Trash from other branches in the borough collects in adjacent alley
The Mott Haven Library is the oldest public library building in the Bronx, and one of the architectural gems of the Mott Haven Historic District. But the New York Public Library system uses the alley next door as a dump.
All the borough’s branch libraries–from Riverdale to Highbridge–package their trash and drive it to the alley. Whenever the branches have to dispose of a large item too big to fit in a trash can—a wooden table or chair, a microfilm machine or a bookcase, for example—it, too, winds up in a dumpster parked at the Mott Haven branch.
Library officials won’t explain why.
After numerous phone calls and emails from the Mott Haven Herald, library spokesman Herbert Scher responded only: “The Library has determined that the current location is the best one for centralized collection of bulk trash items.”
Neighbors complain that the dumpster stinks, something library officials deny, saying only certain types trash, not the smelly variety, is deposited there. In addition, residents say, the dumpster is an eyesore in a part of Mott Haven that is becoming more upscale, as homeowners and landlords renovate their buildings.
“There’s no reason why there should be a dumpster here,” said artist Linda Cunningham, who lives two buildings down from the library. “This is a residential area.”
When the National Register of Historic Places listed Alexander Avenue in 1980, it praised the “two fine civic buildings”—the 41st Precinct and the library—for “their harmonious proportions and low scale which blend into the surrounding environment.”
Financed by Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy a century ago, the library’s design was inspired by the Carnegie mansion on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street, which today houses the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.
The dumpster arrived in the alley almost four years ago, according to Dorothy Louise, a playwright who lives in a condominium two buildings down from the library. She considers the dumpster an eyesore in an otherwise improving neighborhood.
Louise’s home is a former textile factory and warehouse that has been divided into condominium lofts, settled largely by artists, musicians and other creative professionals. Across the street from the library, a run-down walkup is being renovated, with a new sidewalk tree, courtesy of the city.
The offending dumpster is parked in an alley separating the library from a four-story walkup.
On the ground floor, Stephanie Meza, 19, has a bedroom window facing the alley and the dumpster. “My mother has to put on the fire to get out the smell,” said Meza. “We’ve called 311 because of the foul smell. The trash is over the top.”
Meza also said that noisy garbage trucks empty the dumpster as early as 6:30 in the morning.
“The trucks wake me up,” said Meza. “And the workers are loud and rude.”
“I’ve spoken with the library staff,” said Louise. “And they don’t want it here, either.”
Throughout the week, janitors from the various branches drive the trash to the dumpster. The Sanitation Department collects it from the alleyway.
“The Sanitation Department won’t pick up individual bulk items from a library,” said Scher initially. “They have to pick them up at one location in a dumpster.”
Not so, says the Sanitation Department. “The Sanitation Department does not require the New York Public Library to bring their bulk items to the Mott Haven branch,” said spokesman Matthew Lipani in an email response.
In Queens, whose public libraries are not part of the New York Public Library system, “each location has its trash collected individually,” says Queens Library spokeswoman Joanne King.
While the alley behind the Mott Haven branch is used to store trash, other nearby branches have better uses for their outdoor space. The Morrisania branch has park-like landscaping around its building, while the Hunts Point branch has an unused alley behind it.
Lipani, the Sanitation Department spokesman, defended the way the library maintains the dumpster saying, “the area where the container is stored is clear of debris and does not constitute an ‘eyesore.’”
“There are a lot of cats here,” said Meza. “And people throwing trash over the fence.”
In response to those complaints and an inquiry from the Mott Haven Herald, the library installed a mesh fence and tarp in early November to cover the alley from public view, which further offended the neighbors.
“That masks it, but we still have garbage out here,” said Tyko Kilhstedt, a painter, pointing at a garbage bag outside the fence. Kihlstedt’s wife Andrea, has also spoken with library staff, and says they share her dislike of the tarp.
The Public Library administration insists the dumpster is necessary and unavoidable. “We do not have an alternative site, and this will be used for the foreseeable future,” said Scher.
“It will still smell,” said Kilhstedt. “It could be a nice small park, but at the moment it’s just an eyesore.”
A version of this story appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of The Mott Haven Herald.