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In May,1999, $4.2 million was paid, including $1.2 million from Bette Midler, to preserve many threatened gardens forever, in May, 1999. While this victory was significant, there are still over 40 gardens on the Lower East Side and over 400 gardens throughout the city, that remain slated for destruction by proposed development plans. The pending restraining order filed by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, in February 2000, is still preventing constuction on many gardens.

The NY Times article “City in Talks to End Lawsuit Over Community Gardens” on April 26, 2002, revealed that Mayor Bloomberg is attempting to resolve pending litigation from the previous Giuliani administation. The proposed resolution indicates that “some gardens would be developed and others would not.” As there has been no serious analysis, environmental impact study, nor comprehensive approach to their preservation on a city-wide scale, any rush to a resolution could destroy many valueable gardens. Proposed Legislation by gardening community aims to address: * Recognition of community gardening as an existing use of city land. * Indentifying gardens by their names and as gardens on all reveiw agendas. Community gardens are classified as “vacant lots” and listed by block and lot numbers, which makes tracking the gardens difficult and confusing for both the community and city officials voting on these sites. * An end to accelerated UDAP land use shortcut for community gardens, and a return to the ULURP land review process. (to give due process for input on the local community level and review of local needs) * A requirement for environmental impact review before gardens


On Thursday, April 25, 2002

Cabo Rojo a magnificent garden with casita was bulldozed to make way for development. This garden had been moved from its original location and the new site was not protected on Attorney General Eliiot Spitzer’s restraining order.

Since 1991, Earth Celebrations, in collaboration with the gardeners, artists, activists, and over 50 local schools, community centers, churches, and environmental and cultural organizations launched a campaign to achieve the goal of preserving the network of over 50 community gardens on the Lower East Side of New York City. Through public pageants such as the Rites of Spring: Procession to Save Our Gardens and Let The Garden Live! Winter Candle-Lantern Pageant, Earth Celebrations has mobilized a coalition of over 5,000 community residents and organizations, that has been working to preserve the Lower East Side Community Gardens through a Land Trust and Permanent Site Status.

The Lower East Side Community Gardens were created by the culturally diverse and low-income residents from garbage strewn vacant lots.

In the 1970’s, because the City had removed fire houses from these areas, whole blocks burned to the ground. Some accused the City of planned shrinkage and direct effort on the part of the City to displace the low-income population and pave the way for the Lower East Side to build market rate development. Throughout the 1970’s these vacant lots were neglected by the city administration, and became dumping grounds of toxic waste and dens for drugs and crime in the neighborhood, until the people gathered together, cleared away the rubble and planted trees, flowers, and vegetable gardens. Now, some of the gardens in existance for 25 years have rejuvenated the neighborhood and the people.

In the 1980’s the City developed a plan called the cross-subsidy plan which targeted almost all of the gardens for middle and market rate housing. Although housing is acknowledged by the gardens as another vital need, the development is market rate-housing, out of the reach of the low-income or homeless population. As there are still abandoned buildings and vacant lots, the gardeners propose building needed housing on alternative sites, and preserving the gardens as vital oases for the entire community!


On January 8, 1986, the City destroyed Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden known world-wide for it magnificent design of colorful concentric circles of flowers, plants, and trees, with a yin/yang central design. Since the destruction of the Garden of Eden, the movement of community gardens on the lower East Side has continued to grow, but always under the impending doom of the bulldozer. The destruction of the Dome Garden on May 24, 1994, and the recent demolition of the ABC Garden (8th Street bet. Aves B & C) in January 1996 again signaled the increasing threat to these vital green spaces.

In September 1995, the local community board voted to release 6 magnificent gardens for market rate development.

On Monday September 11, 1995 at the Housing/Land Disposition/Zoning/ NYC Housing Authority Committee meeting, CB3, with 5 present members ( 6 absent) voted to approve 9 sites for the Housing Partnership RFQ. The nine sites listed include:

  • the Green Oasis & Gilberts Sculpture Garden on 8th Street between Avenues C & D (block: 377 lots: 18, 20, 22, 24,25),
  • the 9th Street & Avenue C Garden (Block: 379 lots: 53-56),
  • the 10th Street Garden between Avenues B & C (block: 393 lots: 28-32, 41-44),
  • 9th Between Avenues C & D Garden (block: 379 lots: 53-56), and the Suffolk Street Garden (block: 349 lots: 1-08, 12, 13) .

On September 19th, 1995 the full community board reaffirmed this vote! The vote passed, with garden supporters voting also for the development, because the vote was misrepresented and people were told they were voting to release vacant lots, NOT GARDENS.

