14. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space archives community gardens (and is located in a former squat house)
The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space may seem unassuming from the exterior, but inside is a museum dedicated to archiving the Lower East Side’s community gardens and squatting history. The museum’s exhibits document how residents of Alphabet City and surrounding neighborhoods have turned abandoned lots into gardens and squats, or the oftentimes illegal occupation of unoccupied or abandoned buildings or land. The museum itself is located in the storefront of C-Squat, a former squat house at 155 Avenue C that dates back to 1871. The building housed squatters in the 1980s and 1990s before its restoration. Squatting was particularly prevalent during the 1970s recession when the city reduced funding for many essential social services. These difficult economic conditions led residents of Alphabet City to push for housing reform, helping transform abandoned properties into not only squats but also community centers and communal homesteads.
The museum itself was founded in 2012 with permanent exhibitions exploring Alphabet City’s radical history, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and sustainable activism. Recent exhibitions have included “Stop the Invasion,” focusing on art protesting the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a history of squatting movements, and a look into the East Village’s 39 remaining community gardens that have been particularly influential for lower-income communities. The museum also leads Lower East Side radical history tours on weekends and has hosted open vault nights and an annual film festival on occupations.