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The Liz Christy Bowery Houston Garden, A Place That Matters

liz-christy bowery houston garden

When Houston Street was widened in the 1930s to accommodate the 6th Avenue subway line, the demolition of buildings on both sides of the street resulted in irregular lots that remained vacant for decades. In 1973, Mott Street resident and artist Liz Christy had a vision for at least one of these empty, rubble-strewn parcels.

With the help of friends and neighbors, Christy set out to transform the corner of Bowery and East Houston Street into an urban oasis. Together, Christy, and a group of volunteers who called themselves the “Green Guerillas” cleared the corner site of debris and began planting a garden.

The following spring, the department of Housing Preservation and Development leased the property to the Green Guerillas for a monthly fee of just $1, and thus it became the first community garden in New York City. The Guerillas’ Bowery Houston Farm and Garden was immediately recognized as a success, winning the Citizens Committee of New York City’s Mollie Parnis “Dress Up Your Neighborhood Award” in 1974.

The Green Guerillas didn’t stop there. Through Christy’s vision and leadership, they carried out a campaign against blight on other vacant lots with such tactics as “seed-bombs” and “green-aids” thrown over fences. Eventually, their ideas took root all over the city, inspiring the establishment of over 600 community gardens across the five boroughs.

The garden was renamed in honor of founder Liz Christy after her death in 1985, and continued to serve as a respite amid the traffic and chaos of both Bowery and Houston Street for over 30 years. At first, the adjacent construction of the Avalon Bay building in 2005 seemed likely to threaten both the size of the garden and the plants that had thrived within it. Thankfully, the gardeners and the developers worked together, and although the garden did close temporarily, when it reopened in 2007, it had gained 30% more land and had lost none of its charm.

Today, the Liz Christy Bowery Houston Garden is a well maintained and well loved community resource. Nominator Donald Loggins wrote, “It has a turtle pond (very friendly turtles), frogs, fish, birds singing at night on the Bowery, and even a peach tree. It is full of winding paths and nooks, a pond, picnic tables, and really nice gardeners.” It is open throughout the year on Saturdays from 12 to 4pm, and until 5pm during the month of October. In the summer (from May to September), it is also open on Tuesdays from 6pm until dusk.