Curbside freecycling (read: the act of placing unwanted furniture and household junk outside of your home on a non-regularly scheduled trash pickup day in hopes that a random passerby will take a liking to and rescue it from landfill-dom) is a time-honored tradition in my adopted home of New York City. Many urban apartments have been tastefully populated by items plucked from city streets by residents with keen salvage-dar and an eye for creative reuse.
Personally, I’m not one to partake in what Gothamist calls a “long and noble tradition of furnishing our apartments with junk we find on the street” mostly due to my poor luck in the scavenging department (I always seem to show up late on the scene) and my fear of inviting unsavory houseguests (i.e. bedbugs) into my home. Still, I have had some limited success with freecycling: my favorite picture frame, a black rococo beauty, is one that I found next to a Dumpster in Boston’s South End more than six years ago.
Despite my non-participation in hunting for or leaving furniture outside of my apartment building (I opt to donate my unwanted stuff with Housing Works or the GrowNYC Textile Recycling Program) in hopes that someone will give it a loving home, the recent hoopla over an incident in which Park Slope, Brooklyn, resident Christian Meany was fined $100 by the New York City Department of Sanitation for leaving a dresser outside of his house has me a bit fired up.
And I’m not the only one who thinks fining for curbside freecycling in the city stinks. Meany himself politely rants on online neighborhood forum, Park Slope Parents:
I feel like the system of putting furniture on the street for others is a deep-rooted part of Park Slope culture. If I had a heap of smelly trash that was out there for days, I might be more sympathetic to the city. However, this is cutting into a system that recycles goods and helps those who have less.
The reasoning behind this rule is if bulk items are put out for a day that is not their normal pickup, it could become a sidewalk obstruction when not picked up.
Surely this is a bit rich. A chest of drawers or a gently used sofa or chair is hardly an obstruction, and as others have pointed out, leaving unwanted items out front for people who want them is a grand Brooklyn tradition. It may be that the origin of this law and the one that prosecutes people for collecting items left out has its origin in bleaker times, when the brownstones languished decrepit and bulk rubbish deposited on the sidewalk really was an obstruction. It may be someone’s idea of a money maker. Where ever it came from, enforcing the law now feels like one more nail in the coffin of civility. Why? Because real civility, real community cannot be formalized or enforced. A law like this could only pass during period of a breakdown of civility, when people are so alienated from their communities that they need to be told that blocking the sidewalk is a problem.
New Yorkers: Will this news prevent you from leaving furniture and other unwanted items outside of your home? Or will you keep on freecycling with hopes that a sanitation worker or police officer isn’t having a bad day and decides to issue a fine? Non-New Yorkers: Do you leave stuff out on non-pickup days in hopes that it will be rescued? Have you faced similar fines?