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Elizabeth Street Garden in the East Village of NYC

Elizabeth Street Garden
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The Elizabeth Street Garden is a community-run public space in New York’s East Village neighborhood. You enter the garden on Elizabeth Street between Spring and Prince Streets.

The site has served as public space for over 200 years. According to the ESG website, it began when the Free School Society  opened Public School No. 5 on October 28, 1822. In 1832, PS 5 began offering free night classes for people of color in addition to regular schooling to expand its offerings to the neighboring community. PS 5 also held many public educational lectures in its auditorium that were well attended by all ages. When the original school was torn down and rebuilt, the space remained open for outdoor recreation and open air classes.

The site was then included within a plan for public housing built near by. It was stipulated in the plan that the site remain open for public recreational use. The real estate development company, however, failed to live up to their responsibility of maintaining the site, and it fell into disuse.

In 1990, Community Board 2 passed a resolution to lease the lot to Elizabeth Street Gallery owner, Allan Reiver, who cleaned up the space and turned it into a garden with landscaping and pieces from his sculpture collection.

Reiver included a gazebo (pictured below) made by the outdoor architecture firm Ohlmstead Brothers formed by the sons of famed architect Frederick Law Ohlmstead, who designed Central Park and many Gilded Age sites and mansions. The gazebo is a popular space for weddings.

Elizabeth Street Garden is also a monarch butterfly waystation where caterpillars build their cocoons and release as butterflies. The garden’s caretakers maintain many plants that provide nourishment and shelter to monarchs as they migrate through North America.

Through a series of political machinations, a local city council member included the site in a new public housing development plan despite the fact that larger unused spaces are available to be developed instead.

The non-profit organization which runs and maintains the garden has filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the development. The site is used regularly by many in the neighborhood for yoga classes, outdoor films and lectures, and as a place of repose and respite. You are welcome to contribute to the cost of the organization’s legal battle via their website.

Enjoy the photos from my recent visit!

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