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BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | In my geographic map of the Lower East Side I describe the section I live in as the center slice — the land mass that divides the lower section of the L.E.S. from the upper section. The boundaries that give this area its size and shape are the Bowery, the East River and Houston and Delancey Sts.
To oversimplify, using the 1980s as a reference point, the most profitable business in this section of the L.E.S. was the sale of hard drugs. A junkie had to be hardcore to come to this end of town to score. The prostitutes who worked the strolls had pretty much landed on the bottom rung of that world. It is safe to say that we were the most politically underserved section in the whole L.E.S. It was rare, even during the election season, to see a politician smiling and glad-handing in this forgotten part of the L.E.S.
For whatever reason, very few empty, city-owned lots turned into gardens. If a garden group, or an artists group took over a city-owned lot, it was not unusual for that space eventually to be sold at a city auction. No GreenThumb here. We did have one garden — so original in its design, so visionary in its concept, so practical in its use of available organic fertilizer, mainly horse manure — that it became a symbol to urban environmentalists, gardeners, and green space activists worldwide: Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden.
However, then as now, those in government who control public land — our politicians, and political clubs with pork-barrel eyes — had other ideas for this little piece of public visual tranquility. They bulldozed Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden and turned it into real estate. To be fair, the space was converted into low-rise, low-density public housing, as well as a home for deaf people. But there had possibly been a chance to save a piece of the garden.
We do have another garden that has caught the public’s attention. That is the Children’s Magical Garden de Carmen Rubio — the C.M.G., on the corner of Stanton and Norfolk Sts.
For many years Alfredo Feliciano, a resident of Umbrella House, at 21-23 Avenue C between Second and Third Sts., controlled the garden. A lovely space, no question, but it was a private space, his space. When he did open the gate, it was usually in the late afternoon and only for a couple of hours. It was not unusual for him to be the only person inside the fence. On occasion one did see a few kids playing. Three-quarters of a block north, the P.S. 20 public playground is where the local kids and their parent went to get out of the apartment.
To his credit, working with Suzanna B. Troy, the two of them were able to persuade the city to put in speed bumps to slow the cars that speed down Norfolk St. It has to be noted that he did keep the lot clean and looking good.
Not too many years ago the C.M.G. underwent some sort of dramatic transformation. The space became active. Community people were staring to use the space. Children were playing in the lot. According to The Villager, three years ago Kate Temple-West and Aresh Javadi took command of the lot. Yes, finally we had a local open community green space.
There is no question that the community needs this garden. In this part of the hood a public green oasis is as rare as a visiting politician. Where is our park? Where are our public gardens? The P.S. 20 yard is a blacktop children’s playground.
Before I get into my objections to the “Save the C.M.G.” protest, I want to state as clearly and loudly as I can: Yes, my vote is for saving this community green space. Especially, considering that gentrification has wiped out just about all of the services that made us a neighborhood: butchers, bodegas, shoe-repair shops, dry cleaners, longtime individually owned business — all replaced with luxury everything, out of size and scale with surrounding buildings, zone-busting, land-hogging apartment buildings and hotels, and don’t forget restaurants.
The urban planners turned a portion of the community into an “Entertainment Zone” whose main attraction is bars. The people who live in this Entertainment Zone with its weekend-partying drunks call this section Hell Square.
However, I completely separate myself from the activists defending the garden. My issue is not with the protesters. The politicians are the dishonest ones. What a sinister, diabolical, deceptive shell game these so-called friends of the community are trying to get over on the people of the L.E.S. All of the politicians: Quinn, Mendez, Chin, Squadron, Stringer, and yes, Community Board 3, too.
When was the last time all the politicians were united, all in agreement, all on the same page fighting for the same cause, our cause? Why has this tiny L.E.S. lot drawn the focus of so many politicians? Because it represents community values, and has community support, which translates into votes. They know their voice has no meaning or power. They know this is private property. Owned by a developer who is ready to develop. They know that there is a history of an adversarial relationship between the gardens and the developer. They know that Bloomberg, a corporate capitalist, Quinn’s pal, will never ask the developer to turn over private property.
The protests, the signatures, the politicians’ support have no bearing or merit in this equation. There is only one solution: to get Serge Hoyda, the developer whose name is associated with the ownership of the property, to trade this lot for a comparable L.E.S. lot. This is a negotiation the politicians can engage in. This is the place the protesters need to focus their attention. Hold the politicians accountable by demanding they come up with a land trade. Make these negotiations public. The Villager can follow the progress of the negotiations. Let’s see if any of these politicos can make this deal work. We need this green space, they need our votes, the developers need another piece of land. Let’s get real.
I have lived on the L.E.S. for more than 30 years, during which I’ve documented and been an activist in numerous political struggles. This is not the first time I have witnessed this kind of political sleight of hand. I have even been tricked myself. I want to see this green space saved. It is not Serge Hoyda who is dishonest. He is a developer. The city sold him the lot. He wants to develop the lot. We demand the politicians save the garden and find Serge Hoyda a different parcel of land. PLAIN AND SIMPLE.