With rents rising and the constant need for affordable housing in New York City, the unfortunate loss of a unique green space in Little Italy looms. Once a portion of the long since demolished P.S. 21, the 20,000 square foot Elizabeth Street Gallery is in jeopardy of losing the lease on their city-owned outdoor lot after being targeted as a location for affordable housing. While the city has been planning to use the space for housing since 1983, action is being taken and the threat of losing the lease is imminent.
Open space in Little Italy – where the majestic garden is located – has been shrinking for decades, and few of the area’s “parks” are actually green. After being granted access to the space in 1990, the Elizabeth Street Gallery began transforming the lot into a sculpture filled sanctuary. The grassy lot has been populated with trees and meticulously landscaped, playing a gracious host to a well-curated collection of sculptures, statues, and benches.
“You have to wonder what New York will look like in thirty years,” said a local whose enjoyed having the garden in her neighborhood since moving there two decades ago. “Everything about living in the city is about space, so losing one–especially one with such character–is upsetting.”
Though it only became a community garden recently, the public had access through the conjoining gallery space, which instituted programming to make the space more interactive with the neighborhood. Movie nights, musical performances, youth art programs, and the well-attended Harvest Festival have all been successful initiatives created by a committee, aptly named Save Our Neighborhood Garden, aiming to preserve and further integrate the community into the space.
The group has continued to raise awareness of the possible loss of the garden, creating an online petition directed towards the local Community Board, and awareness of the public hearing regarding the fate of the space earlier this month. As inhabitants of this concrete jungle, New Yorkers can’t deny the need for affordable living or the need for public space, but the garden is a unique part of the neighborhood that provides more than just somewhere to sit and relax. It’s become a hub for the surrounding community, providing the simple pleasure of being able to forget the hulking buildings and concrete that constantly surrounds – and sometimes suffocates – New Yorkers.