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RE: Your comments in the Inquirer

  • Subject: [cg] RE: Your comments in the Inquirer
  • From: Alliums <garlicgrower@earthlink.net>
  • Date: Wed, 17 Mar 2004 14:40:53 -0500

Dear Mike Groman:

Unfortunately, newspaper articles sometimes skip over the full context of the conversation, which triggers responses such as yours.  So here goes my explanation.... 
Believe me, in no way was I denegrating the value of community gardens as tools to revitalize neighborhoods.  Community gardens are wonderful resources.  They have a full array of positive physical, social, and environmental impacts that few other community development efforts offer. The Philadelphia Green Program is rooted in community gardens and will always stay connected to the cause.

Which is exactly why you must choose your words carefully when describing Philadelphia Green's current project under Mayor Street's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) and actively avoid comparing this project to community gardens. 

It appears that comparing community gardens to the current "clean and green" model is like comparing apples and peaches -- the two fruits are related and come from similar genetic stock, but the final product is different because they are the result of different processes leading to different goals.

NTI and the "clean and green" model are meant to inspire private ownership of abandoned public land.  The whole purpose behind cleaning up the land and planting only grass, a few trees and a split-rail fence is to provide a "blank slate" that will inspire a developer (Mayor Street's first choice as mentioned in every NTI news release) to buy the land and build either houses or businesses.  If a developer is not interested, but neighborhood residents want to purchase cleared lots as side yards to their houses, that also fits the primary goal, which is to transfer public abandoned land into traceable private ownership so that it will generate tax revenue. The process is inexpensive and quick because it is purposefully transient -- the goal is that a private owner will purchase, then transform the land to fit their own vision.

Community gardens, as you mention above, are long-term community development efforts.  They are specialized public spaces created and maintained by the public for public use.  The process takes time and effort because they are long-term projects that must adapt to many visions, rather than one private owner's vision.  The goal is community, rather than private ownership.

Therefore, since community gardens and the "clean and green" models are very different projects with different goals, and it would be unreasonable for anyone to expect PHS to be other than excited and upbeat about its own projects when discussing them in public or in with the media, I believe that if PHS wants to maintain cordial relations with its former colleagues who remain in the community gardening, that it (and you) must avoid all comparisons of your current project with community gardens as 1) they are very different projects and 2) it does not appear that you are currently able to promote the "clean and green" project without including at least one statement that implies that community gardens are a lesser activity.

As a point of courtesy, I am simply suggesting that you promote your current project without downgrading the projects of others, which we believe in as powerfully as you believe in your current project.  If that means you must avoid the topic of community gardens in public altogether until you have practiced your speech so that you are not unnecessarily hurtful to your former colleges, then such is probably the prudent course if PHS is serious about healing the hurts brought on by its sudden and dramatic decrease of support to community gardening. But to continue as you have been is simply rude.

The simple point I was trying to make with the reporter was that the city has a tremendous vacant land problem....31,000 vacant lots and counting.  And, with a problem of this scope and scale, community gardening is not the most effective tool.

Now see, Mike, this last line you wrote is exactly what I am talking about.  How can a Philadelphia garden such as Fitzwater 2000 hope to attract funders so that they can purchase their land if you are saying that community gardening is "not the most effective tool" to deal with vacant land?  What Philadelphia corporation or foundation will take this garden, which is small, but horticulturally significant or even Southwark Queen Village, which is large and community-oriented, seriously, if Philadelphia Green, which promoted community gardens for over 20 years, cannot promote its current, very different project except by taking potshots at what it promoted for over 20 years?  And why is it necessary for you to promote "clean and green" by saying that it's better than community gardening when the goals are completely different?

 A more broad based systemic approach that requires a significant level of investment and commitment from the city is also needed.  From our perspective, based on the work Philadelphia Green has been doing over the past 7 years, this "clean and green" model of treating vacant land is proving to be a cost effective means to remove blight and improve the living conditions in neighborhoods across the city.  More importantly, it's being done at a scope and scale that begins to make a significant dent in the problem....not just lots at a time, but acres at a time.  The reponse from the neighbors has been tremendously positive. Hope is being restored.

See above.  It's a different process with a different goal than community gardening (or urban agriculture).  Not "better" or "worse" -- just different. And that needs to be the message that you give to in public and the media -- no comparisons because the project goals are too different.

Of course more is needed....more gardens are needed, more street trees are needed, increased investment in neighborhood parks is needed.  That's why PHS is doing what we can to promote a Green City Strategy...calling for significant investment in all forms of urban open spaces, including community gardens, as a means to attract people back to the city and attract investment in the city.

And the current and proposed future funding and staff time behind these words is . . . ?

I hope this helps.  And certainly, feel free to call me if you'd like to discuss this further (e-mails can sometimes add an unnecessary "edge" to the conversation....).

I have continued with e-mail because I personally can maintain the
courtesy I am asking of you much easier by carefully constructing my words and taking the time to edit them to make sure I am maintaining the respect I am also asking for.  The ACGA listserve has also been very interested in this conversation and I believe that, given the history between PHS and community gardening and how abruptly that history was ended by PHS, it's important for PHS to hear the hurt, betrayal and yes, anger that those of us who remain in community gardening full time feel at the loss of recognition, finances and technical assistance that PHS used to provide. 

A rift cannot be mended unless its dimensions are known and understood.  I hope that we all can maintain a cordial tone, but I'm sure that some "edge" will slip out at times -- if PHS had not meant anything to all of us, then it would be very quiet on the community gardening listserve right now! If PHS is interested in maintaining cordial relations with its former colleagues, then I would suggest that this is the time for both kind words and firm, supportive actions.


Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460

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