Last week was food trucks, this week the topic is community gardens in NYC, specifically the East Village and Lower East Side. Our intrepid intern Brian scouts out some gems in the Lower East Side and the East Village that you may not know about. Talk about an oasis in the city.
The 1970s was a rough decade for New York City. Economic decline showed its ugly face in the region’s abandoned buildings and derelict tenements. Squatters became commonplace, and the East Village section of the Lower East Side was consumed by high crime and an emerging drug epidemic. But at the end of the decade and well into the 1980s, Manhattan’s Lower East Side began a revolution. Today, these mixed-use neighborhoods hold some of the city’s most coveted real estate. But the revival did not come spontaneously, and instead, was stimulated by the collaborate efforts of the community’s volunteers.
These dark times yielded abandoned buildings, which were set aflame by arsonists, and then ultimately demolished. Their plots of land sat unoccupied with piles of rubble, leaving community organizers with a sort of blank canvas for regeneration. This action was a part of a larger movement taking place all over the city, where residents were turning empty urban lots into beautiful gardens. As of 2011, there are around 640 such spaces around the five boroughs, with the Lower East Side and the East Village home to almost 70.
As a way to aid the area’s rebirth, the real estate industry coined the term “East Village” to distinguish the neighborhood north of Houston Street from the rest of the Lower East Side. This came around the 1980s, when the area’s improvements led to renovated tenements and the reemergence of the East Side as a thriving and integral community. The new gardens continued to dot the streets, and became an attractive feature for incoming residents.
The first community garden in NYC was established in 1973, by local resident Liz Christy and the Green Guerillas. Originally called the Bowery Houston Community Farm and Garden, it was renamed the Liz Christy Community Garden in honor of it’s founder. One of the highlights is a 2 1/2 foot deep pond with fish and red-eared slider turtles.
In Alphabet City, there are several fine examples of small, yet thriving gardens tightly situated between five-story tenement buildings. One fantastic example of this is 6th Street’s beautiful Creative Little Garden, located between Avenues A & B. The members of this garden consider it more of a “community backyard” then a greenspace, and the gorgeous landscaping is maintained by a collaborate effort.
Located right down the street from the Creative Little Garden, is the 6BC Garden. There you can enjoy a small fish pond, grotto, grape arbor and more. There are even a couple of picnic tables available for use by visitors… a great way to eat lunch and relax. Like most gardens, is meant to be a quiet place to enjoy nature.
All gardens in the area are continually maintained by volunteer work and donations. Most offer memberships, which might require a certain amount of volunteer hours, along with a monthly or annual fee. Several larger organizations, including Green Guerillas, accept donations that are then passed down to various garden organizers for purchasing items such as tools, soil, and fertilizer.
One non-profit organizer is the East Village Parks Conservancy, which has been helping to preserve these spaces for over fifteen years. The Conservancy sponsors community programs that encourage youth to participate in the volunteer efforts. Their website has a detailed map of all of the greenspaces in the East Village. Another similar place for information is the Sixth Street Community Center, where urban gardening experts provide tips and advice on tending your greenspace.
The Lower East Side, and in particular the East Village, has seen a drastic urban renaissance over the past two decades, and is now one of Manhattan’s most desirable locations. Alphabet City’s culture and community has been revived, thanks in part to the volunteer efforts of its citizens and their motivation to create a green, sustainable neighborhood. Whenever the gates are open, the public is welcome. Grab a seat on one of the benches and relax in one of these unbelievable oases.
Alas, I have plans this weekend, but you can bet I will be checking out some of these gardens soon. I admittedly have not spent enough time in the East Village… at least during the day. Thanks Brian, for the info.