Those who frequent Verdi Square in the early mornings – maybe en route to the 72nd Street subway stop, a workout class or your favorite coffee shop – may recognize Chizo Ito. But the vast majority of Upper West Siders are more familiar with the product of her tireless work: a clean and welcoming Verdi Square, the little slice of nature bordered on the north and south by 73rd and 72nd streets, and on the east and west by Broadway and Amsterdam avenues.
The 81-year-old has dedicated her energy to cleaning and caring for Verdi Square, visiting the park each day at 5 a.m. to pick up trash, rake the gravel, stake vulnerable plants and more. Ito, whose real name is Chizo Yamaguchi, is a member of the volunteer organization Friends of Verdi Square, through which she met 30-year-old filmmaker Harris Newman.
Newman, captivated by Ito and her dedication to the square, has produced a short documentary-style film about the Japanese native. You can watch the documentary here.
“I longed to be a farmer,” says Ito in the documentary. “So even though I couldn’t, I wanted to live in nature.”
The documentary explores Ito’s dedication to the park, her history as an artist, and how her culture inspires her love for and dedication to Verdi Square.
“She is a treasure,” a representative from Friends of Verdi Square shared. “Not just for the park. But for all of us who have the privilege of gardening beside her, hearing her speak of the meaning of this small patch of NYC and her life.”
Verdi Square was designated a Scenic Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1974. It was named after Italian composer Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi who is memorialized by a statue on the park’s north side.
For more information on Friends of Verdi Square, visit the website here.