Monday, September 28, 2009

Park on East Houston

The soil sample from our planned park on East Houston. I dug several 8" deep holes along the length of the currently empty lot, mixed all the soil I collected up in a clean container, and bagged a half pound for mailing. Soberingly, the far western end is only 2" of soil over a submerged paving scheme.

It was only recently that I learned that this used to be a park! This from an LES resident who has known the area for almost 40 years. The city closed it in the 1970's due to the pressure of complaints from neighours - whose (derelict) gardens abut the lot - about the homeless people who used to sleep on the benches and light fires at night to stay warm. Ok, I don't know the New York of the 70's, the 80's or even 90's. Though I still see the effects of dope use on our little strip of Forsyth Street - the midstride, 90' bending waist, rooted to the spot, oblivion - which is near the last holdout areas of flophouses and soup kitchens, the city of danger is not one I know from experience.

I also see, again and again, the reaction of seasoned officials to, for instance, the concept of having benches in the park. You must make them so no one can lie down! is the injunction. My knee jerk reaction is to tap on an imaginary wristwatch and say, Um , hello, 2009, anyone? - Before I remember that these guys run the parks, and have seen more than I ever have.

But I do see the homeless on a daily basis. And something disturbs me about "getting them out". To where? How desperate to have no home, not even a park bench.

The City will begin excavating in mid-October. There is a lot of old paving and concrete, that old layer beneath the 2" of soil, and maybe more to surprise us, too. I'm not sure how long it will take, so we may or may not plant this fall. Tricky. But spring is good, too.

The soil sample is being mailed today to Dr. Cheng, Brooklyn College Environmental Sciences Analytical Center, 2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11210. Thanks to NYCGarden for that contact.

If you need to analyse your garden's soil, you can download the simple form you need from here.

I am of course curious about its pH, and nutrient content but also heavy metal levels. Some of the plants I'd like to include have edible berries: amelanchier, elderflower [selfish!...I want berries and lowers for cordial and jam!], blueberry...

I spent the whole of today happily working on the final plant list, in heaven. Sans interruption. Cross-referencing, checking on bloom times and sequence, fruit, sourcing plants. Making wishlists. I'll post it soon.

And the benches will be friendly.


  1. There's a homeless man who lives on my short block. I call him the one armed bandit and he calls me greenthum . He set up an encampment in a lot with only a foundation. Some neighbors will have nothing to do with him because he fakes a lost arm to beg for money at the light. But, he respects gardening and always gives me a hollar when I'm puttering about "Yo Greenthum!" Just yesterday, concerned about his neighbor's roses, he asked me what could be done to make the flowers last longer. I told him I'd take a look. My wife brought him BBQ the other night, we had extra. Sometimes I think I could build him a nice shelter in the lot, a fun project - but then I don't want to presume or impose. He's tidied it up pretty nicely so far. I'm impressed with that simple human ingenuity.

    Hope the soil's worth its weight. I'm sure you guys have a company for bulk, but if not, I've had success awhile back with Nature's Choice in Jersey:

  2. Good story...maybe you can collaborate on a shelter :-)

    There's a guy near work who has a trolley, a deck chair and his life in the trolley...There's another guy who asks me for a swipe of my unlimited card, at 2nd Ave. There's an old man who sits sadly near the office and drinks a solitary beer when he can.

    The City's adding a couple of inches of soil - though it looks like the good soil I found is on an unidentifiably gritty substrate (about 8" of soil, presumably from the old park), that we're going to have to live with. I have begged for loads and loads of compost...

  3. I know...some people don't "like" homeless people. They just make me sad. I always think about when they were babies...someone took care of them, fed them, clothed them, bathed them...I always wonder what went wrong.

    I help out when I can...if they ask...


  4. To My Farmhouse Kitchen: Have you ever seen the classic movie "The Conversation" with Gene Hackman, directed by Francis Ford Coppola? There's a key sequence in the movie that has dialog almost identical to your thoughts ("...I always think about when they were babies... someone took care of them...")
    Here's part of the director's transcript:
    … She looks at an old man with a shopping bag drowsing on a park bench. [-- “I always think the same thing. I always think (buzz) he was once somebody's little baby boy!”] The old man rouses himself in the background, rises and begins to follow the couple.

    Boy the useless trivia in my head. And online too.

  5. MFK and Pam - I wonder if maybe I internalized that conversation from the movie, because I think the same thing. Maybe that's where I got it.

    Homelessness is complex, and defies attempts at a pat Solution.

    One of the most interesting conversations I've had in Brooklyn (which is becoming increasingly conceited about its interesting conversations) was on Amity Street with a man who wore tin foil antennae wrapped around his head. He knew more about Thabo Mbeki's policies than I did.

    Coalition for the Homeless is an organization that does proverbially good work, and benefits from any dollar handouts one is able to give.

  6. A friend just sent me a txt message:

    I just got the keys to gramercy park. When can you come?

    I went in once when I didn't really know it was closed to the public (I was 18). I followed a slow mover thinking little of it. I had squirrels sitting practically on my shoulder. Then I wanted out. NO ONE WOULD LET ME OUT.

    I don't like the smell of urine much in my parks, but then I can't imagine how one keeps their well laid plans from being slept on by the homeless without that gated community quality.

    Its possible your park lot was once a building; its mystery underpinnings the a mystery fill.

  7. Hey Frank - I remember how outraged I was that I, I! moi! of all people, couldn't go into Gramercy Park. I don't like it, I have to say, the gatedness of it. It's quite Grimms Brothers...

    It sucks, big time.

    But have fun! Will you pet the squirrels. Are you allowed to picnic??


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