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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Garden of Eden

Today, January 8th, is the 25th Anniversary of the demolition of the Garden of Eden. An urban garden or an eARThWORK as it is titled by Adam Purple, the creator of the Garden of Eden. While it wasn't technically a community garden this anniversary is significant to me for several reasons. When I was beginning my career in community gardening I lived close to the Garden of Eden and visited a few times. It was impressive because it was created mostly by horse manure carried by Adam Purple on his bicycle from Central Park. It was a work in progress of concentric circles built from the center yin - yang planting. It was a wonderful place to see and be in.

There was a lot of controversy at the time as community gardens were looked at as a temporary land use and there was a demand for land for housing in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There were over 50 community gardens in the neighborhood AND hundreds of vacant lots in the community. Developers were proposing all kinds of housing projects. The local community board and neighborhood activists were trying to make sure that the current residents weren't gentrified out of their community. Signs appeared in building windows saying "This land is not for sale - It is the property of the people of the Lower East Side. A number of building were being renovated by sweat equity.

Housing was proposed for the Garden of Eden but the garden and Adam had many supporters and there were legal and political efforts to save the Garden of Eden. There were other vacant lots in the community where the housing could have been built. Architects and Urban planners proposed alternative designs for the housing development that would have preserved most of the garden but Adam Purple would not compromise. There was a pending lawsuit to preserve the garden but there was no injunction against bulldozing. In a move that would be repeated 15 years later the city demolished the garden before the lawsuit was resolved.

This was the beginning of the ongoing efforts by developers and politicians to pit gardens against housing. It is of course a false argument because in order to have a livable community it is important to have quality housing and accessible open space. This is a sad anniversary but an important one that taught us lessons that are still relevant today. For me it reaffirms why I do what I do. Community Gardens and open spaces are important and necessary parts of the city I call home and any city. But not everyone feels that way so we have to continue to support those whose hands create our community open spaces.

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