[HPN] urbanoutdoors: community garden update
Wed, 05 Apr 2000 15:33:41 -0500
To send an e-mail post card to Council Speaker Vallone in support of
Community Garden Preservation, Go to: www.treebranch.com/savegardens
To get the complete text of the latest draft of the proposed
community garden preservation legislation write:
firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be sent to you by e-mail.
Community Garden Update
No. 54 – April 4, 2000
1999 Winner, NYC American Planning Assoc. Award for Journalism
MAYOR TARGETS MORE GARDENS
Mayor Rudy Giuliani continued his reign of terror on community
gardens last week in the form of a Request for Proposals to develop
market rate housing on 137 NYC owned properties. In a city with over
11,000 truly vacant lots, to the best of our knowledge, 40 of the 137
properties chosen from the City's vast inventory were on the same
sites as active Community Gardens. Over 20 more gardens would be
destroyed by this initiative alone. In the few short months since the
cliffhanger purchase of more than 100 gardens by the philanthropic
community, over 100 additional lots with gardens have been moving
through the development process and are on bulldozer watch.
Once again, the Mayor has used an administrative loophole to bypass
the normal city processes, which allow Community Planning Boards to
have input into their futures. Gardeners are denied the same due
process that most land with existing uses must go through. The UDAAP
shortcut continues to be used even after HPD Commissioner Richard
Roberts promised two-years ago not to dispose of land without Board
input. Once again, the City, in its press release resorts to a big
lie, saying, “these sites are among the last unimproved, derelict,
and vacant lots in their communities”. Once again, community gardens
will be developed with no public discourse about the wisest use of
city land, no planning for open space needs, and no requirement that
truly vacant lots be developed first. Once again, community gardeners
were not informed of the impending destruction of their green oases.
While the Department of Housing Preservation and Development
continues to frame the issue as gardens vs. affordable housing, the
one to four family homes to be built under this RFP will all be
“market rate”. According to HPD “There will be no income restrictions
for homebuyers and no limitations on the rents which may be charged
by any homebuyer for any rental”
NYC has the smallest amount of parkland per thousand people of any
American city. Brooklyn and Manhattan have 1.7 and 1.8 acres per
thousand. Boston, the least well-served American City outside of New
York has over 4 acres per thousand. Most American cities have over 6
acres of parkland per thousand residents
STAND UP ON EARTH WEEK
TO SUPPORT COMMUNITY GARDENING
At an Earth Day City Hall event, coming up on April 18 at 11 am, City
Council Members will announce the introduction of city legislation to
provide some protection for community gardens. Your presence that day
will send a clear signal that community gardens and the urban
environment are a big consideration at the ballot box.
It is anticipated that the bill will be introduced by Councilmember
Ken Fisher of Brooklyn and Adolfo Carrion of the Bronx and will be
supported by a broad coalition of Council members. State Senator
John Sampson has introduced other legislation in Albany, but it is
noted that no “sibling” bill has appeared in the State Assembly.
Community gardens tend to be viewed as a “NYC issue” and thus state
legislators are said to be unlikely to provide leadership, preferring
the City to decide its own fate.
LEGISLATION PROVIDES PROCESS FOR PRESERVATION
In the last two years, over 100 gardens have been preserved by
placement in the hands of non-profit land trusts and an additional 60
have become permanent parkland. Yet, over 400 community gardens are
still endangered in the Mayor's effort to privatize city owned land
without consideration of its benefit to city life. It is unlikely
that gardens will again become parks in the present administration.
Land trusts traditionally do not spend huge sums purchasing public
land, thus a repeat of the recent cliffhanger is unlikely. Meanwhile,
hardly a week goes by without a garden being bulldozed, drilled for
core samples, losing site control, or being brought up before a
community board or the City Council for review.
Highlights of the proposed legislation include:
- Recognition of community gardening as an existing use of city land.
Presently, community gardens are classified as “empty lots.”
- An end to the accelerated UDAP land use shortcut for community
gardens, and a return to the traditional ULURP process. This simple
switch could buy valuable time for existing gardens, and help assess
community needs more effectively.
- A requirement for environmental impact review before gardens are
- A process for the development of new community gardens. Although
there have been many requests for new gardens, only a few, in
unbuildable locations have been approved by the city.
The legislation is a first step in recognizing the rights of garden.
It requires that community gardens be referred to as such by city
officials in land disposition announcements and subsequent hearings,
rather than misleadingly as vacant lots or “block and lot” numbers.
Referring to a garden by numbers not only demeans community efforts,
but also makes it difficult for gardeners to track the labyrinthine
reviews and find out when their garden might be brought up for
For a complete legislative package including the draft text of the
proposed City Council bill write to: email@example.com. The
package of documents will be e-mailed back by auto-responder.
