Recently I was in the East Village and stumbled upon this beautiful little garden, tucked away between two five story buildings on East 6th Street (530 East 6 Street). This little slice of paradise is aptly named Creative Little Garden. The garden is planted with ornamental trees and shrubs with several small alcoves where people were sitting on benches reading and sipping coffee; small children were playing, as parents tried to stow away strollers in out-of-the-way corners. One of the most amazing sights is all the way towards the back of the garden, where a large weeping willow stands. That tree drapes over the entire backyard and dappled light falls over you like silver coins.
Community gardens are unique to New York City as far as I can tell. The genesis of these gardens lies in the 1970s fiscal crises when the city acquired many vacant lots and decrepit properties in tax foreclosures. The City’s department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) owned hundreds of vacant lots all over the city and was having a hard time keeping them fenced and clean.
In 1973, a not for profit group Green Guerillas founded by Liz Christy started to lob seed bombs laden with fertilizers into these vacant lots to fill them with greenery. Soon HPD joined hands with these community groups who were willing to put their time and effort to beautify and maintain these lots as local community gardens in their own localities.
In 1974 HPD signed a lease for $1 a month for a small community garden at the corner of Bowery and Houston streets on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That model was used repeatedly over the years throughout the city and now there are approximately 600 community gardens in the five boroughs of New York City.
The not for profit groups like Grow NYC work with NY City’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the Green Thumb Program which is the largest community gardening program in the nation at keeping these community gardens green. These little gardens, maintained by the local community groups in joint ownership with the city are a new chapter in the City Beautiful Movement which started out on a much grander scale with the likes of Robert Moses who gave us 1,255 acres Flushing Neadows Corona Park in Queens.
Note: I would like to thank Monika Jain for the background research.
- For a brief history of Community Gardens in New York City see Neighborhood Open Space Coalition.
- To find or join a community garden in your neighborhood go to Green Thumbs Get Involved.