Raymond Normandeau, press secretary of the Queensbridge Houses Tenants Council in Queens, was tired of the conditions in the Queensbridge housing project where he has lived since 1973, and decided it was time to engage in a little community activism.
While he may no longer be a member of the Astoria ambulance corps (or small time film actor) as he was in the eighties, Normandeau, who is legally blind, always has several projects on his plate—primarily non-threatening but direct ways of getting the authorities to pay attention to tenants’ plights.
And it’s not the violence at Queensbridge with which Normandeau is most concerned, violence which rappers like Jay-Z—who grew up in Queensbridge—have memorialized in their music.
“I lived here through the crack epidemic,” said Normandeau, “when we heard gunshots once a week.” He added he’s grown accustomed to life in the Queens borough project, as, surely, “even people in Afghanistan grow accustomed.” And, Normandeau points out, security has been better since so many chain hotels have cropped up in the area, some “just a gunshot away.”
“Maybe a tourist got robbed or something,” said Normandeau, of the increased security. “I go online to see their [hotel] room prices.” Many prices are in the $129-$200 range.
No, it’s the day-to-day quality of life with which Normandeau takes issue. One major problem confronting Queensbridge tenants, according to him, is the amount of dog feces which accumulates around the housing project (inside and out). It may sound like a joke—even I had a good laugh when the ever-eloquent Normandeau described the situation—but then I saw the pictures. Frankly, they were beyond disturbing.
Unfortunately it seems the only way to get anything done, is to “raise a stink” (my words). It has to be the right kind of stink though, explains Normandeau, it must come about through the graceful “pressuring and embarrassment” of local officials. He’s already tried, with little success, to get the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)’s attention on Twitter, where he actively follows their feed and peppers them with questions about when various repairs will come through.
That’s why Normandeau started the “Queensbridge Landscaping Magazine” (more of a magazine cover, but that’s just a technicality), and in conjunction with the endeavor, Normandeau also organized a contest.
“I asked people to send in photos,” said Normandeau. “The freshest pile, the strangest-looking pile, a pile that had been stepped in a lot.” And piles, he accrued. Thirty-nine of them to be exact, which is how many photos are featured on Normandeau’s website, devoted to the contest (click strictly at your own risk).
Normandeau then took his “Landscaping Magazine” covers, complete with graphic visuals, and began distributing them at community meetings, where local politicians and government officials would convene. This seemed to be exactly the sort of whimsical embarrassment Normandeau describes, the very kick-in-the-pants humiliated officials needed to clean up Queensbridge a bit.
It doesn’t stop at the fecal matter though. Normandeau knows better than anyone it’s not easy navigating a rundown project when you’re technically blind. Obstacles on sidewalks, lights that stay burned out for years…it’s a blind man’s Ironman. That’s why Normandeau released the “Blind Navigating” cover for his “Queensbridge Landscaping Magazine.”
“Blind Tenants Navigate Booby Traps,” the cover headline reads. He handed this one out at meetings too.
Normandeau describes the positive aftermath: “‘Blind Navigating’ got [the] sidewalk fixed within days after I handed it out. [The] sidewalk had been like that for over one year.”
Tenants may “feel that NYCHA treats [them] as unwanted,” as Normandeau points out, but as one man, he has finally found a way to be heard through his acts of vigilanteism.
Normandeau also operates the Queensbridge website, which takes, among other things, event submissions: “Having an Event? Community meeting? Open house for Apartment sublet? Art show? Performance? Gun fight?”
The website leaves no wrong untouched, also decrying NYPD and NYCHA’s laissez-faire policies: “Smoking knapsack at a sensitive location? Take photos, run to safety. The NYPD may not be interested, but we are!”
Trackback from your site.