In the 1960s and 1970s, the East Village was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Manhattan. Even the most brazen college student, carousing with reckless abandon, would think twice before strolling the East Village. Being mugged, even in broad daylight, was not fanciful paranoia; it was reality. I always traveled with at least one other person.
On one occasion, a very aggressive panhandler, to whom we refused to give money, became extremely menacing, wielding a baseball bat and threatening us. This incident occurred at a pizza parlor on 3rd Avenue and St. Marks Place, a major intersection. Only by begging the shop employee for refuge were we spared a possible battering.
Alphabet City was truly a no-mans land. The neighborhood was filled with drug addicts - there are only a few ways of feeding a drug habit. Unable to keep a job, most turn to theft or prostitution. For the male heroin or crack addict, a source of income comes down to robbing for money or stealing goods and fencing them. Many Village residents have had their bike stolen, only to see it being sold on the streets of the East Village. Rather than provoke an incident and risk the opportunity of getting it back (by calling the police), some have even resorted to buying their own bicycle back.
So in one way, it is surprising to see so many beautiful oases in the form of community gardens in the East Village. On the other hand, it is not surprising at all. This area has had a history of homesteading, squatting, and community takeover of buildings and empty lots. The neighborhood was extraordinarily blighted and largely abandoned by the city. Without the passion, grassroots efforts and activism of community members, it is doubtful that this neighborhood would have been inhabitable at all. Even with all the gentrification over decades, the East Village still has a decided grittiness.
Miracle Garden is located at 194-196 East 3rd Street between Avenues A and B. It was founded in 1983. According to New York Songlines, this urban garden was built on the site of a former crack house. What better name than Miracle Garden?