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12 January 2011

Adam Purple’s garden of Eden

Recall this recent post about the ecological incongruities hidden around New York City’s edges? The presence of nature — sometimes hidden, often denied — never fails to fascinate me.

But wow, I just ran across the story of Adam Purple. His handcrafted circular garden existed in my neighborhood between the years of 1978-1985. Was he ahead of his time? Or was he just not made for these times? One or the other, I think. Not sure which. This New York Times profile of him appeared in 1998:

    ”One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a doomsayer to recognize that there may be something happening to the atmospheric systems on the planet Earth,” Mr. Purple said. ”That’s why I renounce the flush toilet, renounce the internal combustion engine. As a political statement. I can live without.”

A longer excerpt from the article after the jump…

    His name, at least most of the time, is Adam Purple, and since 1981 he has lived on the ground floor of No. 184, an abandoned city-owned building on the Lower East Side, without electricity, without heat, without indoor plumbing.

    His endurance is impressive when you consider Mr. Purple’s age — 67 — and the other elements of his ascetic regimen. He is a strict vegetarian, fueling himself with a tofu-based stew he makes once a week over his wood-burning stove. He collects his water from fountains and open hydrants and then stores it in jugs in his ever-cool basement. He eschews petroleum products and the machines that consume them, from oil lamps to city buses.

    He scavenges most everything he needs on the streets, he says, from his gray tennis shoes to wood for his stove to batteries for the flashlights he uses after dark. And the cans and bottles he collects and recycles earn him about $2,000 a year, money he uses for two extravagances: a phone and a daily cup of coffee.

    What’s driving him?

    ”One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a doomsayer to recognize that there may be something happening to the atmospheric systems on the planet Earth,” Mr. Purple said. ”That’s why I renounce the flush toilet, renounce the internal combustion engine. As a political statement. I can live without.”

    This ecological ethos led to Mr. Purple’s most noted accomplishment — and his animus toward all things bureaucratic. In the mid-1980’s, Mr. Purple was at the center of a bitter fight over his Garden of Eden, an elaborate and widely praised community garden he cultivated on five vacant city-owned lots behind his building.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis

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