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Loisaida: NYC Community Gardens; By Michela Pasquali; Linaria Books; $30

Loisaida, the name bestowed upon the Lower East Side by its large Puerto Rican population, is the site of more than 60 community gardens. In this new book, Loisaida–NYC Community Gardens, Michela Pasquali, an Italian landscape architect, traces the life of these miniature oases from the first vacant lot seized by young activists in the 1970s to their precarious future thanks to the neighborhood’s hot new status in the real estate world. Pasquali highlights the largely improvised design and construction of the gardens and shows how each functions as a cultural and social hub for the residents that maintain them. Pasquali spent four years researching the book and took most of its color photos. Her lens penetrates the myriad lush hideaways where hollyhocks, prune trees and snapdragons brush up against stuffed animals, bathtubs and Madonna statues. The book, with parallel columns of English and Italian text, concludes with concise profiles of groups like Green Guerillas and New York Restoration Project, which were integral in sustaining the floral spaces, and essays by two Italian scholars and community garden enthusiasts. “Thus that garden that peeks out from the rubble between two tall 19th-century tenements represents a small (or even tiny) act of insubordination,” writes Mario Maffi, a professor at the State University of Milan. “Against landlords, real estate, master plans, the time work (or unemployment) robs day after day from life.” [05/30/06]