By Alec Pruchnicki
It should be dead, but somehow it’s still alive. Advocates continue fighting to keep the Elizabeth Street Garden entirely open space rather than a site for housing. Since WestView News first examined this issue in its articles: “Selfishness One, Housing Zero” (May 2016) and “Parks Are Good, Housing is Better” (November 2016), the basic arguments are still the same.
First, the City is experiencing a housing crisis. Homelessness has increased more than three-fold since the Koch administration—from over 17,400 in 1988 to over 62,000 people today. Beyond the numbers, it is plain to see all around the City—they sleep on our sidewalks, panhandle, and show up in our hospitals, prisons, and subways. On rare occasions, they engage in horrific acts of violence. They live in crowded quarters with their families, often with resources stretched to the breaking point. They desperately need housing, not parks.
Second, there is no shortage of parks around Elizabeth Street. The garden is made attractive by its lawns, flowers, and statuary, which other concrete-paved parks don’t have. But, within five blocks of the garden, there are six parks, concrete paved, but parks nonetheless. They have their own strengths, including handball courts, athletic fields, playgrounds, water fountains, public bathrooms, and a food kiosk. Additionally, these parks have extended hours and much more space, which sometimes includes community gardens. Elizabeth Street Garden advocates say that Community Board 2 (CB2) lacks parks. But venture a few blocks north and east of CB2 and you’ll find a plethora of park space.
Now, local business owners, including Allan Reiver, his son Joseph, and a few others, have formed a new organization to sue the City and stop the building of housing. This is unsurprising. Years ago, Reiver did a lot of work to fix up the garden and leased it from the City to store materials from his gallery. Does this give him a proprietary interest in this parcel indefinitely? Years ago, Arturo Di Modica placed his massive Charging Bull statue near Wall Street, at Broadway and Morris Street. When the Fearless Girl statue was erected in front of it, he claimed it infringed on his freedom of speech by ruining the image of his work. Does he have propriety rights on that sidewalk? No, this is stealth privatization of public space.
How does this matter to the West Village? At a recent town hall meeting, several prominent West Village political activists castigated Mayor Bill de Blasio for supporting housing instead of the garden. If he had taken their advice, he would have moved the housing to a lot on Hudson Street, in the heart of the West Village.
Though this debate only involves the West Village slightly now, it may heighten a lot more in the near future. Stay tuned.