“The collective work of homesteaders and squatters to stabilize an environment of spiraling decline was joined by the Lower East Side’s community garden movement, which sought to reclaim turf from encroaching urban blight. The resident gardeners set out to transform vacant lots strewn with trash, bricks, old appliances, and automobiles into green spaces.
The movement’s first community garden began in 1973, when a group of residents threw balloons containing plant seeds and bulbs into a large fenced-in-parcel on Houston Street near Bowery. The activists, who called themselves the Green Guerillas, assisted local residents and block associations in starting gardens and, at times, gaining permission to use city-owned properties. Neighborhood women and Puerto Rican residents especially participated in the Loisaida garden movement. Over the years the movement grew to more than seventy-five community gardens (1995 figures). The gardens ranged from the most lavish and elaborate “formal” plantings to the more modest and inconspicuous vegetable patches. Some of the gardens were founded and cared for by organized resident groups, while others were the domains of individual Latino families. Casitas (lot gardens with small wooden shacks), maintained mostly by Puerto Rican men, often featured shrines to patron saints, small murals, benches, and tables, a flower and vegetable patch, and, as was the case for a garden on Ninth Street and Avenue C during the mid-1980s, a rooster. Casitas functioned as a type of outdoor social club during the warmer months, providing meeting space for parties, cookouts, and respite from summer heat. Residents congregated in their gardens to vent frustrations over dire conditions of the neighborhood, to share stories, to gossip, to develop strategies for improving their block, or to simply relax. Participation in the gardens was a form of territorial resistance against threatening environs and streets often controlled by drug deals and junkies.”
Christopher Mele, Selling the Lower East Side: Culture, Real Estate, and Resistance in New York City.
May Day Gorilla Garden under the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge. Throughout the 80′s and 90′s New York City had many abandoned lots, some of which were partially-destroyed buildings. Filled with garbage and debris, the lots and dilapidated structures were a hazard to members of the communities. But people rose up, worked together and converted these abandoned, often city-owned lots into vibrant community spaces.
Some became parks and some became community gardens, all through the unsolicited, voluntary efforts of people working to improve their surroundings without assistance from the city, and sometimes without explicit permission. Many of these champions of urban spaces were just ordinary people who took ownership of their communities. Urban homesteaders and community groups such as The Green Guerillas, More Gardens! Collective, Lower East Side Collective, Bronx United Gardeners and Time’s Up! Environmental Organization contributed to these efforts. In later years, larger, more established groups like Green Thumb and Trust for Public Land got involved.