By Keen Berger
- Affordable housing is a top priority.
- Every community needs housing that is truly affordable.
Yes and yes. I agree completely with both statements. I state this at the outset to prevent critics of the Elizabeth Street Garden (including Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Chin) from implying that they are noble, and fighting against greed.
However, like a blind bulldog with a meatless bone, some people fall into an ideological trap that makes them bite anyone who tries to look at the big picture. Housing is a top priority—YES. Housing is the only priority—NO.
I taught at Sing Sing prison, where housing and food are free for inmates. In doing so, I saw that people need more than a small room to thrive. What Elizabeth Street Garden will continue to provide unless the lot is carved up by developers is: (1) a conduit for social support, (2) a community gathering space, (3) neighborhood friendship, (4) plant cultivation and growth, (5) fresh air, and (6) multi-generational interaction. People need all six components to live fully. To destroy them for very few apartments is like that dog with the bone, unable to release its grip and see that people do not live by bread alone. Bread AND Roses are necessary (look that up on YouTube to understand the reference).
In order to make housing a top priority, we must have all luxury developers offer half of their apartments at affordable rents. Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Chin can fight for that instead of letting the real estate industry profit by destroying a valuable garden.
Making truly affordable housing available in every community involves: (a) creating four times more affordable housing on Hudson and Clarkson Streets—an exchange that Community Board 2 (CB2) has made and that the City has not considered, (b) building housing on the former St. John’s Terminal site (for which CB2 and Corey Johnson obtained far more senior housing than Elizabeth Street Garden could ever have), and (c) finding other neighborhood locations where no thriving garden would be displaced.
The neighbors of Elizabeth Street (young and old) believe that their community is park-starved. Some WestView contributors disagree. But everyone should stop growling over a bone and start recognizing that humans need more than a place to sleep. Once the gnawing stops, we can join forces to keep Elizabeth Street Garden whole while creating low-cost housing in areas that now have neither parks nor affordable homes.
I write not only as someone who has taught in prison and in the poorest neighborhoods of the Bronx, but also as someone who has been displaced from her West Village home for nearly a year due to a fire. I have a safe room in Brooklyn, and I am grateful for it. But I realize every day that a place to sleep is only a start: People need community. Elizabeth Street Garden is, for many just that—community.