Everyone benefits from a community garden – even if it's just to walk
by and witness the serenity and beauty of nature in an overbuilt
city. But anyone who has spent any time in the green oases realizes
that our gardens provide for many community benefits and needs.
Police departments in Miami and San Antonio recognize that community
gardens are a leading indicator of community cohesion and provide a
positive atmosphere that helps young people stay away from bad
influences, and in those cities the departments have helped organize
the little parks. In other cities, including London and Toronto,
Health Departments nurture the gardens in an effort to encourage
healthy eating and physical activity. NYC gardeners will be reaching
out for support well beyond the environmental community to civic
associations, law enforcement support groups, health professionals,
educators, housing advocates, architects, religious organizations,
POSTCARDS, E-MAIL, AND INFORMATIONAL PACKETS
Thousands of postcards are being sent to Council Speaker Peter
Vallone and other officials. The postcards, designed by Jon Crow of
Brooklyn Alliance of Neighborhood Gardens, are snappy reminders that
there are 11,000 city-owned vacant lots and only 500 unprotected
community gardens. The theme is “There Oughta Be a Law,” which
underlines the point that over 130 people have been arrested in New
York in the last two years for defending the gardens. An e-mail
campaign will be added to the effort at
www.treebranch.com/savegardens. The postcards, petitions and sample
letters of endorsement are being disseminated widely at public events.
An organizational support package is also being circulated in an
attempt to get the formality of a “sign-on” from many of the
thousands of groups organized in the city for the public benefit.
Gardening support groups are looking for assistance with the outreach
campaign. Volunteers can call 212-352-9330.
ATTORNEY GENERAL KEEPS MORITORIUM ALIVE
Although the vise continues to close on some of the best-developed
and well-organized community gardens in NYC, a moratorium is in
effect halting any further destruction for the time being. Attorney
General Elliot Spitzer has lifted the torch on behalf of the emerald
treasures and NYS Supreme Court Judge Richard Huttner has put an
order in place barring the city from destroying GreenThumb gardens
until the issues he has raised are addressed. The Attorney General is
arguing that the gardens have legal standing as parks because they
are used as parks and because the GreenThumb program is housed within
the Parks Department. Mr. Spitzer's office is also arguing that the
gardens are in fact an existing use of city land and thereby entitled
to environmental review before new development takes place. While the
Attorney General is referring to existing case law in an effort to
save the gardens, it is not known how or when the case will be
GARDENS AND HEALTHY CITIES
The earliest hospitals, formed as charities in Europe, included
gardens, and American hospitals followed the European example until
many expanded into the garden spaces. Studies have consistently shown
that plants enhance an individual's psychological and physical
health. In our smoggy city, gardens act as miniature oxygen tents for
those who spend time in them. Recent reports about the increases in
area trucking to haul trash now that the Fresh Kills landfill is
closing, and the link between diesel fuel and cancer, just add to the
need for green spaces in the city.
Think of community gardens as healthy living centers that provide
fresh fruit and vegetables and physical activity for tens of
thousands of New Yorkers. Better diet and/or moderate physical
activity is the preventive medicine for many urban maladies,
including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and some
cancers. With a significant and growing percentage of governmental
budgets going toward treatment of these diseases, surely some effort
should be made to fund prevention with more than pamphlets. Instead,
NYC answers the preservation pleas of gardeners with bulldozers,
although community gardening costs NYC government nothing.
The gardens have also functioned as nonprofessional, peer-assisted
social service centers, providing a sense of worth to people at the
very bottom of society's pecking order. Volunteers sometimes arrive
with a history of substance abuse or with severe family problems.
Gardening gives them small, but tangible successes and a consequent
understanding of the fact that good things take time to happen. After
they have picked themselves up, their new experience with group
interaction helps them in networking access to job opportunities at
the entry level.
GARDENS, WEST NILE VIRUS, AND ENCEPHALITIS
Gardens are not only sanctuaries for people – other species benefit
too. A healthy bird population reduces the number of mosquitoes,
which are responsible for the spread of the West Nile Encephalitis
virus. Seven city residents died last year from the disease. While
city residents debate the value of Malathion spraying to control the
outbreak, in the gardens, an informed and environmentally-conscious
citizenry works for healthy communities in a different way. The
Claddagh Garden in the mosquito filled Rockaways has established a
“sentinel” flock of birds, which is routinely tested for disease. The
flock is housed in a mobile coop, which when moved from plot to plot
in the garden, provides fertilizer!
