By Lisa Kava
On West 87th Street between Columbus and Central Park West sits the West 87th Street Park and Garden, a small, natural sanctuary in the middle of a city block. Containing paths, plantings, benches, and a play area for children, it is open to the public seven days a week.
Now that open-door policy is being reconsidered, and a variety of other options are being discussed, after the garden was vandalized repeatedly in recent weeks.
On the night of May 26th, the words “End of Year” were spray painted on the garden’s white brick wall. The next morning, a volunteer painted over it, but on the evening of June 12th, graffiti appeared again. It has not been painted over since. Picnic tables and umbrella cords have also been damaged with burn marks, and trash has been found lying around.
“I take it personally,” Greg Stevens, a volunteer at the garden for three years, told the Rag on a phone call. “I spend a lot of time in the garden and care about it.” He is not alone. “I always meet people who are there for coffee, lunch, or with children,” he added. “People say thank you for making this beautiful place.”
It is one of the reasons there is some conflict among garden members over whether to file a police report, Stevens said. Some believe this is important, while others are hesitant, and do not want the garden to be viewed as a dangerous place.
But has it become one? According to Stevens, earlier this spring, the volunteers noticed a group of teenagers who began visiting the garden — at lunchtime, after school hours, and into the evening. “The kids are in the garden smoking pot. It is a no-smoking garden,” Stevens said. Upon asking them to stop smoking or leave, a confrontation erupted. “One kid said to me ‘you need to back up, I don’t like you being so close.’ When we asked the kids about the trash, they said it wasn’t theirs,” said Stevens.
Then, at the beginning of June, the garden committee received an email from a longtime visitor who said she and her children had encountered “5-6 kids…and the whole garden smelled of weed.” She went on to say, “These boys told me they have been given permission by the community garden to hang out and smoke their weed there whenever they want. My understanding was this was a no-smoking garden.”
The garden committee is considering their options. “It seems to me that a good solution would be to find a person of suitable temperament who has the time to oversee the garden during certain hours,” founding member Tom Yager, wrote to the Rag. Other ideas being explored include: installing a security camera; a sign-up volunteer schedule; or, as noted, keeping the garden locked when a volunteer cannot be on-site.
“We have been brainstorming ideas about how to stop the vandalism,” said volunteer Christina Abossedgh, who is concerned that, with the end of the school year, the students could “hang there all day during the summer, and that the new senior class may pick up where they left off.”
West Side Rag contacted Council Member Gale Brewer’s office, located down the street from the garden. Her spokesperson said they had “reached out to some principals of local schools in the neighborhood [who] didn’t know anything about it.” They also reached out to the Community Affairs office at the 24th Precinct, promising to stay in touch with garden members and the police. Brewer also plans to frequent the garden “more often and more purposefully,” in the upcoming weeks, her spokesperson said.
Volunteers to help clean the garden and to serve as “garden monitors” are needed. If you would like volunteer contact Greg Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org