Designated: sunnyside Gardens Historic District

Sunnyside Gardens in Queens was the first “Garden City” development in the United States. Architects Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, along with landscape architect Marjorie Cautley, designed Sunnyside Gardens as a complete community based on a human scale. Developed between 1924 and 1928, the community includes 1,202 housing units on 77 acres of land. Rows of simplified homes front the street grid, creating a shared landscaped garden space on the interior of each block.


When it was completed in the 1920s, the community was protected by 40-year restrictive covenants maintained by an elected homeowner association. When the covenants expired in the 1960s, many residents renewed their commitment to maintaining the character of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, others did not. This resulted in alterations that have fractured the neighborhood’s original aesthetic and spatial conceptualization. Facades have been modified with materials incongruent with the original brick, front yards have been fenced and paved to provide off-street parking and private fences have destroyed all but one of the 10 shared gardens.

A group of residents have recently formed the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Partnership to petition for landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. In 1974, this unique neighborhood was recognized by the City Planning Commission and was designated with Special Planned Community Preservation District zoning regulations. Although this designation prohibits new development, demolition, enlargement and substantial alterations to landscaping or topography without special permits from the Planning Commission, these protections are rarely enforced and many residents are not aware of their neighborhood’s historic value. Homeowners have continued to make alterations to their properties in violation of the provisions of the designation. The Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Partnership believes more stringent restrictions and effective adherence to architectural and character standards are necessary to maintain this distinctive piece of New York’s architectural and social history.


In addition to the neighborhood’s distinction as the first planned garden city in the US, Sunnyside Gardens marks a successful experiment in urban design with politically progressive functionality. Longtime Sunnyside resident and social philosopher Lewis Mumford considered Sunnyside Gardens’ design to be a politically powerful innovation because it was based on social and political concepts at all. Built specifically with moderate and low income working families in mind, property ownership was vested in community cooperation. The communal nature of the shared gardens facilitated collective action and a sense of neighborhood cohesiveness that was often lost in the modern civilization that Mumford critiqued.

The Garden City movement originated in Britain and found a primary proponent in Ebenezer Howard. The Regional Plan Association imported the concept to the New York region in the early 1920s.

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