Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Adam Purple, Grandfather of Sustainable Urbanism and the Greening of New York City #RIP #AdamPurple

Adam Purple channeling Lenny Bruce.

The first time I met Adam Purple was on December 8th, 2012 at the opening of the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, a museum located in the storefront of a squat, C Squat as it was known, on Avenue C n the Lower East Side of New York city. 

Adam Purple gave a very, very funny rant about gardening and deep ecology with a Lenny Bruce twist. "Everybody shits," he explained. "The question is where you shit." There is a law of return. Take food out of the ground and put it back. Purple told a story explaining that for years, once a week, he would take a bowel movement and bury it in his garden. "No one ever bothered me about that. They were following the squatters bill of rights: LEAVE MY SHIT ALONE!" The room filled with laughter. It was not the only laugh elicited from a man who suggested we read books by looking at what is left out.

Two years later,  I met Adam Purple, the founder of the world-renowned Garden of Eden community garden, at 99 E 6th St, inside the bicycle co-op for Times Up! a radical cycling group, where Purple was rumored to live inside the refrigerator. And there he was the man often credited with starting the New York City Community gardening movement, dressed n simply a pair of shorts, cleaning out a beer can for recycling.  I introduced myself, asking f he had a minute to talk. He said he was busy. 
A minute later he paused, asking me if I had ever taken my own bowl movement and buried it and watched bugs take it over.
Sure, I had, I explained.
Good.  It’s the law of return, explained Purple. You take something from the land, you’d better put something back. It’s a law that you dare not break. Any civilization which compulsively shits in its drinking water, will not survive.  Of course, part of what purple is pointing at is an image of a more sustainable world.
Some people freak out when I ask them that, explained purple.
The City certainly freaked out when they heard that I buried one there once a week. I’m not stupid enough to ride my bike up to central park and back, three miles to get horse shit every day and not bury my own.
This was all part of the efforts to create the wondrous monument known as the Garden of Eden, a world renowned garden/ work of art which spanned five city blocks n the Lower East Side until t was bulldozed on January 8, 1986.
“It what was called Earth work or land art. By definition, its subversive because the rich cannot buy it and put it away in a museum. Its also subversive because it goes they are circles, which are anathema to the grid system.
“That’s enough for today.  I’ll interview more if we can keep the interview to shit…”
And so I interviewed him one more time the next week.  Purple talked about the ways gardens and libraries are really alike.  They both open up ideas and secrets.  He asked that I go to the New York public library and find one of his books. Come back when you find the book, he told me.  I never found the book.  But the connection between the flowering of ideas, from the trees, the ground, the books, the ideas, the dialectic between nature and civilization, our head and the body, intellect and feeling, that always stuck with me.
I loved talking with friends about Purple.
We even ran into Harvey Wang, the photographer who recognized the importance of Purple’s art, documenting it for decades.  We talked about Purple and his books that he seemed to miss.  Wang recalled those books and the days in the garden.
He also heard through the grapevine about Purple’s passing.
Some sad news...Adam Purple died yesterday; a heart attack while biking across the Williamsburg Bridge. It's hard to imagine NYC without Adam. Most recently, he was working and living at Time's Up Brooklyn, 99 South 6th Street, where there's already a sidewalk memorial. I remember him best in the days when he was working on The Garden of Eden...”
I had heard from the Times Up! grapevine that he was gone, as we rode to a Public Space Party meeting.
But it doesn’t make me sad to think of him gone, noted one of the Bike Mechanics.  I was just glad to hear know him, this legend.
It was like seeing a ghost to run into him at Times Up! 
“Damed drunks,” he mumbled to himself, tearing off the top of a beer can he was recycling, clad in blue cut off jeans, his ubiquitous beard and ideas flowing.
He was one of the great artists of New York, noted another Times UP! volunteer, recalling Purple.
I remember seeing him when I was a kid in central park, recalled Catherine.  I was like nine and there he was in his purple tie died outfit, picking up horse maneur.  He was like a hundred then and that was 1979.  And then I saw him at Times Up years later.  

Everyone had stories about Adam Purple.

 And we loved to tell them.  

The damned chemtrails, he railed in the space, looking out into the air sky.

He was strong, recalled another volunteer, just not much body mass.

Purple at the Times Up space. Courtesy Times Up!

Earlier in the day, Bill Times Up posted a message to the Times Up under the title, “Remembering Adam Purple.”

Yesterday, September 14, 2015, we lost one of New York's most well-known and colorful environmentalists. We also lost one of Time's Up's oldest and most dedicated volunteers. Adam Purple died of a heart attack while riding his bicycle over the Williamsburg Bridge.

