By Kevin Coughlin
The Early Street Community Garden is an inspiring place, where community and nature come together thanks to the vision of three local ladies.
And soon, when nature calls in the garden, the community can take inspiration from another local success story.
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has donated $10,000 for a composting toilet.
“People need toilets, also clean water, more than internet access,” Newmark, 62, said in an exclusive interview with Morristown Green.
“It’s also possible that I might have a sense of humor, perhaps very understated,” he added.
They’re all smiles at Grow It Green Morristown.
“It was the most exciting phone call I ever received,” said Abby Gallo, executive director of the nonprofit. “I thought it was a joke at first.”
She said her organization is thrilled by this surprise connection with Newmark, who grew up across the street from what is now the garden.
“We can’t thank him enough for funding this much-needed restroom that will facilitate on-site community events and classes,” said Gallo, adding that Newmark pitched the idea, right down to its name: Craig Newmark Memorial Latrine No. 2.
(Newmark also has sponsored a conventional toilet in the city of Jericho.)
Grow It Green is in the midst of a $200,000 fund drive to expand the garden, opened in a vacant lot in 2009 by Carolle Huber, Samantha Rothman and Myra Bowie McCready.
Plans include a public parklet, solar-powered community pavilion, ADA-compliant walking path, composting center, demonstration apiary, bike repair station and 94 garden beds, double the present number. About $70,000 has been raised so far.
Corporate donors include Kings Food Markets, F.M. Kirby Foundation, Sustainable Jersey, HSBC Bank, Conservation Resources, Gran Fondo NJ and Hampshire Real Estate Companies.
Gallo hopes Newmark’s gift will help —ahem!–flush out more contributions.
Actually, composting toilets use an aerobic reaction instead of water to break down human wastes. The Bronx Zoo and the Queens Botanical Garden have used them for years, Gallo said.
Grow It Green should have no trouble finding a gently used composting commode — at least two were listed Monday on craigslist.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything that can’t be found there. Some 5 billion ads have been posted on craigslist since Newmark launched this mostly-free site from his San Francisco apartment as an events newsletter in 1995. Though he no longer manages craigslist’s operations, he still pitches in as a customer service rep.
And he advocates for numerous causes on craigconnects, which he started in 2011. In addition to environmental issues, Newmark is passionate about helping veterans — he’s been named “Nerd-in-Residence” by the Center for Innovation of the Department of Veterans Affairs — and about using technology to promote open government.
Journalistic ethics and accountability are part of that campaign. He serves on boards of the Poynter Foundation, Center for Public Integrity, Sunlight Foundation, Consumers Union/Consumer Reports, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among others.
Newmark said his views on democracy were shaped at Morristown High School, where the 1971 yearbook dubbed him “Dictator of Debate” (he co-captained the debating team) and predicted a career in theoretical physics or computing. He made the Honor Society, was on the physics club and announced for the school radio station, according to the yearbook.
After earning computer science degrees at Case Western Reserve University, Newmark spent 17 years at IBM. He worked for Charles Schwab when he conceived craigslist.
His boyhood home on Early Street is scheduled for demolition, to make way for an apartment complex. When Newmark was a young teen, his father, a salesman, died and he moved with his mother and kid brother to Jacob Ford Village.
Newmark reflects on those days (see below) in our email interview, which ranges from his craigslist philosophy — also hatched in Morristown — to the state of American media and his infatuation with birds and squirrels.
As for Craig Newmark Memorial Latrine No. 2, look for a grand opening next spring. Will Grow It Green comb craigslist for a bargain?
“We’ll look into it,” Abby Gallo promised.
Q & A WITH CRAIGSLIST FOUNDER CRAIG NEWMARK
MorristownGreen.com: Philanthropists tend to build great monuments to themselves. But … a composting toilet?
Craig Newmark: People need toilets, also clean water, more than internet access. It’s also possible that I might have a sense of humor, perhaps very understated.
What grabbed you about Grow It Green’s garden?
Community gardens are great, and this one is pretty much across the street from where I grew up. It’s on the site of Nugey’s junkyard and that of a childhood friend or two.
Early Street…what are your childhood memories? What sort of place was Morristown when you were growing up?
