Queens politicians, members of City agencies, and local activists gathered in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza to celebrate the six-month anniversary of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s City Cleanup Corps.
Inspired by New Deal legislation like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the City Cleanup Corps hires local residents to support the beautification and cleanup of various neighborhoods. So far, the group has collected over 600,000 bags of trash and hired approximately 10,000 New Yorkers (both seasonal and full-time).
“This plan supports a recovery that works for all New Yorkers,” said New York City Senior Advisor for Recovery Lorraine Grillo. “We knew we had to bolster our workforce while prioritizing what makes our amazing neighborhoods: our community members and public spaces.”
The City Cleanup Corps wipes away graffiti, power-washes sidewalks, plants flowers, collects trash, and oversees other measures that improve the livability of neighborhoods. The Corps’ efforts have been focused in Jackson Heights for the past week, where they helped with the cleanup following Hurricane Ida.
“When the hurricane devastated our neighborhood homes, the City Cleanup Corps was there to help,” Grillo added. “Members have been helping residents shorten damage and get back to normal.”
Even before the hurricane, the City Cleanup Corps has undertaken a number of projects in Jackson Heights. These include the installation of flowers and community gardens along 69th Street, 37th Avenue, Roosevelt Avenue, and in Diversity Plaza.
Local Council Member Danny Dromm spoke about the positive impact these measures have had in Jackson Heights.
“I say this is a beautiful community, not just because of its diversity, but because it’s also physically nice,” Dromm said. “But because it’s so nice, we get a lot of people that come from the tri-state area to visit Little India, Little Pakistani, and all our other institutions. Because of all that traffic, we have a lot of sanitation issues and challenges.”
He continued: “I already walked around the community today, and I see it’s sparkling because it’s been cleaned. I walked along 37th Avenue and along Roosevelt Avenue and things are looking up and they are under control.”
The City Cleanup Corps has employed thousands of New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs, who then work alongside employees from the Department of Sanitation and other City Agencies. Department of Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson has found that the City Cleanup Corps’ assistance has been an invaluable resource during the pandemic and especially after Hurricane Ida.
“Having this [the City Cleanup Corps], alongside the help of community partners and local merchants, has made it easier to work towards a common goal,” Grayson said. “During times of high demand, their help has been very helpful, and we [the Department of Sanitation] always promise to handle the back end and take the trash bags away.”
For its new employees, the City Cleanup Corps has supplied critical leadership and career-development opportunities at a time when job markets have stagnated.
“I oversee a group of guys and we get to go all over the City,” Erica Catalano, a City Cleanup Corps Supervisor, told our paper. “We have seen people’s joys and heartbreaks, but even when people are upset they are never made at us. People will literally bless us and thank us for coming out.”
“This is really wonderful for me and my team because we are born and raised here,” added Malik Saric, a City Cleanup Corps member. “We’re getting to explore and build relationships with neighborhoods. It’s also helped me and my team develop skills to build a career in gardening and landscaping.”
In addition to the City Cleanup Corps, a number of long-standing community organizations continue to contribute to the cleanup and maintenance of Jackson Heights following the Hurricane. These include the 34th Avenue Coalition, the Indian Merchants Association, and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group.
“We are helpful for the new plantings and the extension of our neighborhood’s Greenway,” Melissa Zavala from the Jackson Heights Beautification Group said of the City Cleanup Corps’ contributions. “These spaces require a lot of care so we appreciate all the help.”