Panel Discusses the Future of Elizabeth Street Garden

A community panel allowed local residents to share their thoughts on the pending destruction of Elizabeth Street Garden, as well as to hear from experts on zoning and gentrification.

A panel discusses the New York City Housing Preservation and Development plan to replace the Elizabeth Street Garden with affordable housing for the elderly. (Ilona Cherepakhina)

Barring any prohibitive court decisions, Elizabeth Street Garden is set to be replaced by affordable housing for the elderly. On Monday, a panel was held by The New School to discuss the plan and allow community members to share their thoughts on whether or not the city should go through with the redevelopment.

The Elizabeth Street Garden is a community and sculpture garden located in Nolita. It hosts over 100,000 visitors a year and provides free public programs to the nearby community. In 2012, the city announced its intention to replace the garden with a low-cost apartment complex for senior citizens, Haven Green. This announcement prompted outrage and protests among SoHo community members.

Recently, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer approved the development of the complex with the condition that 30 percent more open space be added to the plans. In response, Elizabeth Street Garden Inc. and Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden filed independent lawsuits against the city arguing for a stronger environmental review to be conducted before the project is carried out. They hope to stop the development.

At the discussion, one of the attendees argued that citing affordable housing as a benefit of development is simply an excuse used to justify projects that gentrify the area. Alicia Boyd is the founder of both the Movement to Protect the People and of Flower Lovers Against Corruption, organizations with the goal of fighting rezoning and gentrification in Brooklyn communities.

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“Every time they go into a community of color and they rezone, they put more pressure on every other community,” Boyd said. “It’s a ripple effect. Now, everybody’s property is up for sale and every community board that has land, their councilperson is looking to take that land and sell it to developers to build ‘affordable housing’ that is never affordable.”

The panelists also discussed the responsibility that gentrification and racism holds in the destruction of community gardens. Thomas Angotti, editor of the book “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement and City Planning in New York City,” claimed the destruction does not only stem from the city but the community itself as well.

Before he could finish his thought, Angotti was interrupted by an audience member.

“What you are explaining is a whole contradiction of entire experience with community gardens and what a community garden is,” the audience member screamed from the fourth row of the packed auditorium. “This is going back to this hoax of malicious, elitist whites, and that we need to go after them by building houses in that place of privilege.”

In response, moderator and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at The New School Mia White spoke about the need for different communities to work together in order to stop the rezoning and removal of gardens.

Nat Elkins, a community member who attended the event, said that he felt that the event was informative.

“I thought it was pretty one-sided as I am on the side favoring the affordable housing project,” Elkins said. “But I thought the moderator did an excellent job in terms of her ethical duty and trying to provide more information.”

Email Ilona Cherepakhina at [email protected]

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