Response to Benepe Op-Ed

Time’s Up! read your 8/11/10 NY Post Op-Ed with great dismay.  There is a certain Orwellian ‘war is peace’ quality to it that separates fact from reality.  You write that “not a single Parks garden has been lost.” You are clearly making a distinction between Green Thumb Park Department protected gardens and others which are not.  A distinction you have chosen to omit and which is also inaccurate because you have also admitted that the Parks Department has been “swapping” protected gardens.  In fact you have “swapped” 36 protected gardens to HPD for development in trade for 22 gardens that could also have been saved.  In addition, over 130 gardens have already been destroyed under the Bloomberg Administration. The fact that Parks Department gardens aren’t being developed, is a strong argument why these should be permanently protected by the Parks Department.  Both you and Mayor Bloomberg deny the permanent status granted to hundreds of gardens under the 2002 Preservation Agreement that is set to expire on September 17, 2010, even though the City’s 2002 press release clearly states that these gardens are permanently protected.

Yesterday, we spent all day with citizens of New York City concerned about the new parks rules.  The word “transfer” can be found throughout the document, implying that gardens can be transferred to housing and development.  Moving a garden is no easy matter. Digging up what was cultivated and paid for by volunteers can be heartbreaking. Clearing decades of debris, rebuilding the soil, replanting and/or investing in new plants and garden structures, access to water, reconnecting the community of dedicated volunteers, some of whom are likely to be children and seniors unable to walk the extra distance – each of these issues are significant.

The word PRESERVE is remarkably absent from the document.

While your editorial says, “The city is committed to more robust protections for community gardens” your document does not show us how. Gardeners want permanent protection for the small bits and pieces of green space left in this city.  Vital to our urban future, community gardens combat global warming and support social innovation, cross-cultural understanding and community development.  While you suggest these rules create “more options for alternate sites” there are few vacant lots left in neighborhoods in NYC.  However, there are many empty apartments and commercial buildings.  Once a lot has a building on it, the opportunity to make it a green space is lost for decades.

You state that the reason the gardens can’t be designated as permanent parkland is because community members are primarily responsible for the gardens’ upkeep and maintenance, not city taxpayers.  However, community members and private groups are already primarily responsible for maintaining hundreds of park properties throughout the city.  Thousands of acres of parks, playgrounds, ballfields and recreation centers – are privately maintained – including Central Park, The Highline, Bryant Park and more. The Bloomberg administration has repeated stated that public private partnerships are a priority of this administration, a fact that Mr. Benepe conveniently omits from his argument.  Why, in the case of community gardeners, does this policy not apply?  And with PlaNYC’s promise of a park within 10 minutes-walk of every home, community gardens become even more valuable to the vision of a greater, greener city.

In trying to justify the the City’s unwillingness to recognize 198 gardens permanance, you recently attempted to down play the importance of permanent protections.  “It’s difficult to call anything permanent, including community gardens.  Even parks are not permanent,” you told the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 5, 2010.   While certainly not perfect – as the people in the South Bronx found out when the City allowed the NY Yankees to take 25 acres of parkland to build a stadium – having mapped parkland provides infinitely more protections than not.

Commissioner Benepe, we need sensible leadership, not spin. Your argument that you are protecting gardens by “transferring” them to alternate sites which do not exist does not pass the test of common sense.

Scrap the rules as proposed, preserve all the community gardens, and create more gardens now.

Times Up! Environmental Group