In the Concrete Jungle, NYU Gardens Thrive

Abigail Weinberg, Deputy Features Editor

Ferns and columbines spring up along the shadowy alley east of Bobst, tulips bloom on Bleecker Street, wildflowers cover the Kimmel rooftop and vegetables grow behind Bareburger and Citibank. This isn’t a description of a distant utopia — it’s the fruit of NYU’s urban landscaping projects, seen by everyone but acknowledged by few.

NYU’s gardens have transformed concrete plots into oases of plant life. Coles may no longer house NYU athletics, but it is still home to 4,000 bulbs that bloom each spring. Twenty two species of oak tree sprawl across a half acre of land in NYU’s Silver Towers Oak Grove, first planted there in the 1960s. The cogeneration plant on 251 Mercer Street, which produces heat and electricity for NYU buildings, sits beneath 13,000 square feet of native trees, shrubs and perennials. And the roof of the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life is covered with native greenery, which is visible from the upper stairwells in Kimmel.

These are just a few of NYU’s 700 outdoor green spaces in the concrete jungle, all of which are maintained by Supervisor of Sustainable Landscaping George Reis, Groundskeeper Michael Begasse and a landscaping crew of NYU students.

Among Reis’s most notable contributions to NYU’s urban landscape is his 2,200-square-foot garden in Schwartz Plaza, east of Bobst, which was featured in the New York Times in 2009. This native woodland garden, full of ferns and columbines, resembles the plants which inhabited Manhattan upon its discovery by Henry Hudson in 1609.

Across from the 60,000 square foot NYU-owned Sasaki Garden in Washington Square Village is a strip of land maintained by the Community Agriculture Club, a model of student involvement in urban farming. The group hosts canning and oil-infusing workshops, wreath-making sessions and springtime salad parties with the greens they produce.

“We’re really trying to foster community in our garden space and just act as a place where people can come and learn about urban agriculture,” said co-president and Gallatin senior Margaret Weinberg. “We’re really like a social gathering place with a dual mission of having a garden and a green space and producing food.”

The academic counterpart to this community club is Steinhardt’s Introduction to Urban Agriculture course within the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies. Students enrolled in this course work in the NYU Urban Farm Lab to learn about the application of horticultural skills in a city environment.

“It’s mostly stuff related to the efficacy and healthiness of growing plants in urban environments,” said Community Agriculture co-president and CAS senior Katie Dorph.

“They’re more of an academic space and we’re more of a casual community space,” added Weinberg.

Whether or not students acknowledge the work of urban agricultural landscapers, the fruits of their labor are omnipresent, from the 108 sidewalk planters filled with treeform hydrangeas, liriope and seasonal flowers to the 8,000 square foot memorial garden on One-Half Fifth Avenue. Even at the most urban college in the world, flowers are always underfoot.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 11 print edition. Email Abigail Weinberg at [email protected].