La Plaza Cultural
Hyemi Lee, Gyujin Jung, Nahee Choi, Nozomi Akioka
What do they do? (Description of service idea, e.g. a community garden, a food
coop, etc). What are the demands/problems this initiative responds to? What is
the aim of the initiative? What happens and how does it happens? What benefits
does it bring to the neighborhood?
“La plaza Cultural” is a non-profit organization that is widely open to the
public, and mostly served on volunteer basis. The owners of this garden, i.e. the
executive director and her husband are professionals in theater skills and when
they discovered this garden they decided to renovate it to an open theatre. In
their view, the garden can be used for several kinds of events such as rental
space for magazine’s photo shooting, holding birthday parties, wedding
ceremonies, family gatherings as well as meetings. They charge a certain
amount of fee for people to use the premises. According to the owners, this
forms the largest source of their income and it has a membership of 150-200
official members. There are also several committees who are charged with
different roles in the garden: parents committee, landscape committee, Website
committee, event committee. The most unique thing about the garden is that it
has plenty of space so parents always bring their children to play and engage in
other activities with other children thus offering them a great experience.
What is this neighborhood like? How was it before this new solution took place?
12 years ago before community garden was created, people of working class
used to live at Alphabet Avenue but it was an insecure place to reside. A lot of
land was on waste and there were no restaurants, bars, or major high rises and
many drug peddlers were on the streets. The population mostly consisted of
people of Spanish origin. After the development of the community garden, there
were great changes and advancements on Alphabet Avenue. New people moved
in while others visited, the neighborhood became trendy as people opened new
businesses such as restaurants and bars and also residential and rental houses
for those who came to visit the garden. The crime rate went down and security
was improved thus encouraging more people to visit the area.
1.3 History of the initiative
How did the project/initiative start? Who took the initiative? Why? Can you
describe a timeline of events, highlighting success and failure aspects, major
milestones? How far can you go back? How did this initiative mature? How did it
turn to be a real enterprise? (registered, formalized etc.) Did it receive public or
private support of any kind? Did it help change the public or policy structure?
Formation of La Plaza Cultural in 1976 was through a joint effort of the local
residents and greening activists. A city that was sparsely occupied and with piles
of waste and rubble was the initial picture of the area before renovation. With the
determination to secure the area from the filthy look and encroachment of vices,
members of the Latino group CHARAS who were the initial founders of the La
Plaza Cultural, joined efforts to refurbish the area. Buckminster Fuller, a very
famous architect helped in building an arena and show casting of events began.
Liz Christy was a great activist of the community garden and she helped in
planting of trees. Liz Christy who was a pioneer helped in planting of the turf and
linden trees. More so it has a lot of political history. One time the garden was
almost snatched by some people who wanted to erect buildings on that area.
After numerous court battles, La Plaza was finally secured. Currently, La plaza
Cultural is really successful. Many of these volunteers visit the place without
having to pay much thus making out a great success story.
1.4 Main actors
Who are the users of this initiative? Who are the promoters of this initiative? Is
there a difference between users and promoters or are they basically the same?
Describe users and promoters lifestyles? Do the users work as a group or
groups? Is there a network of related organizations and/or individuals? Do they
have any form of connection or exchange with other similar initiatives? Was the
group inspired by other examples? Do you know counter examples, (of service
ideas that did not take-off), cases that went wrong?
We interviewed the executive director of the garden, Sheila. She works as a
volunteer in the garden. Basically, her work is to oversee that all the different
committees in the garden perform their duties. They have four different kinds of
committee which are the compost committee, parents committee, landscape
committee and event committee. The compost committee works to maintain the
garden and food waste compost system made up of the metal cans, 3 bins
system, and compost tumbler. The Parents Committee works to enhance
children’s use of La Plaza. Sometimes they have children learning classes and
seasonal parties. Landscape committee is responsible for the landscaping of the
garden. The performance and events committee oversees and prepares the
venue for the events that take place in the garden such as birthday parties,
BBQs, weddings, theater & music events. Most of the members are residents
around that area and they visit the place often to plant vegetables.
