[cg] Support for NYC Gardens
The editorial which follows is authored by National Gardening Association's
President, David Els, in support of New York City's community gardens. It
appears on page 5 in the May/June issue of National Gardening Magazine.
National Gardening Association encourages like minded gardeners to lend
support to the efforts to preserve New York City's community gardens, which
are being spearheaded by ACGA, the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, the
NYC Community Garden Coalition, and the Sierra Club. Community gardeners
and supporters are now mobilizing for the "Standing our Ground" Conference
and Rally to be held Friday, April 9, and Saturday, April 10 in New York
Gardening Matters... by David E. Els
A crisis for urban gardeners
Mayor Giuliani becomes
the foe of urban gardens
When University of Michigan psychologist Rachel Kaplan surveyed avid
gardeners in 1983, more than 80 percent ranked "peacefulness and
tranquillity" among gardening's top benefits. So it's not very often that
you find a broad coalition of dedicated gardeners with their dander up over
a garden-related issue. What's happening in New York city now qualifies as
the largest and most significant brouhaha in the annals of garden history.
In a swift decision that appears to defy reason and logic, Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani plans this May to auction off more than 120 thriving community
gardens. The gardens would be sold to developers who would bulldoze them
into the vacant lots they once were 10 or 20 years ago when they were
reclaimed by neighbors (with the city's blessing) and transformed into
The mayor claims that the city has a shortage of housing and that by
turning the gardens over (no pun intended) to developers, the land will be
converted to a "higher use." This decision simply makes no sense. New York
city has more than 11,000 vacant, buildable lots, of which only 750 are
community gardens. Thus it appears that there is no justification for the
sacrifice of these community gardens with their rich history of improving
the quality of life in New York's neighborhoods.
In the 22 years since the federal government enacted the Urban Gardening
Program through the USDA Extension Service, extensive research has been
conducted on the effects of community gardening and greening programs on
people, urban neighborhoods, the environment, and quality of life. This
research demonstrates -- at no surprise to gardeners -- that these programs
contribute immeasurable social and psychological value to the communities
where they exist.
Here are just a few examples of documented evidence we have sent to Mayor
Giuliani with the hope that he might reconsider his decision.
The research of Stephan and Rachel Kaplan at the University of Michigan
confirms that people in a technological age need plants for more than just
food, and green space for more than just pleasure. They conclude, "Nature
is not just 'nice'... it is a vital ingredient in healthy human functioning."
But let's not overlook the obvious benefits of productive gardens in urban
settings. Robert Gottleib and Peter Sinsheimer of the UCLA Graduate School
of Urban Planning found that 27 percent of the people living in one South
Central Los Angeles neighborhood did not have enough money to buy food and
that many residents had no easy access to grocery stores. In such
situations, community gardens provide some needed short-term relief and a
potential long-term solution.
In 1993, research supported by the Merck Family Fund and conducted by
Marian Macpherson reported that after a Philadelphia police officer, Rita
Ikedaf, "started a community gardening program, burglaries and thefts in
the area dropped from about 40 to 4 incidents per month."
Similarly, in San Francisco the Trust for Public Land found that crime on
Dearborn Street in the Mission District fell 28 percent after the first
year of their garden project. Today, crime in the area is down 78 percent.
Needless to say, there is more evidence to support the importance of
community gardening, and it is apparent that community gardening is as much
about community as it is about gardening.
Further, the concept that the cultivation of plants and our interaction
with them nourishes us in many ways is no longer an open question. For well
over 20 years, the neighborhood gardens throughout New York City and
elsewhere have enriched the lives of residents.
If you are a reader of this magazine or a member of the National Gardening
Association, and if you feel as strongly as I do about the need for more --
not fewer -- community gardens, I urge you to express your thoughts to the
Write to Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mayor of the City
of New York, City Hall, New York 10007.
If nothing changes, this careless act and its national consequences will
set the community gardening movement back 20 years.
David E. Els is president and publisher of the National Gardening Association.
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