Christy and the Green Guerillas went on to transform a derelict lot on Manhattan’s Houston Street, and the Bowery into a community garden that New Yorkers still revel in today. During the 1970s financial crisis, many NYC landlords abandoned their properties. The city, in fiscal disarray, bulldozed deserted rundown apartment buildings and left remaining residents with vacant lots, and broken neighborhoods. Christy and a small community of downtown New Yorkers decided to take matters into their own hands.
They hauled out the trash, a pile six-feet high, leveled the gravel underneath, and trucked in soil. They planted seeds and young plants recycled from a Parks Department giveaway. When city officials began to crack down on them, Christy went to the media. After the New York Daily News published an article and photos of the garden, officials changed course: for a dollar a year, they leased the lot to the Green Guerillas. In 1974 The Liz Christy Community Garden became the first community garden in New York City, and is still cared for by volunteers, and protected by the Parks Department. More than 1,000 registered or permitted community gardens have since sprouted.
Guerrilla gardening is a form of political action that addresses questions of responsibility and choice. “The Earth is a Common Treasury for All,” professed Gerrard Winstanley, who, in 1649, took over common or vacant areas of England with his group of political radicals, the Diggers, committing the first recorded act of guerrilla gardening.
A global army of guerrilla gardeners has since taken form, transforming urban wastelands into flowerbeds and butterﬂy havens. In 1996, approximately 500 activists occupied a vast piece of derelict land belonging to Guinness Brewery on the banks of the River Thames in South London. Their action aimed to bring light to, as they declared, “the appalling misuse of urban land, the lack of provision of affordable housing and the deterioration of the urban environment.” Within weeks of this incident, a group of 1,000 in Denmark spent a night transforming an empty piece of land in the middle of Copenhagen into a garden. On May 1, 2010, marking International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day, more than 5,000 people across the globe participated by planting sunflower seeds in public spaces. In London alone, thousands of people gathered at Parliament Square in one of the biggest orchestrated actions of guerrilla gardening ever seen. They planted flowers and vegetables, and hung banners that read, “Let London Sprout,” “Capitalism is Pants,” and “Resistance is Fertile.”
Seed bombs are definitely my weapon of choice. In the palm of your hand, you have a revolution waiting to happen. Something so powerful, it can radically change the face of the earth. The beauty of seed bombing is its potential to transform, as well as its accessibility. Anyone can make seed bombs with instructions found in the internet. Who decides what our communities look like? We do.
As Woody Guthrie sings:
“This land is your land
This land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”
Pimp the pavement people!