NYC Resources311Office of the Mayor

Human Compass Garden

.073 acre

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

“In this small space, the universe can be completely reproduced and rearranged in its entire vastness.”

Derived from ideal proportions devised by the Roman architect and artist Vitruvius (ca. 46-30 B.C.E.), the septagonal man inscribed in both a circle and a square has served as a puzzle and a model to art students and mathematicians over the centuries.

In 1992, a group of young people, many of whom were artists, began a year long cleanup in an undeveloped lot. This was the beginning of a garden made unique and distinguished by its careful planning, varied plantings, and active artistic programming. The name was a spontaneous suggestion early in the process that caught everyone’s imagination, and soon came to symbolize the aesthetic goals of the gardening group. The Human Compass Garden, on the corner of Sackett and Columbia Streets in Brooklyn, has continued to grow and develop over the years, attracting the interest and contributions of an ever-growing number of Columbia Street Waterfront District residents.

The enchanting garden made the perfect setting for a series of outdoor art exhibitions showcasing the work of local artists, presented over the summers of 1994 and 1995. In 1996, the garden coordinators introduced the “Art in the Garden” program, with the help of grants from the Trust for Public Land and the Brooklyn Arts Council (BACA). “Art in the Garden,” an array of weekend classes and workshops in many techniques, continues to delight neighborhood children and their families. The garden has also hosted “Reels on Wheels,” a Friday evening film series, and community potluck suppers.

The Human Compass Garden serves as a forum for an active political organization as well. One of four in a neighborhood coalition known as the Columbia Waterfront Gardens, the caretakers of this site work with local community boards and elected officials to protect green space and expand neighborhood activism and arts programming. Columbia Waterfront Gardens coalition is dedicated to making the gardens community assets. Human Compass and its counterparts, the Summit Street Garden, Amazing Garden, and the Backyard, were all created with the aid of GreenThumb, a City-sponsored organization for community gardening. All four were transferred to the protective jurisdiction of Parks in 1998, but they continue to be maintained by their community organizers. Many non-profit organizations, including the Trust for Public Land and the Hudson River Foundation, have offered generous support for the maintenance and improvement of the garden.

Reclaimed red bricks define the shape of the hilly beds on the outer edge of the space. These beds, filled with more than two dozen trees and countless shade plants, encircle a sheltered green refuge. The inner garden has wooden picnic tables, a shed, a wood chip floor, and grills, with benches, fancy chairs, and sculpture tucked into every corner. The sunniest spot holds a rose garden. Gardeners and visitors alike enjoy the harmony and restful atmosphere created by meticulous care and thoughtful planning.

Friday, Dec 14, 2001

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