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Toronto vs NYC community gardens - URBAN OUTDOORS newsletter

Thought this list might be interested in an update on the threatened NYCity
gardens, from the email newsletter called Urban Outdoors (Neighborhood Open
Space Coalition) - Marla Rhodes, Northeast Food System Partnership

Date: Mon, 08 Nov 1999 09:48:09 -0500
From: dave.lutz@treebranch.com
Subject: URBAN OUTDOORS: Community Garden Update
Sender: urbanoutdoors@treebranch.com
To: urbanoutdoors@treebranch.com (URBAN OUTDOORS Mailing List)
Reply-to: urbanoutdoors@treebranch.com

Community Garden Update                      
November 5, 1999

While NYC works to destroy twenty years of community building, the 
City of Toronto moves in the other direction because they believe 
that community gardening saves lives and money. In Albany, Toronto’s 
Dr. Trevor Hancock, speaking to a meeting of health professionals, 
noted that community gardening was critical to healthy communities, 
providing gathering spaces for neighborly support, green oases for 
psychological health and cleaner air, and opportunities for physical 
activity to reduce the incidence of many debilitating conditions 
including hypertension, heart disease, diabetics, asthma, and some 
cancers. (He failed to mention fresh nutritious food) As a result, he 
told the assembled audience, the City of Toronto Health Department 
was engaged in a program to expand community gardening opportunities 
in that city.    
In NYC: 
Although more than 100 gardens were preserved by NYC's philanthropic 
community in a last minute deal, the paying of ransom to the city has 
not encouraged Mayor Guiliani to view the remaining gardens as worthy 
of preservation. Thus, development proposals put in place both before 
and after the sale are moving forward, placing many gardeners in the 
position of seeing the vise slowly close on the only "cared for" open 
spaces in their communities.

While parks and public spaces in affluent communities are 
increasingly being cared for with private donations solicited from 
surrounding businesses and residents, apparently sweat equity in low 
income neighborhoods is not put on an equal footing by a Mayor who 
sees an opportunity to "cash-in his chips" and leave the people that 
have the least public space with even less.

While Council Speaker Peter Vallone has voiced opposition to the 
unrestricted sale of community gardens during the height of this 
year's crisis, City Council has done nothing to protect the verdant 
spaces. Although they have had the opportunity to preserve some 
gardens, they have in every case in which they were part of the 
process allowed garden destruction to move forward.  In fact, some 
Council members have moved to take gardens out of the recent land 
trust sale package so that they can be sold to developers. 

While legislation has been introduced in the State Legislature to 
protect community gardens, City Council, which is specifically 
mandated to be the people's voice in local matters, has thus far 
chosen not to be an activist voice. The reasons for this are complex. 
They include financial ties to developers, fear of a vindictive 
Mayor, lack of instructions from the Council Speaker to move ahead, 
and even a genuine feeling that not all of the gardens are worthy of 
preservation. While it is unfair to judge community stewarded spaces 
by the same standards as the city-funded botanical gardens, the 
reality is that pending State legislation, which protects all the 
gardens, will probably not move forward. Thus, City Council must 
agree on some process to give the gardeners a chance to fight for 
their own permanence, even if it is not the absolute protection that 
many community gardeners would prefer. It would cost the city nothing 
to at least protect the spaces while they are in active stewardship. 
When the Keap Street and Flags Gardens in Williamsburg were bulldozed 
early this summer, one of the founding families of the two adjacent 
Casita-style gardens just gave up on New York. He took his family 
back home to Puerto Rico, depriving NYC of the kind of bootstrap 
energy that this city has always admired. Brooklyn's Sunflower and 
Generation Gardens were also torn down around the same time. Four 
more Brooklyn public gardens have received vacate orders this fall, 
and more are expected.
In the Bronx, ten of Community Board #3's gardens are to be taken in 
one coordinated attack. Among the gardens that have received orders 
to vacate are the Peachtree and Sun Set gardens founded more than 
twenty years ago. In addition to frequent local gatherings, the 
gardeners at this twin garden have been host to a national bicycle 
tour to promote the concept of an East Coast Greenway, which is 
likely to pass this site. The South Bronx may yet get the greenway, 
but gardeners wonder if the City government will first kill 
everything that is green?

Last week, the Community Farm, one of Prospect Height's most active 
public spaces, held its annual Pumpkin Smash. The jack-o-lanterns are 
brought from around the neighborhood to the garden, where the 
children are waiting. They handle the next task with gusto and 
efficiency. The mess is brought to the compost heap, where it 
provides nourishment for next year’s crops. This year, the faces of 
the adults showed a bit more concern than the carved faces on the 
round fruit.

A week earlier, the city's development department (HPD) made an 
appearance at Brooklyn's CB8 to push expedited plans to develop the 
garden and land around it. The gardeners had done their work well, 
and the Community Board was on record as supporting the space, but 
the HPD representative told the Board that the "farm" would not be 
transferred to parks. HPD Commissioner Richard Roberts is on record 
as saying that gardens will not be developed against the will of the 
community, but the gardeners fear that without the transfer-to-parks 
option the Board may not maintain its resolve. NOSC will be watching 
this face-off for hints about future development about community 
board supported open space.    
The Trust for Public Land has announced that the community gardens 
purchased by their organization will be placed into three separate 
land trusts, one each for Bronx and Manhattan, and one combined for 
Brooklyn and Queens. The New York Restoration Gardens will be placed 
into one citywide land trust. These land trusts are expected to have 
boards of trustees that are representative of the communities and the 
gardens that they serve. They are expected to be given the authority 
to assist gardeners in developing the organizations necessary for 
continuity and those facing succession problems. It is not as yet 
known whether these organizations will set standards for public 
access to the gardens or any other aspect of daily operation.

Four of the more than one hundred gardens saved from destruction by 
private purchase have been removed from the bill of sale by City 
Council members who felt that their communities had greater needs 
than open space. Those gardens were in Harlem and Jamaica, Queens. 
The gardens removed from the sale have been informed of their again 
threatened status. It is understood that no other gardens will fall 
off the planned sale to NY Restoration and Trust for Public Land. The 
bill of sale will, however, have clauses that will require that the 
land be returned to the city if the land trusts are unable to utilize 
them as green space. 

About fifty gardens have thus far been preserved by “transfer to 
parks” Garden groups are being assured by GreenThumb that they have 
all the substantial legislative protection of park land. Given the 
assurances, it would be impossible to reclaim them for development as 
long as they are stewarded, and they would be subject to an 
“alienation” court case if they are returned to HPD.   

356 7th Avenue • NY NY 10001 • 212-352-9330

Marla Rhodes
Northeast Food System Partnership
To subscribe to nefood-l, the email list for sustainable food systems in
the northeastern U.S., send the message: subscribe nefood-l your name
to the address: listproc@listproc.tufts.edu

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