The Community Board vote was never rescinded despite massive protest and an acknowledgement of an illegal handling of the vote by the Borough President’s office. This fall, on Tuesday, September 17, 1996, another 4 gardens were released for development by the local Community Board Housing/Land Disposition Committee despite over 50 gardeners speaking on behalf on preserving the gardens. The room was filled with supporters of the gardens on this stormy rainy night, and not one person spoke in favor of releasing the gardens for development. After lengthy impassioned speeches, the committee handed out their vote that had previously been typed and photocopied.

It was obvious that they were carrying out a decision made before the meeting and that no consideration was given to the wishes of the community. The vote ended that evening releasing 4 gardens for development. The vote includes:

  • Holy Mary of Mother Garden (block 378 lot 49) on 9th Street between Avenues C & D was voted to be released for development under the cross-subsidy plan for market-rate development.
  • The following gardens were voted to be put of for sale and auction including: Koenig Andenckgarten:
  • Urban Botanical Society on 7th Street between Avenues B & C (block 377- lot 71)
  • the Sculpture Garden on 6th Street between Avenues B & C (block 389-lots 58-59)
  • 6th/7th Street Garden on 6th Street between Avenues B & C on northside (Block 389-lot 55) were voted to be sold

De Colores Garden was reccomended for a greenthumb lease.

At the full Community Board Meeting on Tuesday, September 24, 1996, again a hall filled with hundreds of supporters for the gardens, as well as for the CHARAS and CSV cultural centers that were on the auction block. Gardeners and community residents spoke at length of the need to preserve their gardens, and again the community board passed the vote of the Housing Committee reccomending De Colores garden for a green thumb lease and the other 4 to be released for development.

It is obvious to the community the first level of the democratic process does not work and does not represent the low-income community.

In response the impending threat of destruction on the gardens, Earth Celebrations organized a public meeting on November 17th, 1994, to develop a plan of action and build the New York City Garden Preservation Coalition. 68 gardeners and activists attended a public meeting at St. Brigid’s Church, that defined the campaign and preservation process and formed the Lower East Side Garden Preservation Coalition. Since that public meeting, Earth Celebrations has been hosting monthly follow-up garden preservation meetings the 2nd Wednesday of the month at 7pm, at their space (638 East 6th Street, 3rd floor).

The preservation campaign includes:

  • letter writing to elected officials,
  • research on proposed development plans for the gardens,
  • creating an new map with all the gardens marked,
  • negotiating with elected officials,
  • mobilizing residents to attend and speak on behalf of the gardens at community board meetings,
  • publishing a newsletter of information on the status of the gardens,
  • building a collaborative web-site with information and electronic letter writing campaign, garden histories and photos,
  • and on-going advocacy activities and public pageants.

The Lower East Side community garden network is an ecological monument in New York City, and a vital part of the ecological and cultural heritage of this low-income community. The diversity and number of the gardens does not exist in any other city neighborhood in the world, and tourists world-wide flock every year to visit these magnificent natural sites.

Through years of hard work, sweat, and dedication, the people have worked together to transform abandoned rubble-strewn lots into living breathing natural spaces. These gardens provide an invaluable natural, as well as cultural resource, for thousands of people in the community, including: needed open space, fresh air, trees, and flowers; outdoor environmental and gardening classes for school children; multi-cultural centers, featuring theater, music, arts programs, public festivals and events; inter-faith churches for religious ceremonies, weddings and funerals; healing centers for seniors, the handicapped, and those dying of AIDS; and a place to grow vegetables, needed food supplements for many people.

The gardens have also removed the drug dealers from these former untended vacant lots, removed sites of toxic waste dumping, reduced crime by attracting children on the streets and engaging them in a positive life affirming activity, and relieved tensions that exist between the diverse cultural and special interest groups by uniting people through nature to get to know one another and discover their common interests and goals.

AS THE NEW YORK CITY ADMINISTRATION FURTHER SLASHES THE BUDGET FOR SOCIAL SERVICES, WHY DESTROY THE GARDENS THAT ARE PROVIDING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF SOCIAL SERVICES TO THE COMMUNITY FOR FREE. The gardens must be preserved providing vital and irreplaceable open space and a place for people to reconnect with nature, plant gardens, and build a peaceful neighborhood for generations to come.

The gardens need your support, so please become a voting member of the New York City Garden Preservation Coalition to preserve this ecological wonder, from demolition and plans to turn the neighborhood into a concrete luxury wasteland, displacing many of the low-income residents and destroying the quality of life we all have strived hard to create!

We need your support. Please take time to read the Garden Preservation information and become a voting and active member in the protecting the gardens, and the ecological and cultural heritage of the Lower East Side of New York City.


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