Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Secret 'Community' Garden

The East Village has been my home since 1992 when my family first moved here from Chinatown. One distinguished characteristic of this neighborhood are the many community gardens. Of them all, my favorite without a second thought, is the 6BC Botanical Garden. This place is for a New Yorker, a Manhattan resident, an East Villager, an oasis from the busy city life.

Stretches of vines covered the tall iron gate. Bushes hide the view of the outside traffic of cars and pedestrians. My favorite spot to sit is at the stone table. Here I have spent countless hours reading and writing, pondering about life. Or just simply enjoying some precious moments of solitude. There is privacy here, despite it being a public space. A tiny pond is the home for a few delicate water lilies. The garden is filled with many diverse plants and though small in size, I feel like being in a forest. I am now a regular visitor, but I still enter the garden each time impressed and in admiration. Such care in creating something so beautiful, out of what was once nothing.

6BC Botanical Garden came from a rubble-strewn empty lot in the early 1980s when East Villagers, all volunteers, started re-building it. It is part of GreenThumb, a program of the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. “Established in 1978, GreenThumb remains the nation's largest urban gardening program, assisting over 600 gardens and nearly 20,000 garden members throughout New York City. GreenThumb was initiated in response to the city's financial crisis of the 1970s, which resulted in the abandonment of a tremendous amount of public and private land. Residents of these devastated communities transformed these unattractive and unsafe spaces into green havens. These community gardens, now managed by neighborhood residents, provide important green space, thus improving air quality, bio-diversity, and the well-being of residents. But gardens aren't just pretty spaces; they're also important community resources.”

I went away for college and lived abroad in Paris where I frequented many of the city’s little parks and gardens. In the past year and a half, I immersed myself in environmental filmmaking and was exposed to more of what Nature has to offer. I have come to acquire a genuine appreciation for the conservation of green spaces, and feel for city dwellers it is especially needed for a balance living.

After a near decade away I came back to New York City to find a lot of the characteristics have changed. Like other neighborhoods in Manhattan, the East Village has been affected by the city's exploding development - and 6BC like that of other New York community gardens, was threatened. I am very grateful that such unique things like the community gardens are still here today in the East Village.

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