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A Bitter Harvest for the Losers - The NY Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

  • Subject: [cg] A Bitter Harvest for the Losers - The NY Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2002 15:54:55 EDT


This is from the "Newspaper of Record", the NY Times, on the losers in the 
community garden settlement.  As elegaic pieces go, it ain't bad and I'm glad 
it actually got past the paper's City Editor.  This, along with some good 
pieces by Anne Raver, were the only real mainstream documentation that the 
community garden crisis got in  the major NYC  print media, except, of 
course, the classic anti-garden editorial, "Garden Weasel's" NY Daily News 
editorial that appeared in August of 2001.  I shouldn't be surprised, real 
estate advertising is a mainstay of our paper tigers, but as over 15,000 New 
Yorkers are engaged in community gardening, coverage should be better.... The 
NY Times did get a sweetheart deal on some prime real estate in Midtown for 
their new building (an occupied office building is being condemned for the 
purpose - I was at the hearings.) 

This is a good piece of reportage - however, a NY Times editorial in favor of 
community gardens would have done more good.

It sticks in my craw that the "Million Flower Compost" story got better 
coverage in Seattle than in NYC.  It was the most tasteful, non-commerical 
and uplifiting post 9/11 event that I've ever attended - goodness knows the 
press releases went out to everybody, but the city desk editors nixed 
coverage.  Fortunately, NY1 (the local  Time Warner local TV station) covered 
the event - there's great footage of the Liberty Community Garden, the 
wheelbarrows of compost, Jon Rowley, Tessa Huxley, the gardeners and one 
great young boy in whom I see the future of the commuity gardening movement.  

It would be ironic if this story is nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Best wishes,
Adam Honigman,
Volunteer, Clinton Community Garden

Saturday, October 12, 2002

By Daisy Hernandez

The agreement to preserve some 500 of the city's community gardens and allow 
about 150 others to be developed into housing seemed to many a fair solution 
to a long dispute. 

But some gardeners who stand to lose out in the deal are still hoping to hold 
onto the land. 

For three years, Helen Mason of Brooklyn has been cultivating a garden on 
Legion Street in Brownsville, where she and 12 neighbors grow banana peppers, 
lemon thyme and potatoes. There, they teach children the virtues of eating 

Now, because of last month's agreement between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and 
the New York State attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, the garden will be 
cleared for the immediate development of two- and three-family housing.

A few blocks away, on Herzl Street, Ann Thompson, a retired nurse, opened a 
day care center in 1999 and converted the lot next door into a garden. The 
city calls it the Herzl Street Block Association Garden, but she renamed it 
after her day care center, Future Leaders Garden. This plot will also be 
developed with housing. 

In Manhattan, on East Sixth Street, Nancy Alusick will soon have to give up 
the 20-year-old Stannard-Diggs Community Garden. The land will be used for 
housing for the elderly.

More than two decades ago, New York City gave community groups temporary 
permission to turn vacant city property into gardens. Many were turned into 
leafy oases, while in other places, gardens failed to take root, leaving 
litter-strewn eyesores.

With the city's revitalized economy in the 1990's and the increasing housing 
shortage, some of those garden lots became valuable real estate. Lawsuits, 
including legal action by the attorney general, kept the city from developing 
the sites, and many New Yorkers agreed that it was hard to choose sides. The 
city needs both greenery and housing.

"There's a demand for homeownership in Brooklyn and the Bronx," said Carol 
Abrams, spokeswoman for the City Department of Housing Preservation and 
Development. "What houses do for a neighborhood is anchor a neighborhood in 
good and bad times."

Even the losing gardeners admit the need. "They do need the old-age housing," 
Ms. Alusick said. "I cannot speak against that." But this does not make the 
loss easier. "Finding out that your garden is going to be bulldozed is like 
finding out someone has cancer," she said.

