By Stanley Wlodyka
“I don’t want to be in the picture,” said the man in the blue hard hat. The Brooklyn accent spoke volumes: He has a wife and two and a half kids (one named Junior), he’s a Mets fan, his father taught him how to thatch a roof, and he goes to church every Sunday, except for some Sundays. It’s not his fault that construction on Bedford, Morton, Grove, and Commerce Streets has been subject to delay after delay.
It’s been over a year since the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) started to implement pedestrian ramps into those quiet little Village streets. Logically, a pedestrian ramp should take a day, maybe two, to install and however long it takes for concrete to dry, but throw in some sewer reconstruction and all bets are off.
The thing about sewage is that it stinks. Claim that the pipes have twisted themselves into a knot, and only the bravest of souls will actually climb down into a manhole to check if that’s really the case. However, the DDC has admitted that there was more to it than that. Ana Barrio, the Acting Commissioner of the DDC, stated in a letter that the delays were due to “unforeseen conflicts, interference by private utilities and/or changes in work schedules by private utilities.”
It’s no surprise that a government agency would pass the buck when there’s a complaint on the line. For Jussara Lee, the proprietor of a boutique clothing shop, this is not how she runs her business. Lee’s hands are in every pot, making sure that, from production to the ringing of the cash register, care and attention are paid to every detail. Her business relies on developing relationships with vendors and providing superb customer service. Indeed, her clients come for the overall experience, which proved challenging to maintain while a jackhammer pounded dust into the air right outside her shop throughout 2017.
“We should have complained a little earlier, but you deal with it. [New Yorkers] are so tough. You suffer for so long and then all of a sudden, oh my God, this has been going on for a year! Come on, let’s do something, let’s say something. The minute we talk about it, two weeks later they’re wrapping up.” Lee, her fellow business owners, and the neighborhood residents discovered the power of organized resistance when they collectively submitted their complaints to their district representative.
Erik Bottcher, Chief of Staff of the Office of NYC Council Member Corey Johnson, stated, “The pressure that we put on them got this to the decision makers.” The main area of concern for Councilman Johnson was the lack of communication between the DDC and the neighborhood as to the progress of this construction project. Usually, a community construction liaison is appointed to provide regular updates, but in this case, one wasn’t. Though this saga is coming to a close, it may have a legacy that will benefit countless New Yorkers.
“Going forward, we will certainly consider this experience…when speaking of staffing budgets,” writes DDC’s Acting Commissioner Barrio.