I was pretty oblivious of most everything; I’m a ’50s-style nerd, after all. The junkyard up the street, toward Morristown High, that’s the one I played in. Only a few years ago, I realized that living near two junkyards, playing in one, that told me that my family had little money, just living above the poverty line.
When was your last visit here? Coming back anytime soon? Any desire to live here again?
My brother and I visited the old place, bringing along my wife, whose family still lives in Chester. I hope to visit before my old home’s demolished, maybe to take a few pictures. I left that home just about 50 years ago.
You often describe yourself as a classic nerd. Home computers didn’t exist when you graduated from Morristown High. What did nerds do in ’71?
Nerds back then read a lot of science fiction, studied a lot, and pined away for unattainable girls.
What MHS teachers made an impact on you, and in what ways?
Most of all, Anton Schulzki, my history teacher and debate coach, really made sure I understood the values, and failures, of the Founders. As a result, I like to say that “the press is the immune system of democracy.”
He also taught me a deep respect for the Bill of Rights and due process, which has played a very practical role in my life online.
Also, I took speech communications from Virginia Lyttle, but it wasn’t until a few years later, in college, that I realized my communication problems were self-imposed.
Bruce Lontka, the physics teacher, also greatly influenced me. I intended to be a physicist, but more importantly, he allowed me to learn programming on the school’s new IBM 1620. Back then, it was all punch cards and FORTRAN II.
What kind of stuff did you play when you deejayed at WJSV? What do you recall from your high school radio days? What’s on your playlist now?
Ah, I never got my license there, never participated.
Now, it’s all Leonard Cohen.
Looks like craigslist has been good to you. But you could have made a much bigger pile of cash if you were so inclined. What’s up with that? Didn’t your family have some hard times when you were young? Isn’t it the American Way to make as much as you can, and accumulate the most toys?
In Sunday school, at the Jewish Community Center on Speedwell, I learned to know when enough is enough. Later on, I refined that to be “nerd values.” Once one can provide for family and friends, as well as oneself, then it’s more satisfying to make a difference in the world.
What’s the weirdest thing ever sold on craigslist? And your personal favorite purchase there?
I don’t know weirdest, but the “best of” category is a great source for that.
One would have to consult Mrs. Newmark regarding any purchases, which are generally for our (21) nephews and nieces. I recall a tricycle.
Has craigslist revealed any basic truths about our species? (Why are the forums still popular when everyone now shares everything on Facebook?)
People are fundamentally good, though there are a lot of bad actors out there.
You get blamed for driving a nail in the coffin of the newspaper industry (disclosure: I used to work for a big paper), by killing paid classified ads. Guilty? Not guilty?
Do the actual facts support that?
Media types are watching your fellow internet mogul, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, to see what he makes of the Washington Post. Can the disruptors “save” journalism?
I’m only a news consumer, and just want news I can trust. News professionals tell me that the only real hope is for “quality” or “premium” journalism, which above all, is trustworthy.
Technology has given us much easier access to news than when you were growing up in the Vietnam years. Are Americans better informed today than they were then?
Probably less so, since there are fewer trustworthy news sources. I do have high hopes for good news sources like ProPublica and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
You campaigned for President Obama. What do you think of his performance? What will his legacy be?
He’s done exceptionally well, given much inaccurate reporting. Legacy? Too early, I think it’ll be unexpected.
You support quite a few veterans organizations. What are the most urgent needs for veterans?
The veterans’ service orgs tell me it’s jobs, housing, and suicide prevention.
What makes you want to get out of bed every day? Anything give you cause for optimism?
My sense is that I can help large numbers of other people make a difference.
I don’t think I’m going to save the world; instead, I plan on talking you into doing so. Need to repeat that seven billion times. A nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.
Birds and squirrels … did the fascination start here in Morristown?
Are they cooler in California?
I don’t recall an interest in Morristown, somehow that only started when I moved to the Garden of Eden of Detroit.
Not sure if cooler in SF, but minutes before writing this, I was being eyed by a really big Red-tailed Hawk, and moments later, he struck at the pigeons on my house. I fear for Shirley the Pigeon.
Yes, maybe I do have a sense of humor.