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?
The Creative Little Garden is essentially a “community backyard” for the
entire Lower East Side community. Everyone, not only members, can
relax, read, have lunch, work on a laptop or just enjoy the sights, sounds
and smells of the garden. The garden also exhibits the work of a few
selective artists. You can even hold a private event at a very low cost. The
tranquility of this green leisure space is an escape from the city’s
business and lack of greenery. Not much happens in the garden; it is
simply a beautiful zen environment. The plants are planted and
maintained by a volunteer manager with little help from the members. The
same applies for the landscape maintenance. The garden adds charm,
beautifies and compliments the neighborhood. Nearly 30 years old, it has
certainly contributed to the turnaround of the Lower East Side as a safe
neighborhood, from Alphabet City to what it is today.
What is this neighborhood like? How was it before this new solution
The neighborhood felt very safe and tranquil, the streets weren’t over
crowded, and passers-by seemed pretty friendly.
The Creative Little Garden website contained a very in-depth description
of what the neighborhood once was:
“In the 1840s and 1850s, the area was considered part of the Lower East
Side, and became home to Eastern European Jews, Irish, and Italian
immigrants. One of the worst slums in the city and the red light district of
Manhattan, it consisted of tenement housing with no running water.
“By the middle of the 20th century, Alphabet City was again in transition,
as thousands of Hispanics began to settle in the neighborhood. “
“Through the 50's and early 60's several buildings on this block became
By the 1960’s and '70’s, what was once “Kleindeutschland” and the red
light district had evolved into "Loisaida" ("Spanglish" for "Lower East
Side"). Many buildings fell into disrepair, many were torn down (including
the one that occupied our present Creative Little Garden) and some were
homesteaded, taken over by anyone who were willing to maintain them.
Some were renovated, some homesteaded and a few were totally
demolished, including the building that once stood on the land before the
Creative Little Garden existed. In 1978 the land was marked for a
community garden and in 1982 opened as the “Creative Little Garden.””
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?
After she received a long-term lease from the Green Thumb Program, the Creative Little Garden was
founded by a French lady named Françoise Cachelin in 1978. She took on the initiative in order to
beautify the block, which was just a lot filled with debris from the original building’s demolition in the
early sixties. By providing the community with a garden, she intended to contribute to the
neighbourhood’s recovery and to increase safety. Françoise obtained help from the community
residents to clean up the lot and chase out the drug dealers. Later that year, Liz Christy from the
Council on the Environment’s Plant-A-Lot program selected Creative Little Garden as a project site.
The council helped volunteers by providing trees (including the current willow tree), shrubs, ground
covers and soil as well as technical advice.
The website mentions certain difficulties that arose in 1981 when an individual attempted to rehab an
adjacent building to the garden. This caused considerable damage to the garden and the retaining
members were harassed and became afraid to work in the garden. However, in 1982, most of these
problems were resolved and in 1983, the garden was incorporated into a land trust (a not for profit
organization) to obtain tax exempt status. The land trust was registered under the name of the
Creative Little Garden and its status is still in effect today. Later, the city banished open fires in the
park (there was a fireplace that was used in the garden before it was established) and in the 1990’s,
the fence marking the entrance of the park was built. In 2006, a wall of the adjacent building was
reduced to half its size to allow sunlight in the park. Also in 2006, the garden was again placed in peril
and closed for several months after the adjacent building’s basement wall collapsed. Tons of dirt and
plants slid into the basement next door. The ivy also had to be removed due to damages caused to the
neighbour building’s brick. Positively, these two situations allowed for more light to enter the garden
(from the reflection). In 2006-2007, the garden has seen a rejuvenation. Tons of new soil were added
as well as a new watering system, new furniture, fresh paint, new signs, etc. A dogwood tree donated
by the Green Guerillas was also planted along with over 60 diverse plants.
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?
The garden is opened to the general public to use. The promoters of the garden include
the head manager, Steve. Steve single-handedly maintains and continues to improve the
garden, as well as updating the website. The primary proactive promoter of the garden is
the manager, Steve since he is the one who is maintaining every aspects of the garden.
However, there are a few head members who make the political decisions of the garden,
including the president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer.
