downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 35 | January 12 - 18, 2007

Liz Christy Garden reopens but with some changes

Downtown Express photo by Clayton Patterson
Workers recently installing the new black metal fence at Liz Christy Garden

By Brooke Edwards

After two years of being gated and much negotiation, the Liz Christy Community Garden at the corner of Bowery and E. Houston St. reopened its gates this week — though the gates and fence look much different than the original.

The garden was closed during initial construction of AvalonBay’s luxury apartment complex, Avalon Bowery Place.

While much of the interior of the garden survived the construction process, the fence that surrounded the property had to be replaced. AvalonBay is also funding the replacement of some vegetation, as well as water and electricity to the site.

“There are a number of things left to do,” said Fred Harris, executive vice president of AvalonBay. Still, Harris said he is satisfied with the current progress.

When AvalonBay first announced plans to build its nine-story apartment building three years ago, the city’s oldest community garden was threatened with the possibility that it would be bisected right down the middle with a new path for the building project. With support from the Parks Department, the Liz Christy volunteer gardeners formed a committee to negotiate with AvalonBay and protect their garden.

“We were a little hard to work with at first, but they got used to us,” said Donald Loggins, who headed the committee. Loggins has donated his time to tending Liz Christy for over 35 years and played a role in its founding in 1973.

Overall, Loggins is pleased with how the negotiations came out.

“I am very happy,” he said. “Our space increased by 30 percent. We got to reuse the old fence as a trellis to grow vines in the back. We had one gorgeous tree that we were really worried about saving and in the end we saved it.”

The threatened tree was a blue spruce, located dangerously close to the foundation of the new Avalon Bowery Place building. Contractors worked with Loggins and the committee to protect the spruce, as well as the tallest dawn redwood in Manhattan.

Councilmember Alan Gerson also secured special funds for the reconstruction of the garden, which Loggins and his committee used to purchase a shed for the property.

Gerson added, “We’re looking into a budget initiative in the upcoming fiscal year to have a special fund set aside for community gardens,” which he said “are an integral and necessary part of our community.”

In spite of these accommodations, to Brandon Krall, another longtime volunteer at Liz Christy, while some features of the garden are new, it’s not improved.

“We have gained light and air and a generic fence, but we have lost our architect-designed fence that was unique to our park, and we have lost a lot of important plants,” Krall said.

To Krall, the loss of the fence is especially upsetting. What was once a combination of wooden posts, iron rails and a rose-covered trellis is now a standard-issue, Parks Department fence.

“It is part of the homogenization that is taking place all over the city,” she said. “They took our unique fence and replaced it with a generic one.”

Krall is also upset about the destruction of a 3-foot perimeter of vegetation around the entire garden during the construction.

While AvalonBay has set aside a $50,000 budget to replace plants and trees that were removed or damaged, Krall said this will not be enough to get full-grown apricot trees like the ones that grew in Liz Christy two years ago.

“We have been overridden on a lot of things that are important to the gardeners,” Krall said. As a result, she said, many of the volunteer gardeners got fed up and quit during the two years of closure and negotiations.

And there is still work to be done before the garden is complete. There are trees and flowers that need to be planted, benches to be purchased and placed, and one whole section of the space — the Rock and Rose Garden — has yet to be constructed. Harris said Rock and Rose, just east of Liz Christy Garden proper, had a lot of concrete before, but will be redone with plenty of vegetation. However, some of the gardeners say they’d like a hand in designing the space, but that so far Parks refuses to involve them in the process.

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