Achieving ECOLIBRIUM in Loisaida – What is the state of our community gardens?

The Loisaida Center’s ECOLIBRIUM Program, in partnership with LUNGS, is calling on all Lower East Side gardeners to help us document the state of Lower East Side gardens! We want to hear and learn from our community gardeners about your successes, challenges, and visions on how to protect, value, and sustain our precious gardens for generations to come.

Please start the conversation by filling out our gardener survey, and join us on March 25th, from 4 – 5:30pm virtually or in person at the Loisaida Center.

After Superstorm Sandy’s major flooding of the Lower East Side, LUNGS was invited to a meeting at CB3 3 with the New York’s Governor’s Office of Stormwater Recovery (GOSR). GOSR was intrigued with the prospect of building green infrastructures in the community gardens to reduce stormwater flooding. LUNGS saw this as an opportunity to protect and improve our gardens and a community-based environmental project, Gardens Rising, was proposed.

In November 2015 Gardens Rising began. It was a groundbreaking experiment in citizen participation, self-governance and self-determination. By partnering with government agencies we were going to effect change from the bottom up. We would capture storm water and reinforce community gardens as a buffer against climate change; enforcing the value of community gardens.

Gardens Rising received a $2 million grant to fund the project. These were federal funds (HUD), administered by New York State (GOSR) to improve NYC community gardens, run by the Parks Department. Gardens Rising’s vision advocated for valuing nature, especially urban nature, and the benefits both material and spiritual that improve the quality of life and health of the entire community.

The 138 page Gardens Rising Feasibility Study profiles 47 community gardens in the Lower East Side, envisioning projects based on community input for each of them. This Feasibility Study is a valuable tool for the garden community going forward, the proposals and ideas remain valid and can be used to further sustainability in Loisaida.

In 2022 Gardens Rising lost its funding; rising construction costs, COVID, inertia and the complex maze of permitting, overlapping City and State agencies all contributed to the funds being cut by GOSR. The limited capacity of volunteers ran out the clock, leaving many gardens un-funded and projects delayed. Lessons learned from Gardens Rising are important for Lower East Side community gardens who were unable to access the $1.5 million in time.