By Joseph Reiver
The City is moving forward with plans to destroy the Elizabeth Street Garden. It has selected Pennrose Properties, LLC as the developer and sugarcoated the plans with as many sweet-sounding details as possible. The City calls this plan a ‘win-win’ scenario and has plopped a hollow, offensively ironic cherry on top by naming the destruction of a 20,000-square-foot, heavily used community garden ‘Haven Green.’
Do not be deceived by the fancy developer’s renderings. Instead, see the truth of the matter: The administration, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Council Member Margaret Chin have continuously ignored our community’s outcry—for just about five years. They have ignored the thousands of letters and signatures in support of protecting and preserving the Elizabeth Street Garden in its entirety. They have ignored Community Board (CB) 2’s four resolutions and rejected a true win-win outcome. No matter how the City sugarcoats the plans, it is taking away a public and community treasure.
The privately owned, public green space, which the City offers as a “compromise,” is a ruse. The developer’s renderings do not depict the reality of such a place. Constructing a seven-story building on the Elizabeth Street Garden site would destroy the large trees, lawn, and planting beds, as well as block most, if not all, of the morning sunlight. The already existing Section 8 housing, just south of the garden site, would block most midday light; the setting sun would only briefly reach half of the proposed garden. We must remember that the Elizabeth Street Garden (and all gardens and green spaces in this City) are living, breathing entities. We care for them, maintain them, enjoy them, and they care for us. They give us breath—literally and metaphorically. They bring us together and heal us. Urban public green spaces are as essential as affordable housing, and with proper city planning, neither has to exist at the expense of the other.
Now, to those who are not familiar with the fight to protect and preserve the Elizabeth Street Garden, the City’s development plans may sound quite beneficial. That’s because, generally speaking, they are—just not at the expense of a preexisting public oasis. Senior affordable housing, with realistic low-income requirements, is as necessary as public, open green space—for seniors and for all. Those involved in fighting to save the Elizabeth Street Garden are not against senior affordable housing. Acknowledging both as fundamentals, the community has identified a solution using an alternative location that can provide much more affordable housing: 388 Hudson Street—a vacant, gravel-filled, 25,000-square-foot lot.
Achieving a true win-win solution requires having an open and transparent conversation, one our community has strived to have with de Blasio and Chin for years. It requires both politicians to visit the garden and recognize firsthand what they are working to destroy. It requires no more shady deals. In 2012, Chin quietly slipped the Elizabeth Street Garden (referring to it as a “vacant lot”) into an amendment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal project on the Lower East Side. She did this even though the two sites are in different community board districts and no public review of the Elizabeth Street Garden plan was conducted. CB2 was only notified after the fact.
A true win-win solution requires the truth, not convenient falsifications such as “the site was always ear-marked for affordable housing,” which de Blasio stated at his June Town Hall. Achieving such a solution requires the City to stop prioritizing politicians and developers over the communities it claims to represent.
The City does not need to pit affordable housing against public green space. Both are vital to the planning and health of New York City. Both are achievable. Destroying the Elizabeth Street Garden will be absolutely devastating to this neighborhood and our community. Preserving the Elizabeth Street Garden and building senior affordable housing on the alternative site is the true win-win solution, one that will allow all to flourish.
Joseph Reiver is the Executive Director of the Elizabeth Street Garden and a born-and-raised New Yorker.