What are the technologies that the group uses? How are they used in system?
The group uses a compost system. They have a compost
committee that is in charge of managing the compost in the garden. Fortunately,
we met a member of the compost committee. He told us that the committee
consists of 7 members. The members are responsible for mixing food waste,
putting it into the composting bins, and maintaining the cleanliness of the
composting area. They work Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and weekends.
There are no assigned work shifts so that whoever has time comes and does the
job. Moreover, they let people even from outside of the community bring food
scraps from home. For the future, they plan to build a rainwater gathering
What communication materials do the group have? (e.g. website, brochures,
postcards, etc). What is the main purpose of these materials? e.g. to keep
participants updated about activities (internal communication) or to get more
participants (external communication)? Does the group want to have more
They use a website to inform the general public of the garden's
mission, how to become a member and get involved in committees, and what
activities happen there every month. Also, through the website, people who are
interested in booking the space for an event can contact the executive director of
the community garden to make a reservation. The community garden would like
to have more participants.
1.7. Perspective for the future
What are the perspective/objectives of the group for the next 3-5 years? What
are some of the success factors and possible risks in the short medium and long
La Plaza Garden is divided into several communities catering to the New
York City’s general public as a landscape community. It is based on the concept
of green garden recycling. The surrounding community is preparing to further
develop the vicinity within the next several years. Several buildings and large
trees shade the park blocking sunlight. The park’s first initiative is to remove and
trim these trees allowing the park to harbor more sun, space and a potential rain
water system. With the lack of volunteers to maintain the garden the construction
of a rain water system to irrigate water flow would shift the dependency on
manual labor allowing the garden to run self-sufficiently. To create an easier
environment for parents and children to interact safely, the parents committee
intends to renovate the sandbox as well as construct long benches along the
garden’s sandbox that allows storage space for toys. The construction of the
benches will align the park for the parents to easily supervise their children as
1.8. Problems and opportunities
Are there any specific issues/problems/barriers that pose threats to the initiative?
Are there any main areas of concern among the participants (leaders and users
alike)? Are there any opportunities that could be explored (that are currently not
There are several issues surrounding the construction of the garden and its
initiative. The existence of the garden is not 100% assured with the inauguration
of New York City’s next mayor and the choice to further the development of
public city parks. The maintenance schedule itself as well is unreliable because
of the gardens dependency on city volunteers. The responsibility to keep the
garden safe and clean relies on a collective effort and with lack of proper
leadership attracting voluntary community participation will be difficult. Noise
pollution as well serves as a conflicting issue as the Chief Executive Officer of
the garden voiced concern in the surrounding neighborhood’s sensitivity to
noise. To solve this current predicament, a suggestion of installing a sound proof
enclosure has been made. Space also threatens a current park amenity of a
private gardening plot. There is a large wait list to obtain these plots hindering
the opportunity for private gardening.
1.9. Indications of other social innovation
Do the users participate in other entrepreneurial endeavors? Do they form small
initiatives on their own? Are members involved in other “sustainable” services
within the community? (Ex. Food Co-op, carpooling, community gardens, etc)?
Do you see evidence of wider networks that these users contribute to?
The original construction of the garden was not intentionally to
create a community space, but an open area for theatrical use. Fortunately,
initiatives to further promote the garden and its foundation of green recycle
gardening have been made by independently creating compost piles for
gardening of their private plots. Other endeavors were not discussed within the
Website of the initiative
Interviewee name and contact information (email, address, phone number)
Other references (websites, articles, other people we should talk to)
Executive director: Sheila Garson
Garden Address: 9th Street and Avenue C
Quantitative Data Exercise
How many members does the initiative have? How many are very active in the
initiative? How does individual spaces compare with shared/group spaces? How
many members are involved in other community-based services? (Food Co-op,
activist orgs, clothes swapping, bike sharing, etc.) What is the size of the
initiative in square footage?
CEO of the garden is handling events and each different committee is in
charge of doing their work: parents committee, landscape committee, compost
committee, website committee, event committee. 150-200 members are involved
in the garden and it is run by 7 gardeners.