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Soho gets an all-volunteer ‘neighborhood improvement district’ to clean its streets

Neighborhood activists raised over $100,000 to create the nonprofit

Ed Kim/Curbed Flickr Pool

Well, here’s one way to enact change in your neighborhood: Soho activists have raised enough money to establish a nonprofit—which they’re calling a “neighborhood improvement district”—to help clean up trash in the area. Residents were fed up with litter on the sidewalks and overflowing waste baskets, "despite funneling millions into city coffers from its astronomical sales and property taxes," as a press release puts it.

Organizers did not want to set up a traditional Business Improvement District, saying they were hesitant to "cede control of their neighborhood to a real estate-driven B.I.D." In a release, they elaborated:

Community opposition stemmed from fears that real-estate developers would use the B.I.D. to further turn SoHo into a mall, while eliminating current zoning regulations that prohibit oversized retail stores more typical of Herald Square.

And so, the all-volunteer nonprofit Clean Up SoHo has recently formed after the group raised an impressive $100,000. The initiative was spearheaded by Sean Sweeney, director of the SoHo Alliance; local resident Dianne Mendez, who runs an art salon on West Broadway; and the realtor Danielle Nazinitsky, who also writes the blog SoHo Strut.

The group blames increased tourism for the neighborhood's litter problem. A group of local activists, residents, independent realtors, and small business advocates met about a year ago to discuss the issue and brainstorm ways to fix it; they organized with help from the Soho Alliance throughout 2017.

Fundraising has come from a number of local sources, including the boards of area co-ops and condos, shops, restaurants, and neighborhood residents—even Bloomingdale’s and the Richard Rodgers family trust contributed, the group reports.

Others pledged $1,500 each to purchase more than 30 heavy-duty, metal wastebaskets to replace the mesh baskets currently out on the streets. Finally, a grant of $60,000 from Councilmember Margaret Chin came through and with that, Clean Up SoHo hired a private cleaning service to begin sweeping the sidewalks and emptying the litter baskets.

But even though the group calls their initiative “people power in its purest form,” it’s not clear whether this model of neighborhood activism would be easily replicated in areas that are less well-off—without, say, a Bloomingdale’s to donate to the cause.