|Saturday, we defended the library and looked at what the city had to offer.|
Throughout the winter, the stories of our lives here churn between art, books, thoughts and public spaces we enjoy and are support by in the city. All weekend we defended and reveled in these vital spaces. This summer, I talked with Adam Purple about the community gardens. He spend much of the interview speaking about libraries as public spaces, full of gems and treasures, mysteries and insights much like his Garden of Eden. These things overlap in my mind, our need for gardens and libraries, art and trees. Friends and spaces where we can think about our lives and communities, the art we love and the stories which bring us here. Yet, they need support. In the same way a car can mow down someone walking in a public street, the private can consume the public, as our commons, our gardens, libraries, and stories, are bulldozed by the privatizers. It is up to us to keep them alive. And so we do.
Friday, we made our way through the cold to Greenpoint to catch up with friends and eat perogies.
At dinner, we talked about the gardens and the tired false dichotomy between gardens and affordable housing. We need both, of course. We need both. That was the lesson of the Lower East Side Collective. Gardens are not getting in the way of affordable housing we argued back in 1999. Its been the same argument ever since. But the city keeps pulling out the conflict when it wants to justify bulldozing green space.
The story about Esperanza community garden was on my mind all weekend long, as we contemplated the 15th anniversary of its loss, as well as the other gardens still on the chopping block today.
Saturday on Valentines, I tweeted out:
Remember Esperanza, bulldozed 15 years ago.
#deblasio #dontberudy HPD take the 17 gardens off your RFP list.
My friend Kerstin Mikalbrown wrote one of the best stories about the garden in our book From ACT UP to the WTO, “Saving Esperanza Garden: The struggle over community gardens in New York City.”
The Esperanza Coqui
Walking down my street, I sometimes get the feeling that I don't belong. Between all the concrete paths and advertising billboards, genuine contact with other people often slips through the cracks. I eat in private — whether at home or at secluded tables in restaurants. I live with one roommate who I hardly see. And I when I go to work, I sit in a cubicle, by myself. Ironically, I am not alone in this. Being alone is par for the course in most large urban centers. In fact, it seems that cities are more and more designed for people to live very alienated lives. New York City is one of them. There are almost no public spaces in this city. Socializing is based around cafés, bars, restaurants, and shopping — private spaces where you need to pay a fee (whether a cup of coffee or drink) to stay. They are commercial spaces designed to make a profit. And if you cannot afford endless four dollar cappuccinos or seven dollar drinks, you find yourself with not a lot of places to go. Even the public parks — which are there are not many of — are full of venders, fences, and curfews. And I rarely have an encounter with someone else in the park.
That's why I was amazed to find myself sitting in front a campfire in a garden in the middle of Manhattan one night this winter, surrounded by strangers who were talking to me as though I were sitting in their own kitchen. The garden was called El Jardin de la Esperanza, Spanish for "The Garden of Hope." It was a community garden on the Lower East Side, a garden created and enjoyed by neighbors. It was destroyed by the city of New York.
We’d have a garden reunion for those of us who took part in the defense of the space on Sunday. These gardens are places where we meet our friends and watch our communities take root. They are places to meet up. As Henry David Thoreau wrote:
I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
But first Saturday, a few of my friends from that old campaign were on hand to support the NYPL, another piece of our public commons, the NY Public Library. We’d been talking about the commons all week long.
This idea of a pulsing commons where we meet to make art, hang out, and share our lives, this first glance of what New York could be happened for me when I was a kid living in Dallas, reading through Art After Midnight, a book about the Lower East Side (LES) art scene. Here, punk overlapped with graffiti, surrealism with the Jetsons, pop with AIDS activism all pouring out of the streets into the gallery and back into the clubs and in between the corners of our minds. That’s what I thought when I looked at the Kenny Schwarf
Thursday, the city felt like some of that spirit was alive between a book reading at Bluestockings and the opening, All Together Different LES Art.
Lore would have it that the storied past of the Lower East Side and East Village art scenes ended with gentrification in the 90’s. But some of those very artists have stayed and continued making art. This show is a survey of current Lower East Side artists — those still engaged in a forever changing and a forever the same neighborhood; of those still making art, all together, different.
A project of the Educational Alliance Art School @ Manny Cantor Center, ALL | TOGETHER | DIFFERENT brings together nearly 100 Lower East Side artists and arts organizations actively working in the community. Curator Linda Griggs. Curatorial Advisor Yona Verwer.
On View February 12 - April 1 2015
Opening Reception | February 12, 2015 | 7-9PM |
at Manny Cantor Center: 197 E. Bway
Portraits by Steve Ellis in the "Ignited New York" photo booth, and extended, moody bass and percussion by Scott Williams and Eric Holzman.
Running into my friends at the show, it felt like some of that world and promise I felt looking at art after midnight and the downtown scene still felt real and alive. The art was pulsing and fun, thoughtful and mysterious, opening questions, provocative interpretations, and alternative realities.
Saturday, we met at the NYPL to celebrate the libraries for Valentines.
WHAT: WHEN: WHERE:
“You Don’t Update a Masterpiece,” “Library Blues.”
Heavens to Murgatroyd!: Just consider that it took the NYPL over eight months to erect scaffolding to start the inspection process.
Sunday, we walked around the LES between on our way to the anniversary gathering about Esperanza. It’s the gold standard for my activism, because we were all invited in to take part in the campaign. We were all invited to take part in an ever expanding, bountiful image of our community.
We talked about what Esperanza meant and what we have to do to save the gardens under threat today.
|JK pulled out my note to the Coqui from February 2000.|
|images of the LES gardens and friends on a winter afternoon|
596 Acres posted a nice update on the gardens at risk last week.
Last month NYC Housing Preservation and Development published a list of 181 City-owned properties available to developers for free to build new housing on. Seventeen active community gardens were included on this list without any consultation from the gardeners, the GreenThumb program, local City Council representatives or the community boards for the districts where the properties are located. We created a map and let all the stakeholders know how the list affected their gardens.
Our work helped get impacted gardeners, their neighbors, the New York City Community Garden Coalition and many many allies to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday morning asking Mayor Bill de Blasio to not give our land away. Council Members Antonio Reynoso, Robert Cornegy, Mark Levine and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer each wrote a letter asking for the gardens to be preserved and for our precious public land resources to be carefully considered before being given away (you can read the letters by clicking on their names). The New York Times covered the story and go the Mayor on record saying, "we’ll take a hard look at whether communities are best served by these gardens staying as they are. We’ll make those decisions in partnership with each community.”
Check out photos from the rally here and watch gardeners from Harlem Valley Garden and Patchen Community Square speak up on Brian Lehrer on CUNY TV! (That's a shot of the sound room at the bottom of this newsletter!)
Want to keep the momentum going to preserve the gardens on the #hpdlist? There are action steps on the New York City Community Garden Coalition web page. Write a letter to your council member! Email your borough liaison to the Mayor's office! And keep in touch with gardens at risk to ask how you can help!
Colin was at the meeting Sunday. He wrote a fantastic summary.
Aresh Javadi, left, of the advocacy group More Gardens, at a gathering to remember a fight in 2000 to save a community garden.
A photograph of Esperanza Community Garden. Many who fought to save it in 2000 attended the gathering on Sunday.
An online petition is asking the city not to build new housing over the Jackie Robinson Community Garden in East Harlem.
|and a wintery journey home.|