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Op/Ed: A Plan for First Street Green Cultural Park

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The abandoned public garden space on 1st Street, near 1st Avenue.

During the summer, EV Grieve and DNA Info reported about a campaign by neighbors on East 1st Street to turn a rat infested lot into a community sculpture garden.  Since that time, members of the First Street Green Cultural Park have been working towards making their dream a reality. The following post is authored by Aleksandra Khasina, one of the group’s leaders:

If you are on the corner of 1st Ave and 1st Street, it’s hard to resist calling your friends and announcing you’re at the nexus of the universe.

Walk down 1st Street, between 1st and 2nd avenue, and you will see not only mixed elements of the old and new East Village that are becoming typical of these soon gentrified streets, but you see the heart of what makes this block a gem to the community and to me – home.

The cafes are more than tables and chairs: the baristas at Blue Bird will help you decide what freshly baked pastry to try, the waitress at Prune will chat about her hometown, and the woman running the Aussie pie shop will be there when you’ve had one too many drinks and your New York palate demands more than pizza.

Once you look past the establishments, you cannot miss the block’s demographic.

Artists (including 1st street veterans who have called this their home for decades) make this street one of the distinct faces of the East Village/Lower East Side artistic community.  Scott Pfaffman created an outside sculpture from bicycle parts, and there are artworks in windows as you stroll down the block.  There is a pop-up gallery* at 35 East 1st street, until the retail space is rented.  But all these seem arbitrary when I just look around at the buildings, the fire escapes, the facades and the shadows; all these have been here through the years, and they stare back with their own story.

The Lower East Side Girls Club also has headquarters on the block, but since they are relocating soon (congratulations!), this block needs a new center for community programs.

And there is one more small thing.  Or rather, a lot of small things.

Rats – they are the unwelcome inhabitants of 1st Street.

The vacant lot at 33 East First Street is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). In 1937, the city demolished the abandoned building, but left the basement and foundation intact.  This structure is also said to connect to another neglected lot’s foundation, which, in turn connects to the subway.

Yes, it is like the Grand Central of rats in East Village.  This infestation has created a toxic area for the community, but it is zoned as a public park.

A group of neighborhood volunteers, including the First Street Block Association, have been leading the charge to create the new First Street Green Cultural Park, where instead of rats there is a plan for a park and cultural space.

The contemporary blueprint, created by Todo Design team Silva Ajemian and Jorge Prado, falls in line with the city’s green initiative.  The green sloping rooftop for the cultural center will provide both a grassy recline, as well as the covering for galleries, exhibitions, and/or community art programs.

We need a clean, rat-free East Village, you need more creative space and everybody needs more green as they stroll down the street, coffee in hand.

The first step is community involvement – go to www.firststreetgreenpark.org and contact us to see how you can get involved!  We can do it!

Aleksandra Khasina is a Financial Associate at a global investment bank, and a leader in the First Street Green Cultural Park project.  She is an avid supporter of sustainability.

*All artwork is by local artists, and proceeds go to First Street Green Cultural Park.

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