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NY Post - Clinton Community Garden

  • Subject: [cg] NY Post - Clinton Community Garden
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 25 May 2006 09:17:01 -0400




WHEN Colan McGeehan and his wife, Melissa, relocated from Allentown, Pa., to New York earlier this year, the idea of living in the city was exciting. But they had one reservation.
"Our home in Pennsylvania was a four-bedroom, four-bathroom. We had a garden and all this landscaping," McGeehan says. "[Melissa] was scared that if we moved to the city, she wouldn't be able to garden."
But the couple were heartened when they were shown an apartment in The Octagon, a former insane asylum that's been converted into 500 rental units on Roosevelt Island. The complex has tennis courts, a pool and a waterfront playground, but best of all for the McGeehans, there's a community garden just a three-minute walk away.

"It was a huge selling point," says McGeehan of their proximity to the Roosevelt Island Garden Club, which currently supports 130 gardeners and has been in existence since 1980.
New York community gardens were born in the early 1970s with the Liz Christy Bowery Houston Community Garden. The garden was the brainchild of Liz Christy, the founder of the Green Guerillas, an organization dedicated to cultivating community gardens.
"It was a lemonade out of lemons situation," says Steve Frillmann, the executive director of Green Guerillas. "The city was littered with these nasty vacant lots it was unable to handle. They were rubble-strewn centers for negative things like garbage and prostitution and drug dealing, and the Green Guerillas wanted to take on these open spaces as a community, to clean them out and figure out what folks wanted to plant, as opposed to hiring a landscape artist. They wanted the gardens to look like the people who created them."
And they do. Now 33 years later, there are more than 600 independently managed community gardens sprinkled throughout the city, with the highest concentrations in East Harlem, Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx.
Though each garden has its own set of rules, the basic idea is the same: to provide members of a community, who likely don't have a place to garden at home, the opportunity to tend their own piece of the neighborhood.
Sounds lovely, except, a spot in a community garden can be as difficult to attain as an affordable no-fee rental.
When Sarah Copeland moved to 49th Street in Hell's Kitchen five years ago, she set her sights on securing a piece of the Clinton Community Garden at 436 W. 48th St.
"It was in a ratty neighborhood, because at that time Hell's Kitchen was considered up-and-coming," Copeland says. "The garden was a way to justify to myself that the neighborhood had its own little gems."
She put her name on the waiting list behind 79 other green thumbs, then sat back and waited. And waited. And waited.
It would be four years before Copeland got a call. And even then it wasn't to tell her she'd reached the top of the list. In fact, one of the other gardeners had been neglecting his garden, so management had decided to sublet his plot.
"They have a committee that looks at all of [the plots] every week, and they'll call or e-mail a person if they're not making good use of their space," says Copeland, who got her first taste of community garden-hood as a subletter. "It's just like if you were a tenant anywhere else; you have to contribute."
The McGeehans are number 11 on the list at the Roosevelt Island Garden Club, and are crossing their fingers their number comes up soon.
The benefits of community gardens are obvious. The gardens allow residents to get their hands dirty inexpensively - some gardens don't charge a fee - in a city where dirt can be hard to find. Copeland points out that gardeners can "use the resources of the community garden, the compost and the mulch, and they even give away seeds and let you use their tools."
They also offer a sense of community. And in neighborhoods that lack greengrocers, they can serve as urban farms.
In turn, for the community at large, the gardens serve as safe anchors that stabilize neighborhoods.
A March 2006 study conducted by the NYU School of Law found that "the opening of a community garden has a statistically significant positive impact on residential properties within 1,000 feet of the garden and that the impact increases over time ... We find that the opening of a garden is associated with other changes in the neighborhood, such as increasing rates of homeownership, and they may be serving as catalysts for economic redevelopment of the community."
Well, duh. But it doesn't hurt to be reminded. Though 200 gardens were preserved by the city in 2002 alone, there have been no new gardens created since 1999, when the city stopped giving out leases. And some gardens are currently being threatened.
"Since 1999, we've had over 300 community gardens preserved," says Frillmann. "But now it's garden by garden, as the city and development move forward."
This spring, Copeland's name finally came up. She no longer sublets, and her corner plot is filled with budding herbs and vegetables, most of which, as a Food Network employee and culinary extraordinaire, she uses in the kitchen.
"It might only be 6 by 8 feet, but it's my little piece of land," Copeland says. "I finally have a piece of New York."

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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