NYTimes.com Article: Ducklings Make Way for Housing in Brooklyn
- Subject: [cg] NYTimes.com Article: Ducklings Make Way for Housing in Brooklyn
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- Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003 09:53:03 -0400 (EDT)
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Here is the NY Times coverage of the Brooklyn Community Garden bulldozings,
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Ducklings Make Way for Housing in Brooklyn
April 19, 2003
By DAISY HERNÁNDEZ
What is left are piles of dirt and heaps of anxiety.
Three community gardens in Brownsville, Brooklyn, have
finally been cleared so the lots can become construction
sites for housing. Now all that can be seen are garden
hoses, birdhouses and mangled tree branches.
Ann Thompson, a gardener on Herzl Street who was hoping to
see her peach tree bloom in one of the gardens, is now
wondering where the bulldozer left the rest of her tree.
And over on Legion Street, in a fourth garden, Helen Mason,
in a winter coat and walking with a cane, was waiting
yesterday - along with her four ducks - for the bulldozers
This is what remains of a protracted battle that had pitted
green space against housing needs. Former Mayor Rudolph W.
Giuliani had wanted to replace hundreds of gardens with
housing. But in 1999 the New York attorney general, Eliot
Spitzer, sued the city to prevent the lots from being
auctioned off. In September of last year, Mayor Michael R.
Bloomberg and Mr. Spitzer reached a compromise that
preserved 500 gardens and set aside another 150 for the
construction of more than 2,000 apartments. But fights do
not end so easily in New York City, especially when the
prize is real estate.
The city sent letters to gardeners like Ms. Mason and Ms.
Thompson in February, telling them they had 10 days to
vacate the lots where they had cultivated their gardens.
But the two women did not clear out, they said, because
they had been speaking with a developer for the land, who
told them he would consider alternative sites.
They had also talked to Councilman Charles Barron, who said
yesterday that he had spoken to an official at the
Department of Housing Preservation and Development about
preserving a few Brownsville gardens and was surprised to
see Ms. Thompson's garden being demolished. Yesterday, with
three gardens in Brownsville already demolished and hers
set to be cleared at any moment, Ms. Mason was angry. She
said the developer she had spoken to at one of the
companies, Diversified Inch by Inch, should keep his
promise to look at other sites. "If you hadn't said it, we
wouldn't have had this hope," Ms. Mason said.
Repeated calls to Diversified yesterday were not returned.
But Carol Abrams, a spokeswoman for Housing Preservation
and Development, said there had been no new discussions
about the Brownsville gardens. The lots are still in the
city's hands, since the developers need to test the soil
for environmental reasons, Ms. Abrams said. About 17
two-family homes will be built in Brownsville, she said,
and there is a list of 1,400 people who have shown interest
in the properties, which she said would probably sell for
about $300,000 each. The development of these houses will
not be subsidized by the city, Ms. Abrams said, but the
lots are being sold for one dollar, in order to attract
"This is a city with a housing shortage," Ms. Abrams said.
"People are desperate for housing."
Yesterday, Ms. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, recounted
how she had planted tomatoes on Wednesday only to arrive
the next day and find the bulldozer sitting where her peach
tree and fish pond had once been. The American flag she had
raised to commemorate Sept. 11 was also gone. She was able
to salvage two chairs and some flowers. Now, Ms. Thompson,
who runs a day care center in the house next to the garden,
the Future Leaders Garden, said she was worried that the
city would not finish what it had begun. "It could be that
way for months," she said of the pile at the back of the
Herzl Street wasn't always a hot spot for new housing.
James McKeather, who moved into the neighborhood in the
late 1980's and also had his garden on Herzl Street razed
on Thursday, said it took a decade to improve the block. He
and other residents patrolled the streets and called the
police when young men brought cars into empty lots to strip
them. Then, Mr. McKeather said, they started to convert
those lots into gardens, filling them with collard greens,
strawberry patches and apple trees.
Now, the street is quiet and when Mr. McKeather's neighbor,
Janette Maxwell, walked past the garden yesterday and heard
about the new development, she said she was going to call
her son, who wanted to buy a house.
It could be said that this is a drama with too many good
guys and not enough bad guys.
Horace Watt, who arrived on Herzl Street on Thursday in a
bulldozer, said later that he was at war with himself. It
was his job to clear about 20 lots in Brownsville by Monday
evening. When he arrived at Ms. Thompson's garden, he said
he looked at the mural, the trees and the children's
furniture, and he called his boss to make sure that he had
the right place.
"It bothered me," Mr. Watt said yesterday at another site
on Blake Avenue that had not been used as a garden. "I
don't like to destroy stuff."
But he had a job to do, he said. It was even harder, he
said, when he saw Ms. Mason's garden, called Fantasy
"That lady's got ducks," Mr. Watt said. "They had good
So Ms. Mason waits for Mr. Watt to arrive. Friends are
helping her move the ducks and the birdhouses to her
backyard. "You have to be realistic," she said. "You can't
just leave it here and expect a miracle."
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