Oscar the Grouch Lives in a Recycling Bin Now

Gentrification comes to Sesame Street.

Image Sesame Workshop
Sesame Workshop

When Sesame Street returns on Saturday, expect to hear a lot of G-words. The gang all got new digs, and goodness gracious, they’re gorgeous. Growth is great! But gosh, these guys are going gonzo. For this season, the first following the show’s move to HBO, Sesame Street is being brought to you buy the letter “G”—G as in gentrification.

Elmo, for example, has moved on up to 123 Sesame Street, the brownstone at the corner of their particular intersection in New York City. (Leading theories place Sesame Street in Queens, East Harlem, and at 64th and Broadway.) This historic brownstone would seem to be a great spot, adjacent to an (impossible) A, B, 1, and 2 stop and lots of retail.

How did Elmo afford it? Sure, he’s got a high-profile Times Square job and all. But I’d peg Elmo as a high-earner-not-rich-yet renter. Maybe Bert and Ernie finally bought the building together and have split it into rental units. If Elmo’s smart and he did buy—if he could afford the down payment, unlike so many Millennials—then he bought while interest rates were still at all-time lows.

La la la-la, la la la-la, real estate. (Sesame Workshop)

Then there’s Oscar the Grouch. Sure, it looks as though he’s still living in a metal trashcan. It’s only an affectation. In fact, his new accessory dwelling unit tucked in front of Elmo’s building includes recycling and composting receptacles. And this is only one of his micro-units on Sesame Street. Oscar is now splitting his time between his classic vintage-themed can and newer interconnected recycling and composting bins around the neighborhood. (And nothing was the same. Does Oscar even love trash?)

Fortunately, gentrification on Sesame Street hasn’t necessarily been matched by displacement. Hooper’s Store is still standing. (It appears that it has been renovated, with an eye toward historic preservation.) Cookie Monster has moved upstairs over the shop. Despite his struggles with addiction, Cookie Monster has been able to find and keep housing; he has even become a locavore evangelist in recent years. Grover, who remains homeless and performs itinerant odd jobs where he is needed, can still call the neighborhood his home, thanks to the high quality of its social services.

Still, there are signs of unease on Sesame Street. A new development by Big Bird appears to be one giant nest, drawing criticism from those who think that pop-up housing is inappropriate for Sesame Street. Some worry that larger nests are changing the character of the neighborhood.

Let’s hope that as Sesame Street enters its 46th season, it can hold on to the qualities that drew so many muppets to the neighborhood in the first place, while upzoning to make room for all.

Single-bird zoning on Sesame Street. (Sesame Workshop)
Mixed-use retail on Sesame Street prioritizes local business first. (Sesame Workshop)
The new community center on Sesame Street. (Sesame Workshop)
Abby is experimenting with urban gardening. (Sesame Workshop)
There goes the neighborhood. (Sesame Workshop)

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps is a writer at CityLab. Previously, he was a senior editor at Architect magazine.