Elizabeth Street Garden

Art & Culture

A pretty (contentious) patch of SoHo… check it out before it's gone!

Elizabeth Street Garden NYC

About Elizabeth Street Garden

 & why it made the Carpe City list

Stretching from Elizabeth to Mott Streets, you’ll find the “Elizabeth Street Garden” between Price and Spring. It’s a surprising site in SoHo, a sliver of an outdoor sculpture garden wedged in an empty lot amidst the neighborhood’s hubbub.

The site once housed a school, which was torn down in 1970. In 1981, affordable housing was built on the southern portion of the school site. Then, in 1991, the northern part was leased to “Elizabeth Street Gallery” owner Allan Reiver, who turned it into a sculpture garden.

Reiver planted trees, created pathways, landscaped the plot, and added sculptures from his personal collection. Many of the statues were actually culled from grand homes in Westchester and the Hudson Valley when the owners remodeled and decided they didn’t need their various balustrades and heraldic lions anymore!

From 1991 to 2012, the public could access the Garden through Reiver’s gallery. However, in 2012, the City Council identified the Garden as suitable for affordable senior housing. The proposed housing is backed by Habitat for Humanity and is LGBTQ friendly.

At the same time, residents banded together to save the Garden, creating the “Friends of the Elizabeth Street Garden.” They now run the Garden year-round and keep the gates open, weather permitting, so you don’t have to enter through Reiver’s gallery.

These days, the Garden is a contentious oasis – a case of community green space vs. affordable housing, a painful fight in a city that needs more of both.

More recently, it seems affordable senior housing has carried the day, as the city council had voted to build the development as of June 2019. Still, two lawsuits lodged by “Friends of the Garden” have slowed the process.

Since the city owns the plot but leased it privately to Reiver, it’s not under the auspices of the New York City Parks Department. Therefore, it’s not classified as an official “Community Garden.” But, advocates of the Garden would like to have the site transferred to the Parks Department.

If you like your city politics with a side of stone, this is the site for you!

Carpe City Trivia

Fun facts:

The Elizabeth Street Garden is not an official Community Garden. Still, NYC does have the largest community garden network in the nation. The East Village and Lower East Side have the highest concentration of Community Gardens in the United States!

This dates back to the 1970s when local residents, led by Lower East Sider Liz Christy, created a "Green Gruella" movement. They transformed abandoned city lots left vacant during the city's fiscal crisis into green community centers. They wanted residents to have a respite in their communities and take pride and cooperative ownership over the land they lived on. There's even a "Green Thumb" map that charts the city's community gardens, so you can find the one nearest you!

By: Lucie Levine

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