I've been having a great time in my new NYC neighborhood, even if there seems to be no consensus among those I know of what it should be called. I was recently made fun of by a former lifelong New Yorker (now of the Hudson Valley) for calling it Alphabet City, though Wikipedia backs me up. I have long believed that the Lower East Side doesn't start until you get south of East Houston St., making where I live the far, far East Village. Again, that's supported by Wikipedia, but many people I meet insist on rolling the ol' Avenue D into the edgier LES, a fact punctuated by much of the graffiti in the area.
In any case, one of the great things about the area is how much greenery there is for being found in the Big City, with verdant, lush community gardens on every other corner, lots of scrappy urban trees and occasional views of East River Park. If you come visit you'll also see lots of mini container gardens on rooftops, balconies and stoops.
One of the prettier spots I often pass is the brand new Toyota Garden, a project of the Bette Midler-founded New York Restoration Project (NYRP). The "pocket park" is designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Sarah Siegel, and is located at 603 East 11th Street (which the New York Times calls in the Lower East Side, ha). The Times quotes Van Valkenburgh as explaining that the purpose of the park is to educate local kids about nature, especially plants. There's a little winding pathway through thick greenery -- including a rescued kiwi vine -- and some handsome wooden benches. The prolific plantings are intended to highlight different microclimates, of sun and shade, varying moisture and so on.
It's not unlike the educational oasis of green in Union Square Park, recently highlighted at the second annual NYC Wildflower Week. The Times article, however, seems a bit cynical, with the writer apparently more interested in how many bodies the metal trellis will support than how many birds and butterflies the garden will attract. The writer is more concerned with kids running around than kids shielded from nature deficit disorder.
From my perspective the Toyota Garden is a welcome site in a neighborhood that is in transition, with the forces of gentrification steadily marching in; yet a high number of abandoned buildings and empty lots remain, as well as people sleeping on doorsteps and in the occasional car.
The garden isn't just for school kids to explore, however. NYRP is hosting a series of open summer talks for adults about urban greening, every other Thursday. There will be refreshments at the end of each event. Here's the listing:
Toyota Sustainable Summer Series
Toyota Children's Learning Garden
603 East 11th Street, New York, NY
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Learn more about volunteer opportunities with NYRP.
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