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Aaron Booher

What’s Happening to the Elizabeth Street Garden?

Tucked between Spring and Prince Streets, the Elizabeth Street Garden is a beloved corner of the Little Italy community– an unexpectedly lush vista between buildings dotted with sculptures and benches.In addition to community gardening, Garden volunteers program more than 200 free, public educational, wellness and arts-related events year-round for children, seniors and all who live and work in the neighborhood. On the weekends and in good weather, the space is always teeming with people, enjoying cups of coffee, camped out with full on picnics, or just wandering through.

At the beginning of 2016, New York City (who owns the space) announced they would be developing the plot into housing. As to be expected, there was immense outcry from local residents, and as a result of community action, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation withheld funding, seeming to secure the continued existence of the garden in an area that categorically has few green spaces. But in September, the Department of Housing and Preservation Development released their official intent to redevelop the land–once more sparking controversy.

elizabeth-street-garden-photo-by-john-benscoter

John Benscoter

While the dilemma might seem one sided, with a clear “right” side– what could be better than a green space in an area as crowded and built up as Lower Manhattan?– the project the city intends to build is 60 to 75 units of affordable senior housing and ground-floor retail. Housing for seniors in New York is a long standing issue; those aged 62 and over are at an increased risk for unsafe housing conditions, facing impossible to pay rent fees, and being evicted.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Elizabeth Street garden argue that there are far better locations nearby for an affordable senior housing development, and that removing access to this type of park space will be detrimental to the larger community, including seniors who are unable to visit parks further away.

Currently, the city is accepting proposals until December 14th for what the housing will look like; simultaneously, Elizabeth Street residents are pushing to preserve the garden as a green space and NYC park. As a city with so little viable real estate, New York is an especially contentious place for discussion of who has a right to certain spaces; rarely is there an easy answer.

To learn more, visit the Elizabeth Street Garden’s website or the NYC proposal site.

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