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An October 28th rally to save the Elizabeth Street Garden (all images courtesy of Elizabeth Street Garden)

Last week, Little Italy’s beloved sculpture park, the Elizabeth Street Garden (ESG), received notice from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) that it must uproot each of its sculptures for soil testing. This Sunday, October 28, local activists, business owners, politicians, and supporters gathered for a rally of over 350 people to oppose the order, which they say would permanently ruin the greenery.

While HPD asserts the tests do not necessitate a permanent closure, Joseph Reiver, ESG’s Executive Director, questions their tactics as a power play in the City’s plan to build a housing complex in its place. The City has proposed bulldozing the garden to build an affordable housing complex for seniors called Haven Green, developed by Pennrose Properties and Habitat for Humanity NYC. The seven-story building will have a luxury ground floor of retail shops and discounted office space reserved for Habitat NYC.

A representative of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development told Hyperallergic:

This city is in the midst of an affordability crisis, with the number-one issue being a lack of affordable housing for New Yorkers. We have worked diligently to strike a balance between the dire need for low-cost housing for seniors with maintaining New York’s vibrant open spaces, which is why the site is keeping some public space for the community while also creating affordable housing for the seniors who need it most.

ESG advocates have suggested an alternate location on Hudson Street which could accommodate a space nearly five times the size without destroying a garden, but NYC officials have dismissed the idea.

“HPD, [Councilmember] Margaret Chin, and [Mayor Bill] de Blasio are not listening to the community,” Reiver told Hyperallergic over the phone.

Over 350 people gathered in the Elizabeth Street Garden to defend the garden

While they say the removal is a temporary measure as part of the decision-making process, Reiver says, “Removing the statues would destroy the garden. And they’re very aware of that.” He says ESG is one of many community organizations “in the fight for green space.” Just last week, the Mandela Garden in Harlem was bulldozed one day after HPD’s lawyers, Chris Rio and Amy McCamphill, ensured them otherwise.

“The City should not be pitting community gardens against affordable housing, we need our gardens just as much. This is a city-wide issue. We stand with you,” a leader of the Mandela Garden said at the rally. He was one of 13 speakers at the two-hour-long event, including NYS Senator Brian Kavanagh and Ray Figueroa, president of NYC Community Gardens.

“We need spaces like this. This choice that the city government is asking people to make is a false choice,” Kavanagh said.

Reiver told Hyperallergic one local restaurant-owner, Frankie DeCarlo, said at the rally that if ESG was forced to close, he would relocate his business. Reiver believes he is one of many local small business owners who would take such action in defense of the beloved garden.

The plot on which the sculptures stand is city-owned, but the collection of statuaries belong to Allan Reiver, who has lived on Elizabeth Street since 1989. He has held a lease on the plot since 1991, when he cleaned up mounds of garbage to beautify the neighborhood.

The ESG has launched a petition with over 8,000 signatures as part of their plan to pursue legal action against the City and a letter-writing campaign to reach Habitat For Humanity representatives.

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Jasmine Weber

Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture. She received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies...