by Ed Hersh, September 1, 2022

With complaints about massive piles of garbage, fears about crime and the proliferation of smoke shops, concerns about bicycles on the sidewalk and the impact of congestion pricing on the neighborhood, a steady stream of residents queued up to meet one on one with Council Member Gale Brewer on the west side of Amsterdam Avenue, between 70th and 71st Streets, late Tuesday afternoon. It was billed as a “Pop-up District Office,” and Brewer got an earful.

“I targeted it because it is known as a problem block,” she said, noting she has long received complaints about it, even before the pandemic.

The block has both a CBD store and a smoke shop (Lincoln Convenience was robbed twice recently, once involving a shooting), a pizza place, and a McDonalds. It’s a block where pedestrians must run a gauntlet of obstacles: a giant rack filled with delivery bikes, piles of trash, outdoor tables, a COVID pop-up testing tent, a food truck, and a sidewalk fruit vendor.

Brewer wanted to hear directly from residents. “I do not feel safe in my neighborhood or getting on the subway,” one woman told her. Another asked, “Why are pot stores allowed to stay open 24 hours a day?” Andrea Sholl, a Lincoln Towers resident, pressed the point. “I resent that the [smoke shops] are open 24 hours a day. PS 199 is right around the block and there are three schools in a two-block area.”

An architect asked, “Why do all these bicycles have to be locked up in the middle of the block?” Several were upset about the impact of congestion pricing and what it would mean for their ability to “visit family in New Jersey” or “have access to parking spaces.”

In each case, Brewer listened, took notes, and gave out her card for follow up with her staff. But the issues on the block are complex, Brewer told us afterward, involving multiple city agencies, the police, and the building that houses the establishments itself, 201 West 71st Street.

“I’m going to have a stakeholders meeting to see what we can do together to improve this block,” she said. In addition to the NYPD, that meeting will include representatives of the departments of transportation and sanitation, the community board, business owners, and building management.

Brewer believes it is important for her to hold these pop-ups from time to time. “You really get a sense of what’s on people’s minds,” she said. “People will open up to you when it’s one on one.”

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