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Green Space War on Elizabeth Street

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday May 16, 2018

City parks and neighborhood green spaces are vital to their residents, offering places to stop for a break in the crush of urban life: lunch away from the desk; coffee and chat with a friend; if you’re lucky, an hour or so to read a book, sketch, or to simply to gaze at some lovingly tended plants. 

The Elizabeth Street Garden in Nolita is such a place. Map Since 1990, the former PS 5/PS21 schoolyard has been planted and maintained as what has become a necessary addition to a densely populated neighborhood. The nearly 1-acre lot was leased from the city by gallery owner, Allan Reiver, who cleaned up and landscaped the junk-strewn space next to his shop. He later added classical statuary from his gallery to the newly pleasant spot and invited visitors to enjoy it during working hours. 

In 2014, a group of neighbors and local business owners joined Reiver in an effort to increase public access and preserve the garden as a open green space, newly accessible through restored gates on the Elizabeth Street side. The group evolved into Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden [FESG], developing public programs including tai chi and art groups, and developing a major gardening effort that includes growing perennials, annuals and herbs for all of the plantings. A loyal group of volunteers is on hand daily [except in bad weather] to open and close the garden, maintain the plantings and encourage visitors to become helpmates in the effort to save the garden, under threat of development since 2013.

Briefly, the site became part of a redevelopment plan initiated by City Council member Margaret Chin, supported by Mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio, to build affordable housing supposedly with a priority for seniors. As the City’s plans evolved, FESG was re-tooled into the 501[c]3 Elizabeth Street Garden Inc. [ESG], with a legal team devoted to fending off the development plan, which they maintain will never deliver the amenities originally proposed by Chin. Info

Preserving and protecting the Elizabeth Street Garden is a continuing effort of ESG, which urges visitors to become involved at any level, from weekend weeding to joining the legal effort through petitions and donations. Info For the Spring season, the garden is open daily from noon to 5 pm, with scheduled tai chi and watercolor classes as well as readings and art presentations. Info In addition, the Call to Artists invites submission, which are posted on the website Info The ESG sustainable land trust proposals can be read hereAll photos © Peggy Roalf 4AlexSim

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