From bonfires to bike lanes and Brussels sprouts


The East Village was a different world in 1991, when it was common for activists to take over Avenue A and block traffic. Clayton Patterson took the photo above on what he recalls might have been May Day. “Oh yeah, bonfire…you’ve got the squatters’ symbol on the flag,” Patterson said, describing the shot. “You can see on the left, someone’s got a garbage can lid — they’d be banging it on the street. That’s just the kind of chaos that reigned. Jerry The Peddler would be pulling out joints and people would be smoking pot, walking around. This was probably 4 a.m.” Eventually, police would show up and clear the avenue. Patterson said the demonstrators were a mix of squatters and neighborhood activists who were protesting the East Village’s “impenetrable politics.” The photo below was taken this past Sunday at the same spot. “You’ve got the bike lane, Mr. Softee, you’ve got the Greenmarket on the left,” Patterson explained of various things that weren’t there 19 years ago. “And the people in the photo — I don’t want to say ‘yuppie-ish-looking people’ — but they don’t look like grunges or crusties. Basically, the neighborhood almost went from poverty and working class to middle class and above. It’s nicer now, but we lost a lot of the uniqueness and the identity.”