Today as I was reading the news, I came across a story about some red and green footprints painted on the sidewalks that have appeared in lower Manhattan. The red and green footprints, the story said, had been created using the same template as the purple footprints in the early 1980's. These red and green footprints are a protest to a place called "the Bowery Bar", which is a trendy restaurant that has taken the place of a gas station. (I think I remember where the gas station was, and it was the only gas station that I can remember seeing in that area.)
As many of you know, I began spending time in New York in 1985 when I worked for the Fresh Air Fund. I remember the purple footprints as a sign of comfort. I can't even imagine now how many miles I walked through the city. On a day off, we'd get up and take the subway to the World Trade Center or Canal Street stop, and start walking north. It is easy to get turned around amid the tall buildings and the purple footprints were always a sign that we really weren't all that lost. They were a sort of landmark that ran through the sometimes windy streets of Greenwich Village and SoHo.
I remember a one page story in a magazine at the time about the people who were painting the footprints. Back then I didn't totally understand, and I'm not sure that magazine knew the real story either. But, lucky for me "google" has helped me to find the truth. As it turns out, all the purple footprints led to the "Garden of Eden", a community garden developed by a man named Adam Purple.
Sometime around 1980, Adam Purple was a squatter in New York in a building on Forsyth street. Adjacent to the abandoned building where he lived, he created a beautiful garden. I remember this garden and the surrounding neighborhood. I remember coming across it and the disbelief of how a place like this garden could be in the middle of a city. There were vegetables being grown and beautiful flowers, right in the middle of the city. I found the picture posted above on a website that had a lot of pictures of the garden from that time.
I realize you may be thinking that Central Park is in the middle of New York, and it is a huge green space, so what is so different about this? As far as New York City goes, Central Park is in a whole different world. Central Park is on the other side of the economic border from the Lower Manhattan of the 1980's. These are the neighborhoods that were the setting for RENT.
As I have read more about Adam Purple's garden today (there is a lot out there if you google him), I have learned how he made the rich soil for his garden by riding his bike to Central Park to collect waste from the horses and then mixing it with ashes and dirt. He collected rain water and lived off of the food that he grew and about $2000 a year he made from collecting aluminum cans. One of the coolest things I came across today was this video on You Tube by a man that remembered Adam Purple's Garden from when he was young.
National Geographic did a story on Adam Purple and his garden. But, the city still Bulldozed it in January of 1986 to make way for a new building. I am lucky that I got to see it in person.
And the purple footprints? Adam Purple said that he did not paint the purple footprints. But, I'm glad someone did.