11/12/2013 08:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Dante de Blasio's Circles of Hell

The New York Times reports that Mayor-elect de Blasio is having second thoughts about living in Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor. The announcement came after a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg during which they discussed "the intricacies of garbage pickup."

Garbage would be a good reason not to move into Gracie Mansion. A ten story high garbage site -- known locally as "The Bloomberg Dump" -- is in the first phases of construction on top of a public park two blocks north of the mansion. In the picture below, you can see Gracie Mansion's garden fence and how close the cranes are just up the river.


Wisely, however, de Blasio -- who supports this imposition on a densely populated neighborhood right up against a huge public housing project -- didn't mention this as a reason, and instead blamed his teenage son, Dante, who is "concerned about a longer commute to his high school in Brooklyn."

Gracie Mansion is in the north east corner of Yorkville, and Dante would indeed have to walk a half mile, then descend into the first two circles of hell, slow, overcrowded trains carrying beautiful young women to work: limbo and lust, oh no!

At least Papa de Blasio is consistent. His children starred in his best campaign ads, now one may determine whether the mayor accepts the city's gift of housing that our taxes have already paid for.

But I am being cruel and unfair. I used to believe mayors should live at Gracie Mansion -- what would we think of a president who did not live at the White House? -- but the proposed garbage site will be so noisy, smelly, and polluting that probably no mayor will ever live there again, and tourists will come only to marvel at the idea of a great city like New York building a 6 day a week, 24 hour a day multi-ton garbage processing plant right next to where its chief executive is meant to live, entertain foreign dignitaries, and try to sleep.

Perhaps one day we'll elect a mayor who is not just an advocate for the poor but actually is poor and needs to live there just as the 2200 residents of local public housing must live where they do, less than two hundred feet from the dump. Then it will close.

Although de Blasio uses "A Tale of Two Cities" to lob his metaphors around, he's clearly never read the book because it's not about one city divided by wealth and poverty, but about two literal cities, London and Paris. This being so, I feel no shame in yanking a misquote from the book and saying Booklyn is a "far, far better place to live" than Yorkville.

For various reasons, the FDR Drive being only one, Yorkville, and indeed the whole of the Upper East Side, is far, far more polluted than any area of Brooklyn, even the worst.

Relieving pollution in Brooklyn was one of the main reasons for putting a garbage site in Yorkville, but when the idea was first proposed, there were no scientifically credible surveys of New York City air quality. Starting in 2008, however, that changed.

If you look at this 2013 city-produced pollution report it clearly shows the new dump is being built in an infinitely more polluted area than the ones it is meant to relieve.

That no one has halted construction of the garbage site on the basis of this new information alone seems more than just a little odd to me. Old Dante, with his merely sulfurous conception of hell, would have to invent a tenth circle to contain the cocktail of pollutants that exist in Yorkville. Unsurprisingly East Harlem, a few blocks north, has the worst asthma rates of any neighborhood in all the five boroughs.

Young Dante could attend one of the many excellent public schools not far from Gracie Mansion, but they all use an athletic facility bisected by a single ramp along which construction trucks now pass back and forth as they build the aforementioned garbage site in the most densely populated residential area in the history of New York.


Unless someone has the courage to stop it, these trucks will soon be replaced by hundreds of garbage trucks a day driving through the athletic field with their questionable loads. (They will only pass through the very necessary radiation detectors when they reach the gates of the ten story garbage facility - too late to protect the children.)


They'll dump their loads into barges about fifty feet from the eastern goal post of the soccer field. Tug boats, which are literally hundreds of times more toxic than modern garbage trucks, will then tow this mixed garbage, some of it from the many hospitals in the area, south, right past Gracie Mansion.

As the trucks drive all the way back down the city to pick up more garbage from as far south as 14th Street, the tugs will parallel them, towing the garbage back down the entire length of the city; back past the neighborhoods from which the trash originally came, past Queens and Brooklyn, and on down the narrow East River, more than doubling the length of its journey by the time it reaches its next destination, New York Harbor, Staten Island, or New Jersey.

I live in Yorkville, but as luck would have it, none of this really affects me. If I was Dante's father, however, and had to live as close to the dump as he now might, I can honestly say I would not do it. And I would not let Dante go to school in this area either, nor play on the athletic field with the 31,000 other kids who have to play there. A father's first duty is to his own family - the hell with everyone else's.

I write with sarcasm because this is so painful for my neighbors who will be affected, those who are poor, those who have children. I am not motivated by self-interest. I am not a Republican. In fact, I am a lot more radical than de Blasio. Half a percent on anything you earn above 500,000!? No wonder the rich support him! According to Business Insider, a married couple earning $700,000 will, after deductions, only pay an extra $897, and someone earning $10,000,000 will only have to pay an additional $50,730. I'd more than double that. If rich people want to leave because they're not willing to help the city, fine, let them go to that part of hell reserved for the greedy, the fourth circle, otherwise known as Alaska. It has the lowest tax rates in the nation. Have fun, I'll be at the Met.

Nor would I spend this additional revenue just on early education. That's only one of many problems the city faces, and an uncontroversial one at that. If I was mayor I'd vow to provide jobs and housing for New York's 50,000 homeless people. I've seen them lying by the thousand in huge (truly) Dickensian shelters across the city, and it is a shocking (and shockingly hidden) disgrace. But if your main concern IS just finding more money for early education, and if you only have the balls to go for half a percent tax hike, then canceling this extremely expensive garbage site might be a really good option.

By most calculations it will cost almost half a billion dollars to build. According to the Independent Budget Office, it will more than double the cost of garbage handling for the next 20 years, requiring New York taxpayers to contribute another billion dollars over the next decade or two. For no good reason at all. If you read my other articles on this, you'll see it is completely unnecessary, an empty symbolic gesture based on old data, a remnant of a Bloomberg plan that failed, part of a grab-the-minority-vote strategy that de Blasio does not even need.

Instead of investing in 19th Century industrial infrastructure like this garbage site, de Blasio should look at what truly progressive cities do. To a large extent it involves making recycling incredibly easy, something New York has utterly failed at. After that he should look at how much unnecessary stuff we allow to come into our city, excess of all kinds. The real solutions have more to do with what we eat and how we digest it, than with where we, er, dump it.

How could an incoming mayor regain some of the money that has already spent on the garbage site? It's being built with frantic speed, as if Bloomberg wants to spend so much on it that an incoming mayor will have a hard time canceling it. It is officially known as the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station. it is, naturally, on the river. In fresh-aired Brooklyn there are literally dozens of marinas and boat launches.

Along the entire length of the east side of Manhattan, there are none.

The pilings are already in, but under my plan these could just as well be used to support the deck of a marina as a ten-story garbage dump. What a gift this would be to the environmentally challenged residents of Yorkville and East Harlem who could then rent canoes or rowboats, as is possible in Brooklyn, and take to the water for a breath of (relatively) fresh air.

As for Dante, every school day he could walk 30 second to the new dock, hop on a mayoral boat and shoot down the Styx to school. He could even drop off the man he got elected at his office. It's only a mile or so short of Dante's clean-aired educational destination. I can guarantee both father and son that the residents of Yorkville and East Harlem will happily find a way to pay for the mayoral launch: anything to escape the absurd horrors of this Bloomberg dump which de Blasio so strangely supports despite the opposition of many of his political allies.

For more information, check out Pledge2Protect and Asphalt Green. You can also sign a petition here.