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Developer’s fence comes down, flowers go in at Children’s Magical Garden

BY PHYLLIS ECKHAUS | The green refuge at the corner of Stanton and Norfolk Streets — the Children’s Magical Garden — abounded in joy and local media Sunday afternoon, as gardeners celebrated the happy resolution of their long legal fight to reclaim disputed land from real estate developer David Marom.

Ten years to the day since garden members first filed suit, a cheering crowd of children and community gardeners tore down the hated fence that had blocked off the contested lot.

Aresh Javadi, executive director of More Gardens!, left, happily helped dismantle the chain-link barrier after the yearslong struggle. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)
Local kids pitched in to help ditch the despised structure. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)

The fence had obstructed one-third of the open green space and endangered the mulberry tree central to its ecosystem.

Ecstatic drumming by Batala, the all-women Afro-Brazilian percussion ensemble, marked the momentous occasion. Children planted blooming hyacinths, pansies and other flowers in planters where the fence had been.

The garden was founded 42 years ago by Lower East Side activists who salvaged abandoned, dangerous, garbage-filled land to build it. Garden members had claimed the disputed lot through the legal doctrine of “adverse possession,” which grants title to land by dint of continuous and conspicuous occupation.

Kate Temple-West and Lissette Perez celebrated the victory with young gardeners. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)
Local politicians joined the celebration, including, back row, from left, Assemblymember Grace Lee, state Senator Brian Kavanagh and City Councilmember Christopher Marte. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)

Garden President Kate Temple-West told The Village Sun that when the fence went up, it was “one of the hardest days of my life.” She recalled startled and distraught children crying, and a place of serenity suddenly becoming a battleground. “I am really happy to be putting the past behind us,” she said.

Following three months of settlement negotiations, in early March, Marom deeded the disputed land to the garden, officially in honor of his late mother. The garden’s press release characterized Marom as “visionary” and included his claim that he had been “unaware” the land was disputed when he bought it.

Environmentalists Wendy Brawer, front, and J.K. Canepa were on hand for the festive fence teardown. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)
Members of the all-women percussion group Batala drummed up excitement at the event. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)

Yet, as The Village Sun has previously reported, the deep-pocketed developer aggressively litigated against the adverse-possession suit, sought $20 million in unsuccessful defamation claims against garden defenders, and allegedly trashed the garden as late as last October, when a precedent-setting order by the judge forced him to remove part of the fence. At that time, Marom reportedly vowed to continue his efforts to extend the fence.

The developer did not attend the Sunday celebration, which organizers framed as an occasion of release, a welcome opportunity to remove literal and metaphorical fences. Aresh Javadi, a garden activist and executive director of the More Gardens! Fund, urged celebrants to feel their connection to the earth and let go of internal blocks to positive change.

Where the fence formerly stood, local kids planted flowers. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)
(Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)

Temple-West described the moment as both remarkable and ordinary — like nature itself: “To me, to finally have the whole garden back together feels like a miracle unfolding. But I remind myself it’s a common miracle — it’s as natural and as miraculous as birth—as natural and miraculous in our time as a tree growing as big as it can possibly grow, living as long as it can possibly live.

“It’s the common miracle of people coming together, rolling up our sleeves and working toward a shared vision for our community.”

Lissette Perez, the garden’s executive director, told celebrants how her oldest daughter, Lola, first “dragged” her into the garden six years ago because she saw a swing. Perez attended a garden meeting that weekend, and was stunned when her questions and suggestions were “not only listened to but put into action. It was the first time,” she said, “as someone who came here 10 years ago from the Bronx, that I felt like I could impact my community.” She said she immediately felt empowered to make change for herself, her children and her neighborhood.

Kate Temple-West presented attorney Benjamin F. Burry of BFA law firm with a key to the garden, attached to a rose, for representing the gardeners in their victorious lawsuit to win back the full space. (Photo by Liv Scott for More Gardens!)

Councilmember Chris Marte noted that one of the garden’s victorious court arguments referred to the roots of the mulberry tree — that they were deep and long and extended throughout the disputed lot. He compared the strength of the tree’s roots to the strength of Lower East Side activists, “so strong we’re able to prevail,” he said. “This should give us hope that, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much money is against us, we can and we will win.”

Assemblymember Grace Lee characterized the garden’s legal success as “making the Lower East Side a little more magical.”

State Senator Brian Kavanagh observed that locals need more than housing, healthcare and transportation: “We need dirt, we need trees, we need open spaces,” he said. “This is a great and wonderful victory for the kids who made this matter by being here.”

Perez said she looks forward to input from children and the community as the garden moves ahead to make full use of its full space, noting, “We have a whole section to construct.”


  1. Choresh Wald Choresh Wald March 16, 2024

    Great news, wonderful article. At the end of the day we’re fighting over crumbs. There’s so much paved space in our area, an area that lacks so much exposed land. When we will have real leadership that is proactive and cares about it, not just showing up to celebrate achievements they have nothing to do with, then half of nearby Pitt Street will be depaved, all this vast asphalt that is now there for free car storage will get trees and greenery. Look at Paris, France, and see what can be achieved so quickly.

    • pritzker pritzker March 17, 2024

      Paris is mostly for the very rich these days….

      NYC not quite there yet

  2. Maria Ragucci Maria Ragucci March 15, 2024

    What a happy use of adverse possession! From the beginning, this garden grew from the spirit, imagination and stamina of a community. That story will never fail to delight!

  3. Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost March 12, 2024

    Now if only we could still save the Elizabeth Street Garden! And we must stop the ugly walls and garden destruction planned for the Battery Park area and what’s adjacent to it! We know we must prevent future flooding, but why make it ill-spirited and ugly? Look at what happened to East River Park! Ugh! I’ve never been there, but I’m indignant. I’ve seen before and after pictures, and that’s enough.

  4. Leila Leila March 12, 2024

    Beautiful story on this beautiful day! May the kids and community rejoice and enjoy their reclaimed garden.

  5. Fran Luck Fran Luck March 12, 2024

    Congratulations to all who made this happen — the spirit of the Lower East Side lives!

  6. Dave P. Dave P. March 12, 2024

    Great article and great outcome. Congratulations to all who made it happen. Long Live the Spirit of Carmen Rubio!

  7. Lisa H Lisa H March 12, 2024

    Congrats to the community for coming together to accomplish big things! Thanks to Phyllis Eckhaus for reporting on this good news for The Village Sun.

  8. David Mulkins David Mulkins March 12, 2024

    Wonderful news!
    Inspiring article.
    Congratulations for all who worked to make this moment happen!
    Green spaces matter!

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