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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Rain Garden That Wouldn't Grow

Recently, my wife and I were out on a date and taking a stroll through Harlem before dinner when we stumbled on a dog relief area at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and East 122nd Street. I was excited and my wife was, well, glad to see me enjoying myself.

A few years ago while musing about planning for pets, I came across the French canisites. Now I had stumbled on one in my own town, and I hadn't even heard about it!

It is a wonderful little example of the transformation of a residual space. Initially it was a hatched area in the roadway where northbound traffic is diverted as Manhattan Avenue becomes a southbound one-way street. It was just the sort of dead space that was long common on our paved streets. In 2012, it was converted into a rain garden to improve storm water management and probably contribute a few count toward the Million Trees program, but the plants just wouldn't grow on the street side of the triangle. After a few years of the vegetation struggling and consistently dying off, it appears somebody had the genius to stop fighting the inevitable and repurpose the space to address the dog poop problem that is chronic on sidewalks throughout New York City.

Here is the image captured by Google Street View in July 2011:


Then in 2012 the City included it among their early rain gardens. Kristine Paulus shared a photo of it under construction on flickr:
Bioswale Under Construction


Here is the way the space appeared during its first summer when the Google Street View car passed in August 2012:



The continued struggle of the space to sustain vegetation on the street side is evident through each of the subsequent passes made by Google's car.

August 2013

May 2014


July 2014


August 2014

Then, finally, in 2015 a new design becomes apparent. The heartier side toward the sidewalk is enclosed with a fence to define the landscaped area, and it appears new effort has been invested in its maintenance. A sign there now says the garden is sponsored by the 530 Manhattan Ave HDFC, which probably installed the fence and contributed toward the landscaping. At this point, the other side has been covered in wood chips and the sign designating the dog relief area has been installed. Here was the view in September 2015:


Sometime afterward, the dog poop bag dispenser was added along the crosswalk side of the space, completing the transformation into a canisite. When we were there, the space appeared to be well respected and in good condition. It will be interested to see if it could serve as a model for other underutilized spaces elsewhere in New York City.

Photos from my recent visit:






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