Friday, April 17, 2009

East Houston Street Park

What a difference a day makes. Actually, what a difference people (can) make.

Yesterday I was thinking realistically of planting a median. Now an entire park is being planned! I met with Namshik Yoon, Robert McLean and John Feely this morning, of the NYC Parks Department. Chief Yoon, as the Chief of Operations, decides what happens. Robert McLean helps make it happen. Over the last year and a half he has renovated Sara D. Roosevelt Park. It took 9,000 hours, mostly from volunteers. He describes himself as "a neurotic farmer". He used to farm coffee in Hawaii. For Monsanto.

I feel lucky to have met with them. All it took was picking up the phone to ask about the derelict lot on East Houston. Note to self. Pick up the phone more often. I hate phones.

They were pleased about the idea for the median, but pointed out that the whole of East Houston Street may be ripped up in 18 months' time if the budget is still there for its renovation. I don't mind planning a two year perennial garden. But their interest lay across the street. How would I feel about designing the empty strip and lot on the north side of East Houston?

How would I feel?


This has been one of my favourite perplexing spots in Manhattan, ever since I started to work on the Lower East Side, six years ago. Irreplaceable Artifacts' old brick house collapse on the corner a few years ago (one of their stone pillars crashed through several floors, and then the outside wall came down), and since then the pillars and stone pieces have lain about tragically and intriguingly. Every spring I watch here for the white violets to start blooming, which they are doing now. Apparently the city owns the land, but has not had the funds to turn it into the park it should be.


The Parks Department has undertaken to dig up the tar and concrete, cart out bad topsoil, and truck in new topsoil. HWV provides plants and planting labor.

So few of us enjoy in-ground gardens in the city, and I can't think of anything better to plan. Having the opportunity to make something beautiful in this big city is very satisfying.

So I have some very pleasing homework this weekend. Plants, plants, plants. First the perennials and prickly shrubs for the median, which we will plant in two weeks, and then this more important project. On Monday I will be given the key (to the city, it feels like) to the wrought iron gate in the fence, and we will be able to start measuring.

If anyone wants to help plant when the time comes, please give me a shout. And Dinah? Stop kvetching about the long commute from Australia. !

Below, Nam Yoon, me, and John Feely, who runs the crews who look after Greenstreets.

Chief Yoon had to rush off to another meeting at City Hall. What is it about, I asked him.

Rats, he said.

I love New York.


  1. Congratulations, Marie! (Callooh, callay!!) A whole park ... you're amazing! And it sounds like you have some progressive people in local government -- how refreshing! Now I'm inspired, too. We held a meeting last night at our county government center to plan our first -- that's right, first -- community garden. (Mariposa County is small -- only about 19,000 people -- rural and very conservative.) We're still in the land acquisition stage, but at least we've generated interest. Our non-profit organization and one of our local land conservancies are partnering to get this project going. I hope can be successful, too.


    P.S. You look quite beamish in that photo!

  2. and i was excited about seeing the median, ha!!

  3. Congratulations! Wow, you are such an inspiration. I live in an old industrial city in Massachusetts where we do a lot of guerilla gardening in empty lots, but you have taken it to a whole new level. Fantastic work! I look forward to watching it progress from afar.


  4. Kudos to you and the crew!

  5. Fantastic news! This is all very exciting and deserved. :-)

    Now would it be possible to name the garden after somebody notorious? Like, me?

  6. That's fabulous, Marie! i was excited about the possibilities a median presents...but wow, a whole park!

  7. WOW!!! Congrats, Marie :) So pleased for you! I love these sorts of stories: where someone goes forth, intrepidly and gets a little bit of something golden done.

    What about that drink/snack meetup? Soon, I'm hoping!


  8. This is wonderful!!! Are you freed from the median then? I hope so! BTW, how many square feet is this new prospect?

  9. Keli'i - with a name like Mariposa your country deserves to have a community garden :-) Have you read The Earth Knows my Name by Patricia Klindienst? It is inspirational. For that matter so is Richard Goodman's French Dirt, about his community garden in France...he used to moonlight for HWV.

    m.heart, well hopefully even the median will show you something when you come and visit :-)

    Gigi - it's a lot of fun, and a bit daunting. Now one has to consider plant thieves! I'm going to have to have a neighborhood watch.

    Thank you Dinah -

    Beence: hello :-). Hmmm, the Beence Garden? We'd have to grow beans.

    QC - I'm choosing plants for the median as we speak.

    Hi Pritha! - well, if we can get a key permanently, we can have a dreenk in the new park...

    Amarilla, no, we're hanging on to the median, I hope not foolishly. I'll know on Monday how many square feet the park is. Hard to guestimate because of its shape. Bigger than my terrace. New blog?

  10. Marie:
    Rich Cardillo here. I haven't spoken to you in eons! I was e-mailing the NY Times article about volunteerism to people at work and noticed your comments there...which led me here! Thanks for beautiful beautifying...something always needed, wanted, and cherished in NYC!

  11. Hi Richard! I hope you will stop by and check on the plantings. Y'all are missed :-)


Comments are moderated (for spam control) on posts older than 48 hours. Yours will be seen!