My name is Maryanne Kuzniar. My second community garden experience began in 2009 in and continues to this day at La Guardia Corner Gardens. I came back to New York City in 2009, and having had a large garden in Italy, I was a little bit worried that I was going to get depressed if I didn't have dirt to dig in. So luckily, I had some friends who were already involved in LaGuardia Corner Gardens, and I joined up there, and I've been there basically since I've been back. So nine years. It was a big adjustment, but LaGuardia Corner Gardens made it possible, because I knew I could go there and be in green space and, have this little plot to grow things. It gave me a lot of solace. LaGuardia is one of the oldest gardens in New York. It's is basically on the north east corner of Bleeker and LaGuardia and goes halfway down that block toward Houston. We, at Laguardia Corner Garden, are under some threat from development currently. There was a lawsuit. NYU wants to develop that area, wants to put a big high rise where the grocery store is. And so they want to use the garden as a staging area because it's a big project.
We’re part of the DOT, Department of Transportation, because in the sixties they were going to build a highway down through the middle of Washington Square Park. And anyway, that plan was stopped because of neighborhood outrage. But, they had already allotted the ground from south of Washington Square Park. They'd left that for developers, to be developed, for this highway. And when it didn't happen, that land just laid fallow. And, that's when the gardeners came along and said, well, let's just up this cement that's breaking up and deteriorating anyway, and make a garden. So that's what they did. Technically, the land is still part of the Department of Transportation and that's governed by the state, not the city. So the city was in violation of giving this permission to NYU, and on that technicality we took them to court but we didn't win. I didn't read the details, all the filings, but we lost. And so it's just a matter of time.
And so we've fought very hard to keep it, and in the process of fighting to keep the garden, we've expanded our open gate policy. Before we were doing the minimum required by the GreenThumb policy. But we decided that strengthen our profile in the neighborhoods, so that people understood that it's not a garden just for the gardeners who pay dues. It's really an open space, for all people in the neighborhood or even people, like tourists, passing by. And so, during a growing season we keep the garden open from morning to evening and more and more people are using the garden. I think that it has grown in the neighborhood, this idea of how essential this garden is.
There were several articles about the lawsuit with NYU, so maybe that helped to raise the awareness. And then with the gate pretty much always open during growing season, people have taken note and they stop off and have their lunch there or stop there on the way home from work to relax for a bit. I see more and more people in there, and when I say hello to them or a comment was made, it's always, “I've lived in this neighborhood for years and years, I've always passed it and I'd never seen the gate open until now. And I come in and I really enjoy it.”
I think that even small little pocket parks are helpful to so many. So it's nice to know that they can just, you know, get there in steps. Cities are getting denser and people need access to release stress and green spaces are happy to take our stress somehow. I think it's super important, especially downtown because we don't have the quick access to Central Park, especially downtown, so important. The city lost many gardens with the steady development of the island, but at least the perimeter has been turned into a greenway. It's not always easy getting to a river park, especially for older residents which is why it's important to have small gardens scattered around all of the neighborhoods. As the city increases its inhabitants, open space, especially downtown is critical to the well-being of urbanites.
-This story contributes to a larger project, Garden Memories: An Oral History of Urban Community Gardens, conducted by Elizabeth Eggimann. Elizabeth is an environmentalist and student researcher at Pace University.