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An Old Garden Grows Again

It is autumn time, but a new old garden springs alive again. After many years of community efforts, Carmen’s Community Garden on Avenue C between 7th and 8th Streets will re-open to the public. Many people and groups worked so hard to help make this happen.

Everyone clamors for more open space.
Everyone clamors for more open space. Photo by Time’s Up!

The rebirth of this open space harkens back to 1999, when the Mayor of New York City was Rudy Giuliani.  At the time there was a widespread movement to protect all community gardens and stop his proposed auction of over 100 of these precious public spaces.

Around the corner at the same time Esperanza Garden was the site of vigorous protests with hundreds of people at some times occupying the site to prevent any bulldozing.

But developer Mr. Capoccia’s BFC Partners didn’t want to heed community concerns. In February of 2000, police arrested 31 protesters who had remained in the garden, many chained to fence posts and a sculpture of a coqui (a Puerto Rican frog). The whole 22 year old garden was leveled and the site was boarded up.    Eastville development was built and the open space remained inaccessible.  This tragedy led in part to then-NYS Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s effort to protect the gardens, which then led to a level of protection for community gardens citywide.  A NY Times Opinion piece at the time stated: “A patch of green or a plot of flowers can often do more for a neighborhood than new apartments and retail establishments.”

The actual court decision and video of the destruction can be found at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space.

The formal garden layout.
The more formal sterile garden layout.

The new garden is named after Carmen Pabon, a Puerto Rican local activist who started the original garden in the late 70’s. Although the current design looks very different than the organic design at the time, the community has a new green space that is intended to be open to the public.

Plaque at the entrance.
Plaque at the entrance.

You can still check out the mural on the adjacent building that is still there, painted in 1984 by John Pitman Weber of the Chicago Mural Group, and learn more in the book “On the Wall: Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City

See the mural and under appreciated sculpture.
See the mural sponsored by Charas and Adopt a Building among others, and the under appreciated sculpture players of old video games will recognize.


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