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NYC: Liz Christy Garden Saga Continues.... With Commentary.

  • Subject: [cg] NYC: Liz Christy Garden Saga Continues.... With Commentary.
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 00:14:53 EST


[Note: I have attached a news article from the "Villager" on the Liz Christy
Garden in NYC. My comments preceed it.]

I loved Liz Christy, who got me involved as a "seed bomber," and community
gardener on the Lower East Side when I was a  teenager over 30 years ago. My
last LES garden was  Adam Purple's Garden of Eden -
http://www.earthcelebrations.com/gardens/eden.html , which was founded by the
erascible LES artist and
squatter, Adam Purple ( no relation.)

 I was one of the original Liz Christy Garden pioneers, moving rocks, etc.,
in this garden as well in other LES gardens.

Liz Christy was a highly charismatic, motivated, visionary and hard working
woman. In all frankness,  I still can't believe that she died of cancer, all
that many years ago. I'm older now than Liz Christy was when she died, dear
Liz, whom I always see as being young, and will forever be so in my mind.

The eponymous garden that Christy founded, along with several others on
Manhattan's Lower East Side, ( LES) is quite pretty, and the gardeners have
done a
lovely job in maintaining what is basically a corner viewing garden in a small
plot of land.  http://www.pps.org/gps/one?public_place_id=45

 Liz Christy Garden is a seminal community garden for the modern community
garden movement, founded by "St. Liz,"  mother of the movement in NYC.
the garden has seldom been open to the public except on a few select hours on
weekends, or when a gardener deigns to let a passerby walk through it, if he
or she is inside gardening during the week.

Having been one of the many passersby who have tried to get into Liz Christy
garden  during the week,  when a Liz Christy gardener was working inside and
able to let me or another passers-by in, and been waved off, I can understand
why the garden is not loved as much as it should be by its neighbors.

Alas, The Liz Christy garden is really seen by many neighborhood residents as
a "their" place instead of "our place," which is antithetical to the idea of
a real community garden, in my mind. And the antithesis of what a public
garden space on highly valuable NYC real estate  should be.

It is this "private garden," ethos that I find as difficult as the attitudes
of developers to combat when I and others advocate for community gardens with
city agencies, community boards and neigbhorhoods throughout NYC.  It is only
when community gardens are perceived to serve their communities, instead of
being "private gardens," that they are most sustainable and perceived as being
worthy of community support.

Walking the walk: In contrast, the Clinton Community Garden in Hell's
Kitchen, http://www.clintoncommunitygarden.org/ has its gates open, with
in place, every weekend during the spring to fall season, and over 5,000 keys
for neighborhood residents to enjoy the space, year round. And there is a huge
sign on the front of the garden that says, "If you want to get in the garden,
please call to someone inside and they will let you in."
And we don't mind having the windows of our neighbors looking down on us,
because those windows keep the garden safe and accessible to our neighbors -
Clinton Community Garden was the first NYC community garden to be transferred
to parks and takes it's mission of running a public facility that serves its
community - a NYC park run as a volunteer fire house, so to speak, very

But then the Clinton Community Garden has an ethos of service to community
that has been part of our sustainabilty/survival  strategy and commitment to
neighborhood since our founding in 1978.

It is in this context that this article that recently appeared in "The
Villager," should be read. No doubt, if Liz Christy's gardeners actually
served the
community in which their garden on public land is sited, there would be
greater support for it.

A community garden is not a sincure for a small group of gardeners on public
land, but an accessible green space that actually serves and is perceived to
serve the larger community in which it is sited. It is from this ethos of
service and the community's perception and appreciation of that service that
community garden  sustainability is based.

Adam Honigman

From The Villager, Greenwich Village, NYC.

Border war pits garden vs. developer

By Hemmy So

In the continuing effort to revitalize the Lower East
Side, AvalonBay Communities plans to begin
construction in the near future of a new residential
building on the north side of E. Houston St. near the
Bowery. However, the feared impact of the forthcoming
demolition of the existing Church of All Nations
building on the adjacent Liz Christy Bowery Houston
Community Garden, a community garden established in
1973, has the gardeners up in arms and they are
demanding that AvalonBay modify their plans.

On Dec. 8, Green Guerillas, the leading community
gardening advocacy group, distributed a letter asking
the public to write letters to Parks Commissioner
Adrian Benepe and Mayor Michael Bloomberg regarding
the protection of the gardenbs northern property line,
along which numerous trees grow.

bAvalonBay insists that it must excavate into the
garden all along the north wall, thereby destroying
all the trees and the fish pond near the property
line,b the letter states. Green Guerillas also
expressed concern over a large window planned for the
ground floor of the new building, which would look
directly into the garden.

