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East Village Community Garden Gets New Lease On Life

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By one count, there are about 640 community gardens in the city, 10 percent of which are on the Lower East Side. One of those just got a new lease on life. Manhattan reporter Rebecca Spitz takes us there and to another that wasn't as lucky.

La Esperanza was once a jewel on East Seventh Street until it was bulldozed in February, 2000, to be replaced by a new apartment building

"It was backbreaking work to build that garden, so everybody was very attached to it because of all the effort,” says area resident Fred Seiden.

Seiden still misses the garden but says he's happy for one just a few blocks away that was spared the same fate.

Supporters gathered in el Parque de Tranquilidad on East Fourth Street Monday to celebrate news that the garden will be spared.

The battle to save the lush patch of land has been going on since the garden's creation in 1979.

The one-acre oasis was actually built on three separate lots — two of which were owned by the city and one belonging to a synagogue.

In the late 1990s, when the garden was threatened with development, the trust for public land bought most of the land from the city, but the center lot remained in private hands.

Then in May, a deal was struck with the synagogue's trustees, filling in the last piece of the puzzle.

"We ended up paying a total of over $300,000 for the liens, other unpaid property taxes and the title and at the end of the day, the garden is finally preserved,” says Andy Stone of the Trust for Public Land.

The preservation is thanks in part to the Trust for Public Land, the generosity of several private donors and the help of the city's Parks Commissioner.

"When something like this gets saved it's just a measure of civilization,” says Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “It says society cares and every little green spot is important to a crowded city like New York."

Just as people who fought to save this garden were savoring their victory, so were people who live in this neighborhood, who say they'll be here as often as they can.

“It’s where we go to relax; it’s where we go to get in touch with ourselves and nature," says one area resident.

"You take your family to the garden, you stay there, you know, relax,” adds another.

While one couple relaxed in the garden, a second grader encouraged people to develop their green thumbs.

"Gardening is pretty easy if you just relax and have fun,” he said.

Sounds pretty good.

— Rebecca Spitz
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