NYTimes.com Article: New York Lets Housing and Gardens Grow
- Subject: [cg] NYTimes.com Article: New York Lets Housing and Gardens Grow
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- Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 09:58:56 -0400 (EDT)
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Here is the NY Times article about the garden settlement.
New York Lets Housing and Gardens Grow
September 19, 2002
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
A protracted dispute between New York City and hundreds of
community gardeners ended yesterday when the city agreed to
preserve some 500 community gardens and use others to build
more than 2,000 apartments during the next year, a 20
percent increase over the normal production of
Under the agreement announced yesterday between Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg and the New York State attorney
general, Eliot Spitzer, community gardens in neighborhoods
around the city will be left alone to sprout grass, violets
and the random ear of corn, while scores of others will be
razed, with new low-income housing units going up in their
"Our hope is that this satisfies everybody to the extent
that they can be satisfied," Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday
during a news conference at City Hall.
Garden advocates, who have battled the city for years to
keep community gardens from being turned over to
developers, by and large echoed the sentiment.
"It is not perfect," said Rose Harvey, the senior vice
president at the Trust for Public Land, a conservation
organization that purchased some community gardens in 1999,
in a telephone interview. "But perfect is usually the enemy
of the possible."
The compromise marks the end of a quintessential New York
drama, pitting the two most common objects of longing for
many New Yorkers - housing and unfettered green spaces -
against each other, and featuring some of the city's most
irascible characters. The key protagonist was former Mayor
Rudolph W. Giuliani, who wanted to put an end to the
hundreds of gardens that dot the city's landscape, arguing
that what the city needed was housing on those plots of
On the other side were the garden supporters, belonging to
organizations with names like Green Guerrillas, whose love
of plants was so intense that they were willing to descend
on City Hall dressed as vegetables or insects to make their
point. That group has its own heroes - Mr. Spitzer, who
brought his own lawsuit against the city in 1999 to prevent
it from auctioning garden land to the highest bidder, and
the singer Bette Midler, who stepped in with millions of
dollars to save scores of gardens that same year.
But the Bloomberg administration, which has made settling
the last administration's lawsuits a priority, was more
open to a compromise with the green thumb crowd, which
helped pave the way for yesterday's agreement, Mr. Spitzer
"I will say affirmatively that we have had a good working
relationship with Mayor Bloomberg and his counsel," Mr.
More than two decades ago community groups were granted
permission to transform vacant lots, which over the years
had become city property, into garden spaces. Hundreds of
gardens sprouted around the city in many forms, ranging
from the successful, spectacular stretches of kale-toned
respite, to the failures: garbage-strewn, rodent-infested
eyesores that attracted unsavory activities. Many gardens
provided an oasis in the city's poorest neighborhoods,
where there are few city parks. But the agreement between
community groups and the city was not permanent, and Mr.
Giuliani let it be known that he thought the lots ought to
be turned over to the highest bidder, which was unlikely to
be a group of urban gardeners.
The result was a series of lawsuits, a restraining order
against the city that prevented it from auctioning several
gardens and Mr. Spitzer's suit, which essentially paralyzed
any development the city had planned. The New York
Restoration Project - Ms. Midler's group - and the Trust
for Public Land purchased more than 100 sites in 1999 for
$4.2 million, which will be maintained as community
gardens. The settlement yesterday concludes all the current
litigation against the city on matters of gardening, city
Under the agreement, roughly 200 city gardens owned and run
by city agencies (mostly the Parks Department and the
Department of Education) will remain gardens, in addition
to those run by the nonprofit groups. Another 200 gardens
will be offered to the Parks Department without charge, or
to nonprofit groups for what the city described as a
"nominal fee." Those groups will be compelled to raise the
money needed to maintain the gardens and to complete any
capital projects needed.
But more than 150 parcels are slated for private
development of low-income housing, some of it immediately.
The New York City Partnership, for instance, was waiting to
develop 546 units at eight sites affected by the lawsuit.
All but 83 of those units can now move forward in their
partnership with the city's Department of Housing
Preservation and Development. "After a delay of more than
three years, we are pleased that 463 units of affordable
homes in the Housing Partnership pipeline can move forward
as a result of this settlement," said Kathryn S. Wylde,
president of the partnership.
Residents near a garden slated for development on East
Sixth Street between Avenues C and D were displeased to
hear of its fate, and offered their own theories as to why
it would soon be replaced with 75 units of housing.
Manuel Valentine stared forlornly at a chicken strutting
around the Sixth Street garden, where other neighbors were
busy cooking dinner. "We're going to find you a new home
now," he told the chicken. Godofredo Crespo, 50, for
instance, said he suspected that a neighboring garden on
Ninth Street might have been spared because of its rare
Christine Thaleman stood with her 7-week-old baby and
2-year-old in the Ninth Street spot, at Avenue C, and said
that it provided a bit of countryside in the middle of the
East Village. "I think the garden is the only reason I am
in this area," she said of the land, where it costs $25 a
year to be a member. Ms. Thaleman grows tomatoes and
arugula and asparagus there.
Any plots to be developed will go through a public review
process, officials said. That Mr. Bloomberg was able to
settle a long term street fight in a matter of months is in
keeping with the administration's penchant for forming cozy
relationships - at least at the outset - with some of Mr.
Giuliani's adversaries. Jane Weissman, former director of
Green Thumb, the city's community gardening program, said
yesterday that the settlement's provision for a review
process at least sets the terms for any future fights.
"It preserves almost 200 community gardens," she said, "but
even more important, it sets out a process that's fair,
that's equitable, that is going to provide notification and
will give gardeners a chance to find support for their
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