Workers Help Clean Up St. George’s Reputation

Monday, February 11, 2008

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The St. George section of Staten Island, an urban area that developers and young professionals have long eyed as the borough’s best hope of gentrification, is getting a city-funded boost to improve its aesthetics as merchants and community groups plan for long-term improvements to the neighborhood.

The city kicked off its “New York City Clean Streets Program” in the five boroughs late last year, and provided the Island with two full-time private sanitation workers who are responsible for trash and leaf collection, graffiti clean-up and snow removal.

The workers, who began the service in December to supplement the city Department of Sanitation, are responsible for the portion of Richmond Terrace and Bay Street, from Hamilton Avenue to Victory Boulevard, the section of Stuyvesant Place from Wall Street to Bay Street, and part of Hyatt Street and lower Victory Boulevard from Bay Street to St.Mark’s Place.

“I’ve seen an amazing difference in the fact that the streets are swept every day,” said Kamillah Hanks, executive director of the Downtown Staten Island Council, a non-profit group that works on neighborhood revitalization and is overseeing this project.

“When you have a better-looking environment you feel better about what you’re doing. These are just the basics: You don’t want your street to be filthy. You want people to see we care about our community.”

The area is plagued by typical urban concerns, like graffiti, cracked sidewalks and streets and litter.

But a deeper problem penetrates St. George, one that the city’s street cleaning program can only begin to chip away at, Ms. Hanks said.

“The problem that I see happening in St. George, is that I think its reputation is not well-deserved,” she said, referring to those from other boroughs who do not get off the Staten Island Ferry long enough to shop, eat or see a show in the neighborhood.

But while the area needs an image makeover that exceeds more efficient street sweeping, Ms. Hanks said the program has had success in giving more confidence to St. George business owners.

“Clean streets really benefits my merchants, makes them feel better that things are happening in their area, that things are coming (to) their area,” she said.

The program, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in his 2007 State of the City address, is now being launched throughout the five boroughs for a total cost of $1.6 million, said Kara Alaimo, spokeswoman for the city Department of Small Business Services (SBS).

The service the Island is receiving in the first year will only continue if the area merchants raise 25 percent for the second year, and by the third year, the city is expecting the borough to continue it entirely with local funding from business and property owners, Ms.Hanks said. She estimated the total cost to be about $35,000 once local merchants assume the expense.

The program is being carried out with a computerized, handheld device that provides the city with specific problems in each neighborhood getting Clean Streets grants.The device, known as ComNet for Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking, allows those tracking an area to record data on common problems, such as potholes, graffiti, vacant buildings or other blights on the community.