9th Street Community Garden
May 25th • EAST VILLAGE
The 9th street Community Garden is one of the more magical green spaces in NYC. With multiple nooks, canopies, pathways and natural arbors, there are many places to be and sit and talk and eat even if you are not a plot-bearing member. Encompassing an acre on the corner of 9th st and Ave C, the garden is iconically warm and welcoming, where its easy to forget you are a few blocks from the FDR and the urban din. But like most gardens, it began as a vacant lot, a dumping ground for a city that had abandoned it. It earned and continues to earn its beautiful ease with constant work, community decision-making and the transformative power of growing things.
Linh Truong is a textile artist who we originally met through the Textile Arts Center. Among many things, Linh practices the art of Suminagashi, a Japanese marbling technique, with the process projected onto surfaces through an overhead projector or transferred onto fabric and paper in a water bath. Linh was open and excited for public interaction with her practice and we thought it would be wonderful to place her in a natural space with an active public that was non-transactional, out in the open and with all the natural variables of an outdoor space (sun, wind, clouds, falling petals).
Here’s Linh’s reflection from her time at 9th Street Community Garden:
Walking into the 9th Street Community Garden was like a labyrinthine dream filled with unique objects tenderly placed around friendly tree trunk faces. Peonies and roses in bloom, the smell of Spring and the sound of Spanish wafting by you. We were greeted by Maria, a community garden member for decades. She told me about how the garden was founded over 40 years ago and once was an empty lot with empty syringes, now transformed into a well-loved city oasis through years of hard work and devotion. Throughout the day, I marbled on paper and silk, gaining assistance from any passersby who were curious enough to try. Maria came up later and told me about her mother in Brazil who was a natural dyer and used to make all her own clothes. Engaging with people about making art can bring up all sorts of interesting associations and stories worth reflecting on. After being inspired by the resourcefulness of the garden members, I am now flooded with ideas of guerrilla marbling projection and creating a solar-powered outlet to aid in portability and unpredictability. The immediate feedback from the process of suminagashi was not only overwhelmingly positive but also challenging to my own perception, making me eager to continue the conversation in the future.
See more of Linh Truong’s work here.
Go visit the garden, lend a hand for a few hours and remember what can be transformed:
9th Street Community Garden. 9th Street and Ave C. Open Saturdays and Sundays 12-5p April-October.
Walking in East Village today, with its thriving abundance of community gardens teeming with flowers, kids and passer-bys taking refuge in the shade, it can be easy to forget the recent history (and even continuing threat) that most gardens faced in the early 2000s.
New York City has over 600 Community Gardens, and many were started with the vision of transforming the blight of vacant lots after the city went bankrupt in the 70s. Buildings were abandoned, foreclosed, torched by landlords for insurance, while heroin and crack flooded in, and with it crime, especially in the lower East side and East Village. Community Gardens are not just spaces made in communal public places, It was literally the community that birthed them, transforming the often dangerous and toxic vacant lots with their own hands and resources, into green spaces where the community could gather, grow food and have a refuge. In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, gardens popped up all over NYC, but especially in the areas hardest hit by neighborhood blight. Yet by the late 1990s, the gardens were at the apex of a fight over neighborhood rights all over the city. After years transforming the neighborhoods, suddenly those once vacant lots were seen as hot commodities for a gentrifying neighborhood and rising real estate market. Because the city still officially owned them, the administration felt that those plots were theirs to take, even though it was the community that had done the work to transform the neighborhood. With grassroots activism and the forming of many coalitions (More Gardens!, New York Restoration Project, LUNGS, GrowNYC, GreenThumb), gardens are continuing to thrive.
Community gardens are democratizing spaces– a place for youth and elders to gather, cooler in the hot summer months, growing flowers and food and some of the only spaces left in the NYC that is non-transactional. They are bedrocks of the community.
For many years 9th St Garden had a large willow tree, evidence of an underground stream. Whenever you see a willow, you know there has to be significant water in the ground. A great place for a garden, not as great place to build a building. Over 40% of new development is being built in flood zones, over former wetlands or water logged areas. In an ever-changing climate, these gardens remind us how to engage with our natural systems.
The large willow had to be cut down but from its stump is growing the next generation,
evidence of resilience and will of the neighborhood. Shout out to the East Village.