I want to write a headline one day saying, “How I Led the Washington Square Park Drug Dealers to Clean the Park,” or something like it for a story in the paper. Likely? No. Possible? Yes.
For longer than the twenty years I’ve lived in Greenwich Village, drug dealers have operated wantonly in the northwest corner of Washington Square Park. “Smoke smoke . . . weed weed,” they say as you walk past.
Since the pandemic, they’ve increased in number and brazenness. I haven’t seen the police walk through in months. They claim to lack manpower and that they have to watch the arch since people spray-painted it. Many days I’ll see a half-dozen cops standing around chatting, masks off, by the arch. So the drug dealing becomes more open. I saw some guy smoking either crack or heroin on a bench right next to mine.
I’ve started to dream of leading them at least to clean up that corner. Why? Because of several things—my new habit of cleaning there, working with the city, and what’s happened so far.
My new habit arose from training one of the people starting an offshoot of the Leadership and the Environment podcast. When I train someone, they practice the technique I describe in my first TEDx talk, leading me to take on a sustainability challenge. I’ve already been picking up litter daily for three or four years. I added to that sidcha to pick up also litter from that corner of the park.
I’ve been picking up specifically in that corner for about two weeks. Every day but one pouring rain and another when I was late and hurrying—at least one person talks to me. Now, when they say “smoke smoke weed weed” I tell them I’m picking up litter and talk a bit. A couple recognize me. Will anything come of it? I doubt any danger. I doubt any meaningful conversation either, but so far they’ve been friendly.
You may have read podcast guest James Altucher’s piece suggesting New York City is declining permanently.
or Jerry Seinfeld (not yet a podcast guest)’s response suggesting we’ll do fine, with an up yours tone to James:
I don’t believe we’ll just recover. Passively watching and complaining will lead to James being right. To make Jerry right will require action and, I believe, leadership.
I’ve been meeting with the 6th Precinct, which holds regular Build the Block meetings to connect with residents. I’m also connecting with residents to see about organizing. I’ve also spoken a few times with Corey Johnson’s team—my City Council Representative. They tell me they like my productive and experienced style and want to involve me with citywide meetings they’re starting.
We’ll see where it leads.
Here’s a 1987 New York Times story, Crushing the Drug Dealers of Washington Square, recounting residents reducing drug dealing in a time of greater dealing.
Here’s a City Journal story, Washington Square’s Dark Zone, from last year. Here’s a similar New York Post story, Crackheads, bums and hookers rule Washington Square Park, from four years ago.
Meanwhile, kids have partied there with a DJ the past couple weekends, earning ire from Cuomo, in this long-headlined story from last week—Gov. Cuomo slams NYU for ‘allowing’ massive Washington Square Park party, warning ‘it takes just one out-of-state person to be a super-spreader’ and defends BLM protests at the same spot because marchers were ‘local’—signaling increasing demand for drugs, sadly.
More increase in drugs or garbage?
This news video, Police increase patrols in Washington Square Park, 30 arrested in recent months, also from 2016, shows a lot more cops then than I’ve seen recently, plus makes me feel nostalgic for when we didn’t have to wear masks and people didn’t eat so many take-out meals to where every trash can overflowed with garbage.
While I consider selling drugs worse, regular park users have increased the garbage more than the dealers have increased their selling. Both harm the community. Both do it openly.
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