Community gardens bring nature, beauty and serenity to New York City. They also provide mental wellness for millions of New Yorkers.
This was no more evident than during the pandemic.
New York City native Donald Loggins, 69, a founding member of the environmental group Green Guerillas, explained how the presence of multiple gardens helped weary city residents.
Gardens such as his Liz Christy Community Garden, located on the corner of Bowery and Houston Street in Manhattan, gave people a space to spend time outside of the home during the pandemic.
“The last year, a lot of people have been using them as a place to go,” he said. “They couldn’t go to restaurants, they couldn’t go to plays or movies, but they went to community gardens.”
In 1973, the Green Guerillas opened the city’s first community garden, led by the late gardening activist Liz Christy. After noticing a vacant lot, she commenced the garden to create an open space of nature in the inner city.
“Back then, there were a lot of vacant lots filled with garbage,” he said. “We just started with one just to see what would happen. It caught on like wildfire.”
The garden was named to honor Christy after her passing from cancer in 1985.
Today, there are 600 community gardens throughout the city.
The Mental Health Impact of Gardens
A study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that community gardens “have ample potential to provide spaces for individual and communal good, and to contribute to community bonding.”
During crises such as the September 11th, 2001 attacks and citywide blackouts, the Liz Christy Garden stayed open all day for New Yorkers.
“We kept the garden open, and people stayed there all night just to cool off,” said Loggins.
Each garden has its own unique features, especially the ones in New York’s East Village.
“There are other community gardens that actually have chickens, little farms, there’s some community gardens that have basketball hoops,” he said.
The Liz Christy Garden features magnolia and weeping birch trees, two ponds and the tallest Dawn Redwood tree.
Community gardens also provide respite at a time when crime levels have risen by 22 percent from the same time last year.
“[New Yorkers] want someplace to go where they can relax and feel safe,” said Loggins.
Saving the Gardens
Despite the wellness benefits, community gardens are constantly under threat of demolition to make room for real estate projects.
The New York City Parks Department started taking ownership of the remaining community garden projects after developers began taking over garden plots created in the 1970s and 1980s.
Loggins is concerned that his and other gardens will cease to exist. He feels there is little support from the current mayoral administration.
“The problem is we currently have a mayor now who’s not very friendly towards community gardens,” he said. “He’s much friendlier towards developers.”
Mayor Bill De Blasio faced an ethics controversy in 2016 after receiving payments from real estate developers to fund his now-defunct political nonprofit group.
Loggins stated that Mayor De Blasio is the only sitting mayor who has not visited the Liz Christy Garden since its inception.
“We invited him several times and he never came,” he said.
Mayor De Blasio’s office could not be reached for comment on this matter.
While support from the mayor can be hard to come by, Loggins and fellow gardening activists forge along.
“The community garden is doing very well,” he said. “It’s full of happy people.”
For more information on the Liz Christy Community Garden and others like it, visit https://www.grownyc.org/gardens/our-community-gardens