Such issues became urgent after an October meeting
involving the Liz Christy gardeners, AvalonBay, the
Parks Department and Department of Housing
Preservation and Development. During that meeting,
AvalonBay informed the gardeners that demolition of
the adjacent building would begin after Jan. 1.

As phase one of its development of the remaining
Cooper Sq. Urban Renewal Area properties, AvalonBay is
currently completing a new residential building across
the street on the south side of Houston St., to
include a community center and Whole Foods

The gardeners are most concerned over the 3-foot
excavation into their garden. bThey really didnbt give
us much reason, they just said it had to be done,b
said Liz DeGaetano, Liz Christy Garden treasurer.
bItbs to save money, because they can easily respect
our property line by building their foundation in a
certain way. But itbs quicker and cheaper to excavate
and then pour their foundation.b

Bob Paley, AvalonBay senior development director,
said, however, that the developer is currently
investigating other construction methods. bWebre in
the middle of a process, and really it has come down
to literally inches on how you build a building. The
main thing here is that if there were a building
instead of a garden, the [new] building would
[already] have a foundation wall.b

Paley explained that pouring a foundation for the new
building demands bshoring,b a process in which a
temporary wall is erected around the building site to
support the walls of the foundation. Because new
buildings are typically constructed next to existing
buildings in New York City, shoring is unnecessary.
But in this instance, Paley explained, lack of shoring
may cause the Liz Christy Garden to collapse into the
hole left open for the building foundation.

Paley said that AvalonBay had discussed shoring with
relevant groups, including the gardeners, two years
ago. bThere may have been a misunderstanding as to
what it was that we meant, whereas people in
construction would have known. It was discussed two
years ago, but probably not with same degree of
focus,b he said.

The Liz Christy gardeners insist, however, that less
intrusive options are available. Penny Jones, a
12-year garden member, said that an architectural
adviser to the Liz Christy Garden proposed at least
four alternatives at the October meeting. bThis
architect explained to them several methods by which
they could do it, with all the technical terms,b she
said. bThere are different ways of doing the shoring
where they donbt have to come within an inch of our
property line.b

Should AvalonBaybs plan proceed, the Liz Christy
gardeners say that several trees along the northern
garden boundary would be destroyed. Among the trees
affected are the gardenbs signature 50-foot-tall blue
Atlas cedar, four apricot trees and a variety of
fruit-bearing trees, DeGaetano said. Although the
gardeners have already started transplanting some of
the plants along the northern wall, the trees cannot
be transplanted or replaced, she said.

Jones also brought up a provision in the land
distribution agreement between the city and AvalonBay
that only allowed destruction of plants attached to
the northern wall. The gardeners view this to mean
only the vines on the wall, not the trees. Paley,
however, believes because the treesb roots are
intertwined with the wall, they may be damaged as part
of the demolition process.

Paley insists that AvalonBay has worked tirelessly to
resolve the gardenersb concerns and that the developer
continues to work through their issues. But he pointed
out the uphill battle of addressing what he considers
small details amid the broad range of issues
associated with urban renewal development. bPut this
in perspective of the overall project, the affordable
housing, amenities and community center,b he said.

With respect to the large ground-floor viewing window
to which the Liz Christy gardeners object, Paley said
that although the land distribution agreement between
the city and AvalonBay allows the new building to have
such windows, the company decided to change its design
after listening to the gardenersb concerns.

Similarly, a few years ago, after gardeners objected
to AvalonBaybs plan to bisect the garden with a path
to the new building, the developer dropped that idea.

Though the Liz Christy gardeners have more worries
about the preservation of their community garden, the
two groups have not yet scheduled another meeting. At
the October meeting, the Parks Department requested
that each group put together documents explaining
their viewpoints, something the gardeners have already
submitted. In addition to the excavation and window
issues, the garden group also fears the garden will
suffer from less sunlight as a result of an
overshadowing new building and excessive use by
building residents who will use the garden passively,
as opposed to contributing to its upkeep.

Jones remarked that garden members have already seen
construction workers clearing out the adjacent
building and performing asbestos work, sure precursors
to a looming demolition. But Paley assured that
AvalonBay would not perform the demolition without
first speaking with community members. bWe want to do
everything to protect the garden, and I canbt
emphasize that enough,b he said.

In the meantime, people have already begun sending
their letters to city officials thanks to the Green
Guerillasb efforts to preserve the garden. bThe Liz
Christy Garden is our birthplace b our organization
was founded at that site. Our job is to support them,b
said the Guerillasb executive director, Steve
Frillmann. bPeople are writing letters and sending
e-mails to their local elected officials and also the
mayor and Parks commissioner. We donbt have the exact
number, but we know people are doing that. So there
are a good number of people showing their support.b

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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