Elizabeth Street Garden: New Yorkers win legal battle to protect their garden | Media Pyro



Emmanuelle Chiche remembers the first time she stumbled upon Elizabeth Street Garden, a beautiful green space hidden between rows of concrete buildings in lower Manhattan.

Unlike other urban gardens, he remembers the idea. He was returned to France, his native country, with its many beautiful neoclassical sculptures and columns.

“In this place, I learned that there is such a thing as loving a garden,” said Chiche, 55, as she stood on a stone balcony overlooking a bush of blooming pink roses. At the bottom, the visitor stops to take one of the flowers to his nose. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and smell the aroma.

Since 2013, Chiche and others in the Little Italy neighborhood have been concerned about the city’s plans to replace the garden with another building. But on Tuesday, they celebrated a victory in the legal battle to protect it.

Emmanuelle Chiche and her daughter, Elsa, live at Elizabeth Street Garden, where Chiche works.

Supreme Court Justice Debra James granted a 2019 petition by Elizabeth Street Garden Inc., the non-profit organization that manages and maintains the garden, to block the construction of an expensive condominium to replace it. . James also ordered the City of New York, which owns the property, to conduct a full environmental impact assessment before development is approved.

“When I saw the announcement I started shaking,” said Norman Siegel, the civil rights attorney representing the nonprofit. “According to the case law they have to look closely at environmental issues, and one of the biggest issues they have to look at is the loss of open space.”

Sitting on a bench in front of Central Park’s Upper West Side, Siegel smiled widely. “They won,” he said, adding that the city could not defend the development plan without showing that it would harm the environment.

The New York City Department of Housing and Development called the judge’s decision “disappointing” and said in a statement to CNN that it would appeal — signaling plans for a lengthy battle.

Haven Green, the project planned for the site, is a 123-unit affordable rental apartment for seniors, according to the development’s website. It will also include a green space, retail store and new headquarters for Habitat for Humanity New York City.

HPD says Haven Green is necessary to address New York City’s growing problem with affordable housing and was designed with the environment in mind.

“With 100,000 seniors waiting for access to affordable housing, we cannot allow a small number of anti-housing voices to continue to block programs that are desperately needed by our our city,” HPD told CNN.

Opening in New York, a former group that advocates for affordable housing, echoed HPD’s position. “The delay in housing is untenable, and we can’t allow a few voices against housing to block 100 percent affordable housing in a high-income neighborhood,” the statement said. by executive director Annemarie Grey.

But Joseph Reiver, executive director of Elizabeth Street Garden Inc., says it’s not that simple.

Her father, architect Allan Reiver, turned an empty, dirt-filled lot into Elizabeth Street Garden. The elder Reiver, who ran an art gallery and filled the garden with his collection of sculptures and artifacts, died in 2021, leaving the garden in the hands of his son and thousands of volunteers. has been fighting to protect it for almost ten years.

“It’s an inheritance from my father, but it’s not my garden,” said Reiver, sitting on a bench in one of his quiet corners. “They belong to this community, the community values ​​them, and they will be sad to lose.”

Norman Siegel, the attorney for Elizabeth Street Garden Inc., rejoices at a press conference announcing their legal victory.

Reiver disputes HPD and Open New York’s claims that Elizabeth Street Garden Inc. a fringe group opposed to affordable housing.

“It’s a dumb choice, a divide and conquer process, let’s say, would you prefer affordable housing for seniors or a lush community garden? You missed the point. We really need both,” said Reiver. “We really need to question any agency or leadership that says we can only do one or the other.”

Habitat for Humanity New York City CEO Karen Haycox insists Haven Green provides both, as it plans for 16,000 square feet of green space available to the public.

Siegel argues that the green space promised by the project “will not be like the Elizabeth Street Garden” and that it will sacrifice the necessary amenities for the garden at this time, including access to sunlight and the place for important social activities.

According to First District Council member Christopher Marte, who represents the area where the garden will grow, the community says there have been many requests for the city “to build affordable housing for seniors in some other places we can reach four times more units than the Elizabeth Street Garden site. .”

The city rejected those requests, he said.

