At ‘Memorial Service,’ Residents Mourn Garden Bound to Be Uprooted by N.Y.U.

garden - donna shaperSarah Darville Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church, at left.

Local residents and N.Y.U. faculty members gathered this evening in a garden that will be demolished if the university’s expansion plan is approved. During a mock funeral scheduled a day before a critical City Council hearing about N.Y.U. 2031, they lamented the loss of trees and the displacement of wildlife due to construction, and shared memories of a leafy retreat where they had meditated and played with their children.

Tucked between the two towers of the Washington Square Village superblock, Sasaki Garden has a low profile in the neighborhood. That lends itself to peace and quiet, neighbors said — but it also makes their fight to save the park more difficult.

Jan Blustein, professor of health policy and medicine at N.Y.U., was saddened at the prospect of the destruction of what she said had been a “beloved resource” for her and her family. “I had such a great experience living here and being a young faculty member here, and I’d hate for faculty to not have that opportunity in the future,” she said.

garden 3Sarah Darville Ralph Swain addresses the crowd.

The fight was perhaps most personal for the attendee who lives farthest away: Ralph Swain, the nephew of the garden’s designer, Hideo Sasaki, came across a blog post explaining that the garden was under threat only days ago at his home in Arizona, and immediately made plans to come to New York to protest.

“I was shocked and dismayed at the idea that someone wanted to destroy my uncle’s garden,” he said, explaining that the garden was the last remnant of the Sasaki name. “I’m really upset with the fact that this might disappear.”

If N.Y.U. 2031 is given the green light, the superblock will get a crescent-shaped academic building on each end, with green space remaining in the middle. But many said that they didn’t want a redesigned space — they want Sasaki Garden, with its square benches and secluded feel.

gardenSarah Darville

“It’s not unused space. It’s profoundly used space. It’s what I call sacred space because it reminds us that we’re interconnected,” said Roshi O’Hara, a Zen priest.

Many attendees promised to speak at the City Council hearing tomorrow that will address the expansion plan. Mark Crispin Miller, one of the leaders of N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, spoke last and urged others to attend the hearing and to use their sadness to fight, not grieve. “There’s a place for anger, even in nature,” he said. “We can’t afford to let them win.”