Volume 81, Number 1 | June 2 - 8, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

‘Wildlife Habitat’ just a paradise for pooping pigeons

By Mayer Vishner

A May 12 news article in this newspaper quoted one of our members as telling a Community Board 2 forum that New York University should not be allowed to proceed with its plan to destroy the LaGuardia Corner Gardens, in part because we “are recognized as a ‘Backyard Wildlife Habitat’ by the National Wildlife Federation.”

The N.W.F. (which I first joined in 1958 or ’59) “recognizes” such spaces by accepting $50 for each sign proclaiming the designation that the applicant wishes to purchase. In rural and suburban areas, these signs can help set a tone, a vibe, a standard for the neighborhood. Like campaign buttons or bumper stickers, they remind folks to keep the needs of wildlife in mind when designating and maintaining their outdoor spaces, and encourage the uninformed or undercommitted to join the cause. And the fees collected help fund the federation’s educational programs and large-scale good works.

But on our fence these signs are false advertising, an embarrassingly obvious lie. Those birds decimating the tender young shoots, shitting everywhere, aren’t “toy” bald eagles or artificially created whooping cranes (designed, perhaps, like those faux dogettes wealthy apartment dwellers — who don’t care enough about real dogs to adopt — spend conspicuous cash on). They are, in fact, rock doves which, in an urban environment, become pigeons i.e. vermin. And that isn’t a wolf. It’s Henry’s dog Rocky. The emperor has no clothes, and what New York City’s first Consumer Affairs commissioner, Bess Myerson, was fond of pointing out in the ’70s remains true: “If you have to pay for the bowling trophy, it’s not a trophy.”

(It should be noted that at least twice in the last four years the membership has voted unanimously to change the garden’s signage to make it more useful to our visitors and more in line with Parks Department standards. Any questions about why it hasn’t been done properly are addressed to the current chairperson and executive board; but in my opinion the unconscionably high level of member apathy is the root of the problem.)

More than three decades ago, we took the dog shit-permeated rubble that was left behind when Village residents successfully aborted Robert Moses’ N.Y.U.-style plan to raze our neighborhood (back then by turning Fifth Ave. into a four-lane highway and running it through Washington Square, down LaGuardia Place/West Broadway to the Holland Tunnel). We took it and completely transformed it, originally into an ahead-of-its-time, mostly organic, urban vegetable garden; more recently into a gorgeous, if considerably more prosaic, half-block-long, outdoor flowerpot. We can legitimately cite numerous local and international accolades, real earned awards and grants, and overwhelming support and gratitude from our neighbors.

In that context, I believe that padding our résumé with paid-for creds is worse than unnecessary. Deceit is N.Y.U.’s forte, a weapon integral to their tax-supported arsenal, and we’re fools when we try to compete with these ruthless, well-paid, professional pillagers on their terms. Further, to do so lends implicit credence to the noxious notion already too pervasive that we who live here are obliged to justify our existence before we have the right to reject the terror of N.Y.U.’s relentless expansionism.

Vishner is a founding member and past chairperson, LaGuardia Corner Gardens

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