2010-09-14 – Comm-Garden Rules Receive a Mixed Reaction – NYT

Community-Garden Rules Receive a Mixed Reaction
New York Times
September 14, 2010
By Javier C. Hernandez


To protect the city’s sparse greenery over the years, New Yorkers have climbed trees, wagged freshly picked beets and carrots in the faces of politicians and barricaded themselves inside gardens.

Hoping to avoid another such battle, the Bloomberg administration on Monday released new rules that it framed as a means of preserving the city’s 282 community gardens.

But the response from garden advocates was mixed, and some said they wanted clearer guarantees that the garden lots would not be turned over to developers.

The rules, which go into effect next month, will replace a 2002 agreement with the state attorney general’s office that offered firm pledges of protection to 198 gardens. That agreement expires on Friday.

The new guidelines include a more explicit pledge that gardens would be preserved if the groups running them were in good standing. To qualify, organizers must keep the gardens well maintained, operate for 20 hours each week and open their gardens to the public.

They also require the city to attempt to help find a new group of gardeners if lots are neglected.

Gardeners had urged the Parks and Recreation Department, which has oversight of community gardens, to follow the spirit of the 2002 agreement and grant permanent protection to the lots. But the department said its powers were limited, and it argued that it was necessary to have some leverage in case a garden was not properly maintained.

At a news conference in a Harlem vegetable garden on Monday, city officials said the new regulations would help preserve community gardens.

“If we didn’t have the best rules, then we had a potential of a state of chaos and threat,” said the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn. “Now we have the best rules, so we have a foundation and a sense of calm and protection.”

Many advocates, including Ms. Quinn, had criticized an early draft of the regulations as feeble and ambiguous. After more than 100 gardeners, some dressed as flowers, insects and vegetables, protested the draft regulations at a raucous hearing last month, the city pledged to re-examine them.

The new rules are the latest attempt to address the concerns of gardeners, who have emerged as a vocal force since the days of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose administration tried to build housing complexes over garden spaces. Many of the gardens are about a third of an acre in size, often sandwiched between buildings.

“The point is, we don’t want a garden to fail,” said the city parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe.

Several advocates for community gardens, however, said the rules were too vague and left open the possibility that lots could be overtaken.

Bill Di Paola, executive director of Time’s Up!, an environmental organization, said the rules did not reflect the views of gardeners. “The city needs to recognize that the parks and gardens belong to the people,” Mr. Di Paola said.

Benjamin Shepard, a social worker who has volunteered with Time’s Up!, said he was disappointed that the city devoted so much space in the regulations to detailing the process for relocating gardens.

“I’m not seeing preservation here; I’m not seeing permanence here,” Mr. Shepard said. “We need a full commitment from the city to protect these spaces.”

But Karen Washington, president of the nonprofit group New York City Community Garden Coalition, said in a statement that it appeared the concerns of gardeners had been addressed. Still, she said the group planned to review the exact language of the rules before offering a verdict. The coalition, founded in 1996 to coordinate the opposition to the effort to turn gardens into housing units, advised the city as it rewrote the rules.

Ms. Quinn said the rules released Monday “go as far as they can possibly go,” but she noted that a new mayor could easily repeal them. She said she would explore ways of offering permanent protection to gardens, including possibly setting up land trusts or long-term leases.