Feeling the urn: Residents weigh in on smoking areas

Cigarette urns like this one will soon appear throughout Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. (Photo by Chuck Hartsell)

Cigarette urns like this one will soon appear throughout Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. (Photo by Chuck Hartsell)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier in the month, Blackstone’s new management arm, StuyTown Property Services, announced that designated smoking areas were coming to Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village. As General Manager Rick Hayduk later explained to T&V, 70 urns would be placed around the property to serve as smoking areas and receptacles for cigarette butts. Still, the plan would be more about suggesting a modification in behavior — getting smokers to take their butts (and the ends of their cigarettes) — off of stoops and away from buildings, rather than a clear cut rule about where to light up.

We’ve since reached out to community residents who mostly seemed to support the project, though some complained it didn’t go far enough.

Longtime resident and former smoker Bill Whitney said he thought having the urns around “is a good idea. There are so many dogs and kids around here and they pick things up.”

Elaine Healis, who said she lived in Stuy Town for 30 years, had no problem with smoking areas but suggested that management start off by just placing one or two urns around and seeing if they work before putting in the rest of them. (Hayduk had said previously that the endeavor would be a costly one with Blackstone purchasing 80 urns, each costing $500 including installation.)

“Put them in a common area and see how quickly they fill up. That might be a smart thing to do,” said Healis. “The young people might not use them. Put the money where it might benefit (the community instead),” she added.

She added that a bigger problem than smoking outside buildings was that some neighbors smoke by their own open windows and then leave cigarette butts on window sills or air conditioners. Then the stray smokes and ash end up in others’ apartments. “It’s ridiculous and it’s not fair,” Healis said.

One smoker meanwhile seemed to think it was the new plan that’s unfair. While Barry, who didn’t want to give his last name, said he agreed people shouldn’t smoke right outside of buildings, he also didn’t appreciate anyone else shooing him away.

“Would it inconvenience me? Not really, but I don’t believe in restricting that,” said Barry. “We’re outside. Next they’re going to tell me I can’t walk on 14th Street. It’s my problem that I smoke and I don’t care how anyone else feels about it.”

He added that he had no problem with receptacles being put here and there, but added, “They’ve got to make sure they’re cleaned regularly if they put them down.” He also said he thought a bigger priority for management should be keeping ST/PCV’s 70-year-old infrastructure from crumbling.

“That’s what they need to worry about, not the smokers.”

But another neighbor, while out with her pooch, said she couldn’t disagree more.

“They should ban smoking altogether,” fumed Gene Craig. “They don’t allow people to smoke in parks and this,” she said, while gesturing to the trees in the Oval, “is a park. We have grass and trees and playgrounds. I don’t want to see these filthy urns. Why are we considering smokers? They’re killing themselves and the cost of healthcare in this country is because of smokers.”

Pal Eileen Shane agreed. “I don’t want to have to look at urns,” she said. But at the same time she conceded she was tired of seeing neighbors just stomp on their cigarette butts before leaving them on the ground. “The smokers are awful,” she said.

Another staunch nonsmoker, meanwhile, praised the plan. “I think it’s a good idea,” said Bridget Flanagan, a senior who said she’s never smoked a cigarette herself. “You see a lot of young people walking around with a cigarette in their hand,” she said. “I think it’s an excellent idea, because obviously they’re not going to give up smoking.”

But another senior, who didn’t want his name published, said he just hopes the urns come with some sort of mechanism to self-refresh, since they were guaranteed to become dog urinals. He said he’d seen similarly functioning contraptions in waste bins in other cities.

“I see more dogs than I see cigarette butts,” the man said.

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