We all knew and loved Adam. His commitment to a sustainable lifestyle was unrelenting and all-encompassing. The community garden that he created with his own hands, fertilized with horse manure from Central Park, was so lush and grandiose that even NASA saw it--from outer space! Appropriately, it was called the Garden of Eden.

For the last couple of years, Adam, whose legal name was David Wilkie, had been living at the Time's Up Brooklyn space, helping with day-to-day operations and night management. 

In the upcoming days we will hold a memorial for Adam and we will keep you updated on the time and location.

Below is a short film about Adam Purple by Harvey Wang.

“The gates remained unlocked, it was truly a community garden,” recalled Adam, referring to his old garden, destroyed the by the city in 1985.

Wendy Brawer of Green Map System noted: “So Sad to see this - Adam's purple footprints drew us to the neib in 1986, and he taught deep ecology at the very first Green Map event in 1992. Special thanks to Times Up for housing him and helping us all stay in contact with this learned activist.”   
Some in the group recalled him as a community gardener, others as a cyclist hauling supplies by bike, moving to the from Central Park to the garden. 
I remember the labyrinth of ideas flowing through his mind as we talked and talk last summer.

Adam Purple and The Garden of Eden

by Harvey Wang ·          
 Today, stories about sustainable urbanism are everywhere.  This is the idea that cities can be mutable works of art, as the Garden of Eden demonstrated.  They can be places to slow down and just live. Today, as a new mayor plans to sell off gardens to make way for housing few can afford, the story of the Garden of Eden  is worth recalling.  This garden/ work of art, brought community resilience and care, green space and ideas.  It was a place for water to seep back into the earth, exhorbing flood waters, opening a model of cross class contact, recycling and green community development.  It should still be there.  But its legacy lingers. If New York is to survive it could do well to recall these lessons, as it just might be the future of New York city.
And who knows, maybe it is?
As Sarah Ferguson recalled in A Brief History of Grassroots Gardening in NYC,

“By the early 1990s, some 850 gardens had been established--more than 60 of them on the Lower East Side. Yet these plots were becoming increasingly threatened as the neighborhood gentrified, and the city revived long-standing development plans. Inspired by the destruction of Adam Purple's world-renowned Garden of Eden, in 1994 another Lower East Side woman named Felicia Young began hosting pageants to dramatize the plight of the area's green spaces. Every spring, throngs of glitter-and-gauze wrapped dancers, giant puppets, and mud-caked performers wind their way through the neighborhood's eclectic spaces, re-enacting the gardeners struggle to keep their land.”

Today, that dance still continues, so does the struggle for the gardens.  But we always remember Adam Purple.   He reminds us that, cities are more than spaces for accumulation and over development.

They can be places to conserve, reuse, and renew, he reminded us.

John Penley explains: "One of the things I remember about Adam Purple and the Obits have touched on it but have not gone into detail about it and that is that he was recycling things in large quantities before most people had even thought about doing it or even called it recycling. He was a true Pioneer in this respect. I remember that after he was evicted from his Forsyth Street building the word got around that there was a party there and people could come and take anything they wanted. I went and was amazed at all the different things he had in the building and it was seperated into different rooms. There was a room packed with magazines, a room with bike and other spare parts , a room with bottles, plates, eating utensils and on and on. It was pretty amazing and things were orderly and separated but there was a massive amount of stuff he had collected over the years and people were blown away and took a lot of the things but it must have been very sad for him to lose his Garden and his building and all the things he had collected over many years. One thing for sure there will never be another New Yorker like him. Too bad because he was a visionary and a creative genius. His Garden was like no Garden I have ever seen before and he used organic garden techniques before any of us had even heard the phrase Organic Gardening used. Adios, Adam and the cosmos must be spinning faster because you are part of it now."

“People thought he was crazy,” Mr. Wang said, recalling Purple. “But Adam was speaking the truth when the truth couldn’t be heard.”

The Lower East Side Harvest Festival is coming up.  A few of us will be remembering Purple in El Jardin Paraiso on September 26th all afternoons.  Others will remember him in their own gardens and lives, their own libraries and compost spaces. 

RIP Adam.  

Peter Shapiro's photo recalling Adam Purple's hopes for the Children's Magical Garden in the Lower East Side.

1 comment:

  1. ☯ A number of articles I've seen have stated that his book is in the library's Rare Books section, which may be why you couldn't find it. I came across one article that said it hosted at Geocities (with implied sneers that electricity was involved). Geocities is defunct, but this appears to be it: