece of trash it is noticeable. Boston, on the whole, is much cleaner than NY.

    In fact, there are some places around here where there aren’t trash cans, and visitors are told to take their trash with them. (One is one of the Boston Harbor Islands, another a beach.) We visited the island a few weeks ago, and many people brought food & drink to have picnics there. And on the ferry ride back, nearly everyone was carrying a bag of trash with them.

    Another issue is the very fact that people are making so much trash in the first place. You don’t need a plastic/paper bag for the muffin or coffee you are going to consume in 5 minutes. Etc.

    As far as NYC goes: I remember going to parks on the Upper W Side & W Village with my friend and her kids, and those parks didn’t seem to be so bad. Perhaps it is because more families live there? I agree that this is an issue of personal responsibility, but clearly people who have kids are going to be more conscious of their surroundings than those who don’t. It should not be like this, but it is. Since the population of Williamsburg is not dominated by families but by – let’s face it – 20 somethings who often have a hard time looking beyond themselves, it’s not totally surprising to me that the park is like this.

    I lived in Williamsburg 13 years ago, and every time I go back to visit, at least once a year, I am astonished at how much trash is in the streets. It gets worse and worse. You would think that people would care more – especially the owners of the restaurants and bars – about the state of their neighborhood.

    Finally, here is a great link from No Impact Man: 42 Ways Not to Make Trash


  39. It’s everyone at this playground. I know it’s hard not to want to single out one single group, in your case you blame spoiled 20 somethings, but to be perfectly honest, they generally stick with the park proper and don’t really come into the playground. The mess left behind includes that leftover from families. With kids. I’m not suggesting that 20-somethings don’t leave a huge amount of garbage around. They do!

    I just don’t want people to picture one type of person when it comes to this problem. It’s far too easy to do, it doesn’t help anything, and it’s often incorrect.


  40. When people feel free to litter and throw things around (i.e. the mom who told her kid to just throw the juice box on the floor) I always wonder what their houses look like. Do they “just throw” stuff there?

    (slightly off topic:)
    I think that happens more often than we realize. I used to handle all the relocations for our company. We were moving one of the big guys across the country. I got a call from the moving company consultant saying that the movers “wouldn’t enter the dwelling, because of the amount of garbage therein”, so they’d pick up his furniture, etc. from the front yard.. the homeowner had to put his furniture, etc. out on the lawn. Yeah – it was a “garbage house”.

    This guy looked as normal as you and me. Scary.

    (sometimes I know stuff about my co-workers that I never wanted to know….)


  41. I thought of this thread this morning, as I watched a cab driver pull over and proceed to dump out an entire bag of trash onto the street (and then drive away), literally INCHES from an empty corner trashcan!


  42. I’m not a parent, but I completely empathize. Growing up, my family members taught me to care for my things and my surroundings and it’s now second nature. I live in a beautiful place, but it’s also a tourist destination and a weekend hot spot (i.e. drunk people eating late night snacks and vomiting), so it sees its share of litter. The city is starting an Adopt-A-Spot program where volunteers are provided with bags/gloves/etc. when they make a commitment to “adopt a spot” and pick up litter for a 3 year period. I guess it’s similar to the adopt a highway programs, except one can choose any spot in the city. I really want to participate because I take pride in living in a clean, beautiful place. BUT, part of me cannot get past the fact that I would be picking up after other people! *grrr* I guess I hope that enough people in the community get involved and it sets a good, visible, example and makes the place worth taking care of again.


  43. Hey lady – I snapped some photos of the playground area at Lippitt Park in Providence for you when we were there for the farmers’ market on Saturday. They’re in my flickr stream, but I can email them too if you like.

    The park is sprawling – there’s a big expanse of grass and trees I didn’t even capture. And while you’ll find an occasional butt or other litter, it’s remarkably clean.


  44. I live in the suburbs (middle class) and while there may be lurking molesters i don’t know about, our playgrounds are exceptionally clean. we’ve been to many parks in the area and i’ve never seen one so filthy. i don’t know if i could stomach it and i can see why it makes you angry.


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