The actual users of the garden can also be seen as indirect promoters who can thus pass
the good word about the garden to others. The users of the garden are usually locals who
live around the neighborhood, although they can also be passers-by who happen to
stumble upon the garden. also live in the garden’s neighborhood, however, they are
passionate about gardening and the general maintenance of the garden.
The users/members don’t really work at all for the garden as far as maintaining it.
It is required to work four hours in order to become a member of the garden, but that is as
far as it goes. There are a few networks of related organizations including the Green
Thumb, the Creative Little Garden Organization, and the Council on the on the
Environment’s Plant-A-Lot program, and the Green Guerillas. Taken from the Green
Thumb’s website, “As the largest community gardening program in the country, Green
Thumb is proud to support community gardens in New York City… we've been committed
to providing support to help strengthen gardens, strengthen gardener skills, and
strengthen communities.” The Creative Little Garden Organization is the garden itself that
formed its own organization. The Council on the on the Environment’s Plant-A-Lot
program, (which is now known as Grown NYC) is “a hands-on non-profit which improves
New York City’s quality of life through environmental programs that transform
communities block by block and empower all New Yorkers to secure a clean and healthy
environment for future generations.” The Green Guerillas “use a mix of education,
organizing, and advocacy to help people cultivate community gardens, sustain grass root
groups and coalitions, engage youth, paint colorful murals, and address issues critical to
the future of their gardens.” There are no counter example cases that were problematic.
What are the technologies that the group uses? How are they
used in system?
The garden has a website, which was built and is maintained by the
manager, Steve. He also maintains a Facebook page. The garden also
has its own blog linked to the website, but it is not active: there are only
three posts and no recent updates. This blog is a project of the members
but it is not successful and not used effectively. The garden has a
watering system again maintained by Steve only. There is no electricity in
the park, but during winter, Steve borrows the electricity from the
neighbouring building to power Christmas bulbs in the trees. He also has
the intention of placing little fountains around the park to accentuate the
relaxing sounds of the garden. These are the only technologies involved
and they are operated primarily by only one person, the manager.
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
The garden has a website, a Facebook page and a blog (not active). The
website is rich in information: there is an about us section with the history
of the garden, contact and membership details, services, events with
calendars, opening hours, photos, etc. In the garden itself, there is a more
in-depth packet with its complete history. Next to the packet, there is also
a book where visitors can write their contact information and comments.
The purpose of these communication materials are to keep the
participants updated and get more participants involved (both internal
and external communication). The garden certainly wants to have more
participants as members since members generate funding for the garden.
The members are also a free form of marketing through word of mouth.
The garden however doesn’t intend to increase its number of users since
it intends to keep the same level of tranquility; more traffic is not desirable
and only generates more chaos. The garden simply cannot afford more
people due to space and current sitting options.
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 term?
Steve, the manager of the garden explained that he has
many goals that he would like to accomplish as far as
improving the garden. His objectives include painting the
entrance fence green instead of black for a more natural
tone, rebuilding the patio, new furniture around the
garden, putting a fountain in the back of the garden, etc.
He also wants to “collaborate forces” with local
restaurants, so he can hold catered events in the garden.
Some of the success factors are maintaining the garden
in general and keeping it open for longer periods of time.
Costs of maintenance is a significant risk factor, also the
costs with collaborating with restaurants could be quite
expensive, thus making it a risk.
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
Fundraising is one issue that poses a threat to the
initiative. Funding is essential for any future possibilities
for the garden. Also, a main area of concern within the
garden is finding dedication and commitment from the
members. There are also political issues involving the
heads of the garden and concluding unanimous decisions
(i.e. bench color, design, and art.)
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?
As mentioned in 1.8, there is a lack of
entrepreneurial endeavors. Members join with
enthusiasm and quickly lose the drive. The main
manager Steve involved himself with a sustainable
service called Environment’s Plant-A-Lot program
where he and designer Linn Christie used existing
debris (i.e. wood, cement, etc) to form the path
way through the middle of the garden, leaving
growth for plants on either side.
Website of the initiative
Interviewee name and contact information (email, address, phone
Other references (websites, articles, other people we should talk to)
Environment’s Plant-A-Lot program
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?
52 members in 2009
Voting members range from 10-50 people
Limited number of active members, main manager runs the
The number of members helping the community outside the garden