Supporters of Elizabeth Street Garden believe that the environmental impact statement will show that the construction of Haven Green will have a negative impact on the environment and the quality of life in the area.

Christopher Kennedy, associate director at the Urban Systems Lab at The New School, says it’s the right decision.

“The more green space the better,” Kennedy, who wrote a study on the positive effects of green spaces in cities, told CNN. “Green spaces have endless benefits in terms of climate, especially urban flooding issues. Because of the extreme heat, which can be high in the 50s, the abundance of vegetation such as trees and shrubs can cool the area by several degrees during the evening, life or death is different.

“When you take away green spaces, the vulnerability of New Yorkers increases,” he added.

Gardening can have a “significant” effect on the mental health of local residents, Kennedy said. Many rely on garden events and programs — including morning yoga, summer movie nights, poetry readings, and partnerships with local schools — for a sense of community.

“The garden is very unique because although there are many public parks and larger parks, they cannot provide the same services as the garden,” he said. “It’s not about going outside for fresh air, but also for the chance to connect with your neighbor and community, can have beneficial mental health effects.”

New Yorkers gathered at Elizabeth Street Garden for evening music on the central green space, where public events took place.

That could affect local wildlife, advocates say. Elizabeth Street Garden, certified by the National Wildlife Foundation, is a way station for endangered monarch butterflies, providing nectar, nectar and shelter.

The city has identified other parks that provide similar services, but not as much as Council Member Marte’s.

The area is “not very visible,” he said. “Our neighborhood shows that Elizabeth Street Garden is one of the places to bring green to Little Italy, Chinatown, SoHo, and NoHo. Although we like Washington Square Park, it’s not in our neighborhood. It’s a very different place, and most seniors can’t make the 20 minute walk to that park.

Renée Green, a senior and chairman of Elizabeth Street Garden Inc., says gardening is important to her health and well-being.

“Since I moved here 15 years ago, I’ve had arthritis,” said Green, 91. “Gardening is everything to our community, and for people like me, As we grow older, we will lose our Only access to nature, to society, and that will be very dangerous.”

Nicholas O’Connell, 51, lives across the street from the garden. According to him, the land of the community cannot be saved.

“You walk through this area where there are no trees, there is no shape, and to destroy the garden and the ecosystem that it has created is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “We don’t want whatever they’re trying to bring, it’s not going to be like what we have here.”

Along with unique sculptures from the Allan Reiver collection, Elizabeth Street Garden boasts a gravel path bordered by decorative stone railings designed by French landscape architect Jacques-Henri-Auguste Gréber in period of the Gilded Age.

In every corner of the temple there is another bay, with benches hidden under the shade of colorful trees where the birds sing, to calm the noise of the city. Sun seekers have endless options to lie among the pear trees, rose beds, dahlias, asters, dianthus, and geraniums.

“It’s like walking into a magical garden from a storybook, it’s so real,” said Geena DiGuilio, a gardener.

On the balcony in front of him a couple sat on a bench, hands intertwined, reading books to each other. Later that evening, the bride and groom laughed as they ran down the path to the entrance of the garden.

“My favorite thing is to bring my friends and watch their faces when they visit for the first time and wonder ‘what is this place?’ And seeing them immerse themselves in the magic,” DiGuilio said.

A woman reads on a balcony, overlooking the rose bush, hydrangea and various flower beds in Elizabeth Street Garden.

The Department of Housing and Development insists Haven Green will not be a nuisance to the community, and says it is committed to the project. “We stand by our environmental reviews, we have decided to bring Haven Green to this site, and we will take all the steps available to make sure it happens,” it said in he said.

In opposition to those efforts, Reiver said the nonprofit will try to keep Elizabeth Street Garden as a conservation land trust, so it can continue to operate the garden and its community programs without interference from the city.

Meanwhile, Reiver is urging Mayor Eric Adams and other officials to visit the garden and see its effects for themselves. “Come and see what’s going on,” he said.

After last week’s legislative victory, he and his supporters believe anything is possible.

“Many people saw us as a small garden that would not win. But we won, at least for now, and we will never relax,” said Chiche.


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