Has McCarren Park Literally Become Too Shitty?

08/31/2011 8:57 AM |

McCarren drunks of yore.

  • McCarren drunks of yore.

Does the mantle of gentrification show cracks? Will alcohol and other, um, “organic substances” derail utopian dreams of sweeping everything undesirable under the rug? Maybe: The Brooklyn Paper reports that “a group of middle-aged men” have been sleeping on benches in McCarren Park, showering in the sprinklers, and allegedly leaving urine and feces on the park grounds.

One nameless parent complained that one drunk man accidentally stumbled into her stroller—she admits he apologized—though she called the whole affair “visually displeasing.” More than 100 park users groused to officials at an Open Space Alliance meeting. The blog New York Shitty has photographs of the sleeping men and feces of unclear origin lying on a playground surface.

The sight of possibly inebriated men sleeping in a park can be unsettling to anyone. It’s normal to desire cleaner parks and the people posting at places like the Friends and Families of McCarren Park Facebook page have the right to be distressed. But headlines like “Greenpoint Drunks Ruining McCarren Park with Filth” are endemic of a culture that tends to miss the bigger picture. It is easy to be reactive: see something unpleasant, broadcast your concern, enlist a media outlet to amplify that concern. There’s nothing wrong with that. The question that should be asked, though, is why are they sleeping there?

In the BP article, Councilman Steve Levin thinks they have homes but may be too drunk to get there. Local minister Ann Kansfield believes they might be sick and suffering, unaware that they are defecating in the park. Both are probably right. Sympathy will do a lot more good for the individuals themselves and the community than outright condemnation. The tragedy isn’t that people are sleeping on your benches and dirtying your playground. Rather, it’s that these people aren’t getting the help they need, whether it’s an adequate home, counseling for alcohol addiction, or access to mental health services.