RE: Your comments in the Inquirer
Dear Mike Groman:
newspaper articles sometimes skip over the full context of the
conversation, which triggers responses such as yours. So here goes
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
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
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,