176th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
BY TRONE DOWD
Eyesores like graffiti and overflowing trash in the streets of Southeast Queens’ most commercial area are being cleaned up, painted over and made to look like new. While it may seem like minimal work, many locals have probably been happy to see such action take place. After all, it’s a start that no one else has bothered to initiate or keep up with. The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation has been tweeting photos of cleaned up areas both before and after the clean-up with great results, and has attributed the work to a group known as the Jamaica Alliance.
But who exactly are the Jamaica Alliance and what is their ultimate goal? The Press of Southeast Queens looked into exactly who or what is behind this mysterious street cleaning group.
What is the Jamaica Alliance?
After getting in touch with GJDC, we quickly found out who was behind the acts; none other than the Development Corporation itself. In a group call with several GJDC higher-ups, including organization president Hope Knight, the inception and purpose of the Jamaica Alliance was explained in great detail.
Established eight years ago and headed by director of Security and Quality Control Jim Vaccaro, the Jamaica Alliance was meant to ensure that the quality of life in downtown Jamaica is improved in any number of ways. It’s a collaboration with the local Business Improvement Districts to identify problems in the neighborhood and fix them when other parts of city government fail.
“It’s all about improving the quality of life,” said Vignike Anderson, project manager of the Alliance. “Whether it’s reporting illegal dumping, dialing 311 when necessary or ensuring the safety of pedestrians and commuters alike.”
Anderson said that it doesn’t just stop with calling 311. In addition to their recent “Clean Up Jamaica” initiative where they cleaned up dirty sidewalks and trash, removed unwanted graffiti and painted over unappealing and aging spots throughout the neighborhood, the group also keeps an eye on situations that could potentially develop into emergencies. They try their best to preemptively handle these problems before they take hold, reporting it to local precincts when needed.
How Is This Done?
According to Knight, identifying these troubled spots is a combination of internal neighborhood scouting and community help.
“We do get feedback from all over the neighborhood,” Knight told the Press of Southeast Queens. “We try to find highly visible traffic areas that would greatly benefit from the improvement of a cleanup or graffiti removal.”
“Our Jamaica Alliance ambassadors patrol our properties,” Vaccaro said. “So what I have them do is rotate posts every hour. Whenever we have someone go from one post to the other post, I have them observe quality of life issues. It could be graffiti, potholes, marijuana smoking. They don’t engage the activity but instead report it back to me. If it’s criminal activity, we meet with the 103rd [Precinct]. If it’s something like graffiti or garbage or helping the homeless or fixing property that is not being maintained by property owners, we gather that information. We first report it to the city. If the city does not address the issue in a timely manner, we go one to two times a week and correct it ourselves.”
Vaccaro explained that the Alliance actually has its own equipment.
“When it comes to cleaning up local mailboxes, the Postal Service has a program where they will give us the paint needed to paint over vandalism on their property,” Vaccaro said, elaborating that he is very grateful that they have been willing to work with them.
Ultimate Goal for the Future
Knight told the Press of Southeast Queens that the recent Twitter photos that show the before and after of the location the Alliance gets to clean up is something that GJDC started doing recently in order to showcase the work they’ve been quietly doing.
“We started posting it so people could get a sense of some of the work they’ve been doing,” she said. “We’re ultimately trying to improve the perception of this region as well as improve the quality of life for the people who live and work in this community.”
Vaccaro said that the Alliance has received some scattered positive feedback for the work that they do.
“The public sees what we do and tells us that they actually feel safer as they’re walking down the street when the graffiti is cleaned,” he said. “Even the perception of garbage being piled up on Archer Avenue, as many of the stakeholders do not take care of their property like we think they should, seems to help out.”
Although the Alliance is cleaning up what they can, Vaccaro did tell the Press of Southeast Queens that their resources are a bit strained. With only nine members on the team that patrols and conducts these clean ups, there’s only so much the crew can get to. Factor in that they work seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and it is easy to understand why there is often times still so much more to be done in the neighborhood. Vaccaro and Knight recommended that residents use 311 as their main way of reporting quality of life issues in the borough.
“But really we only have so many resources,” Knight followed up. “We can’t put ourselves out there and tell people to contact us directly because we just might not be able to respond. And that’s the last thing that we want to happen.
That’s why calling 311 really is the better option as it is where these reports belong, and we can provide support when we are able to.”
Vaccaro guaranteed that the work being done by his team of graffiti busters will continue even as 311 tries to address these issues.
“We notice it out here and we try to be on top of it,” Vaccaro said. “We have properties throughout the neighborhood in a two mile span and we’ll try to help out as much as we can.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly