BMW Guggenheim Lab Out; Discussions on Next Steps for Vacant Lot

Posted on: October 18th, 2011 at 11:15 am by

Just as it seemed the BMW Guggenheim Lab was starting to pick up steam, appearing less off-putting than it began (burdened as it had been at times with some hipper-than-thou art speak), the group is packing up and moving on. Well, in reality, they are jetting off to Berlin and Mumbai to continue the series elsewhere…and taking their cool toys with them.  Last call was Sunday.

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This past weekend, the Lab hosted its last day of talks, which included a final discussion about what’s next for this soon-to-be-empty space.

There has been no shortage of ideas with regard to upgrading the under-utilized lot.  Indeed, more than 450 proposals were generated at earlier brainstorming sessions, this according to the Guggenheim folks. Suggestions included working with community groups, creating art and performance events, hosting outdoor markets, and providing sports facilities ranging from skateboarding to bocce ball. One point of agreement was that the space should incorporate the interests and needs of as much of the diverse neighborhood as possible.

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First Street Green – a small group of neighbors who kickstarted the whole initiative here (mainly because they were tired of sharing the block with a rat-infested alleyway) – talked about how the biggest issue is not generating new ideas, but rather, finding volunteers to help keep the space going. The group is rather small, and after years of working on transforming the rat den lot, their resources are spread pretty thin.

The good news, however, is new uses for the space don’t need to start from scratch. The underground catacombs where the rats were living (ratacombs?) have been filled and paved over. The forty-foot deep pylons left over from the Lab’s temporary structure will remain, available as supports for future installations. Soon to be gone are the video structure and the lights, along with the bathrooms and the cafe.

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The next step calls for interested parties, especially those who can roll up their sleeves and get involved, to contact First Street Green through their Facebook page. But, don’t wait too long. The Parks Department will be meeting with First Street Green in the near future, and then another community meeting will be set up in mid-November, to talk about moving forward.

The most encouraging thing about the last day was seeing a diverse group assemble in strong numbers. Students, teachers, community activists, people who have lived in neighborhood for many decades along with newer arrivals, and a range of ages and backgrounds seemed to be represented.

What started as a neighborhood eyesore, dubbed one of the worst spaces in Manhattan, became a busy hub for discussions in and about the East Village and Lower East Side. And now the goal is to keep the neighborhood from handing the space back over to the rats.  We’ll see what happens…

Writeup and photos by Lori Greenberg

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