New Yorkers remember that before the junk-filled lots became gardens,
the littered spaces provided huge procreation opportunities for
mosquitoes. Better monitoring of dead birds and eradicating mosquito
breeding grounds is now mandatory. If a dead bird is found in a
community garden, it's a good idea to turn it in. Call the Dept. of
Health (212) 788-9636.
ASIAN LONGHORNED BEETLE BATTLE
Some of the best-watched trees in America are in NYC community
gardens. At a time when an imported insect is potentially endangering
all of America's forests, that fact may be increasingly important to
the federal and state officials that are monitoring the spread of the
inch-long black insect with white spots and long, striped antennae.
The Asian longhorned beetle kills trees by boring into them to lay
eggs. When the eggs become larvae, they eat their way back out,
flying away as adults and leaving their ravaged hosts pocked with
perfectly round, dime-sized holes. The insects have no natural
enemies in the United States. Once a tree is infected, it is doomed.
Thousands of trees have been felled and ground into bits to try to
check the beetles' advance. Federal and state officials have spent
several million dollars and expect to spend millions more in fighting
the beetle, which was first spotted in the Greenpoint, Brooklyn four
years ago, and has spread to Little Neck, Harlem, Fort Greene and
even Chicago. Citizens who spot Asian longhorned beetles or round,
inch-wide holes in trees should call 1800-554-4501 ext.72087
A TALE OF TWO GARDENS
Despite the enormous victory last spring in which over a hundred
gardens were spared in the eleventh hour, gardens are threatened by
many diverse agents. Surprisingly, a nonprofit group, church or arts
organization is often the culprit, placing its needs higher than
those of the present users. At La Plaza Cultural, 9th Street and
Avenue C, plans have been approved by Community Board 3 to build
senior housing. For the time being however, in response to the
Attorney General's petition, Judge Huttner has issued a TRO
(Temporary Restraining Order) protecting all the gardens in the city.
La Plaza, a 25-year-old park, boasts the largest outdoor amphitheater
in lower Manhattan and is the host for scores of cultural activities
throughout the year, including poetry readings, choreography,
concerts and theater. It is also one of 15 gardens participating in
The City Farms project which helps provide produce for local families.
Likewise, the 10-year-old Peach Tree Garden on East 2nd Street, named
for its 3 peach trees, is the target of the Nuyorican Poets Café. The
Café's director, Miguel Algarin, wants subsidized housing for retired
artists to be built on the spot. Reportedly, site control has already
been taken from the garden.
To make sure community gardeners are counted in both municipal and
statewide elections, the Green Guerillas (GG's) have launched an
effort to see that every gardener is also a voter. GG's “Plant the
Vote” campaign will not only go to gardens and events to register
voters, but will also enlist gardeners to conduct registration drives
in their neighborhoods. For more information call 212-674-8124 ext.
100. GG's is also promoting census participation, noting the
importance of a proper count to the future of NYC.
PROTECTING THE INCENTIVE TO VOLUNTEER
Community gardening is a volunteer activity, which provides an
extensive array of services to neighborhood residents, often in the
communities with the least access to NYC's sparse parkland. A
volunteer presence on the streets cuts crime and policing costs.
Sharing common interests brings people together across the boundaries
of age, ethnicity, education, religion and income, reducing tensions
and improving communications skills. Gardens serve as science labs
for children, improving local education at no taxpayer cost. Local
composting cuts sanitation costs. Performers benefit from using the
valuable spaces for rehearsals and presentations, while the residents
enjoy the shows. Some gardens such as 6th and B, actually host more
cultural events than any of the nearby parks.
Community gardens have become centers of fierce local pride, with
gardeners acting as advocates for many community improvements,
including housing. These improvements have brought people back to
formerly devastated neighborhoods. Those that followed the municipal
instruction “Don't move… Improve” are now being punished with the
loss of over twenty years of dedicated volunteer labor. With the
passage of City Council legislation, Community gardeners will at
least have a chance to take their case to the court of public opinion.
FOR THE UNCONNECTED…
There have been many references in this newsletter to computer-based
actions and information sources. We recognize that many New Yorkers
are not online. We hope that the newsletter has been written in a way
that does not leave them out. If you need help accessing
documentation, your local library will help with the computer
sources. Our phone number is 212-352-9330. During working hours the
phones are usually answered by a real live person, otherwise please
leave a message!
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
356 Seventh Avenue ¥ New York NY 10001 ¥ 212.352.9330
Fax: 212-352-9338 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
COMMUNITY GARDEN UPDATE is published periodically by the Neighborhood
Open Space Coalition. It reports on the struggle to preserve
Community Gardening and the work of thousands of volunteers that take
an interest in the spaces. It is a companion publication to URBAN
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