The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on Earth.
BY RAANAN GEBERER | These words, from “God’s Garden” by English poet Dorothy Frances Gurney, can be found inside a gated park on West 34th Street. Its narrow brick path, welcoming wooden bench and lush, enveloping greenery is available to everyone — but accessible only to those who’ve paid the price. Fortunately, it’s a very low price. Alice’s Garden (on W. 34th St., btw. Dyer & 10th Aves.) is one of four “Key Parks” throughout Hell’s Kitchen developed by the Clinton Housing Development Corporation (CHDC).
From the outside, they look like a typical community garden — and indeed, Alice’s has plots for individual gardeners. But there is a difference. Most community gardens are only accessible to members and their guests. To enter any of these four parks, all you need to do is go to 330 W. 42nd St. (btw. 8th & 9th Aves.) and purchase a key from Community Board 4 (CB4). Although primarily used by those who live or work nearby, the parks are accessible to anyone who pays the $2, one-time fee. Before visiting, call CB4 at 212-736-4536. They have keys in stock.
ALICE’S GARDEN Once an unused site owned by the Port Authority, Alice’s Garden was adopted by local resident Alice Parsekian, who cared for the garden until her death in 2010. In 2011, it was revitalized through a joint venture between CHDC, the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA), CB4 and the Port Authority. The group leases the land from the Port Authority for $1 a year.
Shanti Nagel, director of community cultivation for CHDC, adds that YAI, an organization for the developmentally and intellectually disabled with a site on W. 34th St., partners with her organization to ensure the garden’s upkeep. “YAI is a great partner in Alice’s,” she says. “They clean up and take out the trash.”
BOB’S PARK A block away from Alice’s Garden, Bob’s Park (35th St., btw. Dyer & 10th Aves.) was the first new park in Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton South since 1938. It is named after Bob Kennedy, a longtime community activist and resident of W. 35th St., and was developed by CHDC in conjunction with a supportive housing site that the group built next door. Its distinguishing feature is a children’s playground/jungle gym.
TERESA’S PARK Like Alice’s, this park (on 39th St., just west of 9th Ave.) is leased from the Port Authority. It’s named after Teresa Mattia, a longtime resident of 39th St. who lived across from it for many years. It was first renovated by the HKNA in the 1990s and was redesigned in 2013 by CHDC and its affiliate CultivateHKNY. This small park, which contains a picnic-type table, has a home-like feel.
Nagel adds that the park has “two different partners.” One is Mark Fisher Fitness, a nearby health club which helped to raise funds. In addition, members of the Mattia family, who still live in the neighborhood, did an Indiegogo fundraising campaign and petitioned to name the park after Teresa, who died in 2012. CHDC is getting ready to install a mini-free library, which looks like a bird-feeder house, in the park.
JUAN ALONSO PARK COMMUNITY GARDEN & PARKS Named in honor of a longtime area resident and community gardener, its W. 51st St. & 11 Ave. location makes Juan Alonso the northernmost Key Park — at least for the time being. Local volunteers transformed this space from a vacant lot full of debris into a community garden. One peculiarity of the garden is that the public section is on one side of a path leading to the entrance of a CHDC affordable housing development. On the other side is a conventional community garden, accessible with a separate key given to the community gardeners.
“The garden will get even bigger,” says Nagel. “A third extension, with the Irish Arts Center [at 553 W. 51st St.] as a partner, will make it even more accessible to people. It will be open to the public without the key.”
KEY PARKS WITH LIMITED PUBLIC ACCESS In addition to CHDC’s mini-parks, Chelsea park advocate Arnold Bob mentions three other key parks in the area, not run by the organization, with varying degrees of public access. One is Astro’s Dog Run (on 10th Ave. & W. 39th St.), which was developed by the HKNA and is open to members only.
Another is Oasis Community Garden on West 52nd St. (btw. 10th &11th Aves.), which is normally open only to members but has “open hours” where all can enter several times during the week, most notably on weekends. The Clinton Community Garden at 434 W. 48th St. (btw. 9th & 10th Aves.) is divided into a private Back Garden and a public Front Garden, which is often left unlocked. Key sales are held twice a month. For info, visit clintongarden.org.
MORE KEY PARKS ON THE WAY Chelsea Now visited each park on three occasions — in the late afternoon, during lunchtime and during the weekend — and found that the most-used parks seem to be Alice’s Garden and Bob’s Park. We came across two people who work nearby eating lunch at Bob’s Park, both of whom said they appreciate these spaces because there are no “big” parks in the neighborhood.
During the weekend, three young women, members of a church group, were enjoying the scenery at Alice’s Garden. “I grew up on a tree farm in Indiana,” said one, Victoria, “and it’s nice to have a little bit of nature in the city.”
CHDC is also developing three new Key Parks. A Children’s Garden is slated to open next year on a former empty lot on W. 52nd St. (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.). “We’re looking for input,” says Nagel. Adam’s Garden, on W. 53rd St. (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.) “will be in development this fall. We’re looking for a gardener.” It will include individual gardening plots.
Also opening next year will be a Key Park (Captain Post Garden) that is being built as part of the transformation of the old Captain Post factory building on W. 52nd St. (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.). Nagel describes the planned site as a “quiet, peaceful garden.”
To purchase a key ($2), go to the offices of Community Board 4 (330 W. 42nd St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). Before visiting, call CB4 at 212-736-4536. They have keys in stock. For more info, also contact the Clinton Housing Development Corporation by calling 212-967-1644 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit them on the web, at clintonhousing.org.