Many advocates of the gardens counter that green spaces are just as essential 
as homes. "I look at the kids in this community," Ms. Thompson said. "They're 
just surviving. Central Park is like California to them. So I said, `Let me 
take this garden and make this their Central Park.' "

They also say that they had no voice in the deal made last month. Ms. 
Thompson and other gardeners and community leaders say they were excluded 
from the negotiations between the mayor and the attorney general. Councilman 
Charles Barron of Brooklyn said he would meet later this month with people 
from the mayor's and Mr. Spitzer's offices.

"I want them to reconsider the gardens that they're saving," Mr. Barron said. 
"My concern is that there's been a disproportionate number of gardens closed 
in Brownsville."

Mr. Spitzer's office declined to discuss why certain neighborhoods were 
affected or how gardens were chosen for preservation or development.

Ms. Abrams, of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said 
there were several reasons lots were chosen. Some, like Ms. Thompson's and 
Ms. Mason's, were reviewed by the city last year and approved for development 
pending the outcome of Mr. Spitzer's lawsuit. Other lots were requested by 
nonprofit agencies seeking to build multiple-unit housing for the elderly or 
for other people who need special services, like those with disabilities.

Generally, the sites chosen for development were selected because they were 
larger or there were several lots available to build a cluster of new homes, 
Ms. Abrams said. 

Some gardeners, feeling locked out of the decision-making process, claim the 
plots they use were chosen over vacant lots. In some cases, gardeners say, 
other vacant lots offered as replacement gardens are not going to work. "We 
were offered another site, but it's no good" because hydrants or other water 
sources are not within easy reach, Cordelia Gilford of the Bronx said.
 Ms. Gilford has helped run the Community School 134 garden on Bristow Street 
in the Bronx since it opened in 1979. The decision to close the garden has 
left her frustrated, and she said she was trying to persuade Councilwoman 
Helen Diane Foster to defend the garden in City Hall. But Ms. Gilford held 
out little hope. 

"Once the city decides," she asked, "what can we do?"
Most gardeners who were interviewed said they were still in shock, since they 
thought Mr. Spitzer had been defending them. Some said that they were in 
constant contact with his office during the lawsuit, so they expected their 
gardens to be protected.

Meanwhile, those whose gardens are being preserved in the agreement are 
feeling something akin to survivor's guilt.

"I don't feel great," said Carolyn Ratcliffe, whose garden on East Ninth 
Street in Manhattan was spared. "They love their gardens as much as we love 

She disagrees with critics who say these gardens were meant to be only 
temporary until the city made decisions about development. "You feel like 
cannon fodder," Ms. Ratcliffe said. "That's what gardeners have been in New 
York City. The gardeners took vacant lots. They chased out the drugs. They 
spent thousands of hours of work, thousand of dollars of their money, turning 
these places into safe havens. And then, `Oh, yeah, don't get too attached to 
it.' "

Although her garden has been spared for the moment, she does not feel secure 
about it. According to the agreement, the city has three years to decide if 
gardens like hers will be turned over to a public land trust or the Parks 
Department. The first possibility would require a review of the garden and 
the second would give the city the option of selling the lot in the future. 
She said she hoped the garden would one day become a city park.

Harvey Epstein, chairman of Community Board 3 in Lower Manhattan, said that 
if gardeners have to lose their green spaces, the city had better make sure 
that low-income housing is really built in their place. During the late 
1990's, he said, gardens in his area were taken for commercial developments 
with rents beyond what poor residents could pay. 

"I think people are more understanding when it goes to affordable housing," 
Mr. Epstein said. "But when it was going to market-rate development in our 
neighborhood, it was a real problem." 

According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the new 
homes built on old gardens are supposed to be for buyers with incomes of 
$35,000 to $75,000 a year, and people living in the neighborhoods are to be 
given preference. This may be little comfort to the people who garden on 
Legion Street, since the census showed that Brownsville had a median 
household income of $19,722 in 2000, according to Susan Weber at the 
Department of Sociology at Queens College.

Ms. Thompson knows the bulldozers could arrive any day. She has been 
contacting the local community board and council members, hoping to save her 
garden, which doubles as a gathering spot for neighborhood children. 

"It's not going to hurt me as much as it is those kids," she said. "I'm 
tough. I can take it. But where are those kids going to go?"


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