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[cg] Latest article on NYC Garden crisis

Trying to Save Spring's Soul From Auction

              By DAVID GONZALEZ 

                    ARRY BUBBINS smiled at the season's first daffodils
-- a burst of bright yellow
                    blossoms perched atop rich green stems -- thriving
in a community garden on East
                    138th Street and the Bruckner Expressway in Mott
Haven. The Bronx garden's
              location -- a triangular lot that ages ago was a wreck --
was a testament to life's tenacity amid
              housing projects and a tangle of roads and highway ramps.
Bubbins calls this plot, the
              southernmost garden in the South Bronx, the Liberated

              "I don't know why T.S. Eliot said April was the cruelest
month," he said. "That's when
              things all come out in the sunshine." 

              Elsewhere in the garden, which has been tended since the
mid-1980's by the volunteers of
              the Cherry Tree Association, skeletal trees awaited the
warmth and seedlings broke through
              the soil. A wooden cross decorated with tin snakeheads was
chained to a stone where a
              computer had been placed before it. It was a sculpture in
honor of Geeza Daniels, a founder
              of the garden. 

              "The piece is actually called 'Prometheus Bound,' "
Bubbins said. "Today's hottest
              technology will be tomorrow's refuse. Or art. And the land
will always be here." 

              Considering that he was standing on soil owned by the City
of New York, he may have
              spoken too soon, at least when it comes to what will be on
that land. The Cherry Tree
              Association's garden and more than 100 other community
plots are scheduled to be
              auctioned in May by the city to spur economic development
and housing in blighted
              communities. Local officials and garden advocates have
tried to prevent the auction. They
              contend that good urban planning, especially in poor
neighborhoods like Mott Haven, must
              provide open spaces that temper man-made progress with
natural tradition. 

              Bubbins's reference to Eliot came from "The Waste Land,"
which is what Mott Haven had
              become after years of abandonment, crime and an exodus of
people. Some said it got that
              way through poor planning that left it with too many
housing projects, homeless shelters and
              other facilities for the poor. Nor did it help being
hemmed in by an elevated expressway. 

              The gardens, made possible through the city's Green Thumb
program, turned ratty lots into
              oases that were leased to community groups for pennies a
year. It was a temporary
              arrangement, made with the understanding that the parcels
could one day be sold. But a lot
              has changed since the gardeners took up their rakes.
Advocates said the city land-use review
              that allowed the sale of the lots is outdated and does not
reflect the current needs of a

              Lisa Westberg came to the Cherry Tree garden five years
ago to work the soil and share in
              artistic and cultural events organized by a group of
artists who work next door. It sparked in
              her a sense of freedom. 

              "There was a kind of uncompromising readiness to take
control of certain things in life," she
              said. "Most of the city is a symbol of flair and fun,
where so many people come to it but
              never look here to commit themselves to something. Coming
up here for me is very much
              on the other end of that spectrum." 

              It is, to her, planning for a future that is not
cookie-cutter, conformist or commercial. "Other
              places in the city are about creating a culture of
conformity, to set standards everyone is
              supposed to adhere to and uphold as a common vision," she
said. "Instead of standardizing
              and searching for uniformity, we should have a more
profound search for freedom that
              means we have to be more sure about what our desires are.
It's kind of abstract." 

              To make it real, a group of Bronx gardeners dressed like
sunflowers and tomatoes for a bit
              of street theater outside the midtown office of Gov.
George E. Pataki. They went there
              Monday afternoon to preserve their endangered gardens by
seeking financing from the state's
              Environmental Bond Act. The gardeners hope they could use
the money to buy the plot at
              auction, or to convince city officials that the plot
shouldn't be sold because they have the
              resources to make better use of it. Policy analysts
familiar with the act said it was not a
              cure-all, since groups that receive the state money had to
match the amount received. 

              A woman with patchwork silk butterfly wings floated
through the crowd of pedestrians.
              Another woman whose face peeked through a sunflower
headdress tiptoed along the
              sidewalk. Sandy Walsh, a systems analyst, watched in
approval before heading to an

              "Part of living in the city consists of dirt, crime and
corruption," she said. "Where is life? We
              need sanctuaries."

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