‘The Bulldozers Are Coming’: Garden Crusaders Hop on Their Bikes
New York Times
August 1, 2010
By Colin Moynihan
The bikes departed Tompkins Square, pedaled by men and women dressed in 21st-century thrift-store versions of 18th-century garb. There were tricorn hats, vests and, in a few cases, shirts with long, flowing sleeves. Many of the bicycles were decorated with cardboard cutouts in the shape of a horse’s head. One man rang a bell. Others shouted to passers-by on Avenue B, calling out, “The bulldozers are coming.”
The procession was modeled, of course, on Paul Revere’s nighttime ride to Lexington, Mass., in 1775. But the riders on Thursday night meant to warn people not about an invading military force, but about proposed rules by the city that would alter the status of hundreds of community gardens.
Since 2002, community gardens have been regulated by an agreement that designated about 150 gardens for development but preserved or increased protections for about 500 others. That agreement, which was reached after the state attorney general sued the city to block the sale of gardens to developers, will expire in September. Although city officials have said they have no plans to develop gardens, rules proposed by the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development do not include any guarantees of preservation.
So, in dusting off some of the street theater techniques employed in previous disputes, about 50 people turned out for Thursday night’s event, organized by Time’s Up, a cycling and environmental advocacy group. They rode from garden to garden in the East Village to spread news of the rules, then ventured uptown to deliver a message to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
“It’s wonderful to see our neighborhoods being green,” said one of the riders, Vanessa Cronan, 28, from Bushwick, Brooklyn. “We want to see them stay that way.”
In the 1990s, gardeners and their allies became known for using unorthodox tactics to rally support for their cause. Those included the release of thousands of live crickets during an auction of gardens at One Police Plaza; an event that involved people sleeping overnight in a jumbo sculpture of a tree frog inside a garden on East Seventh Street; and an episode in which a man dressed as a sunflower climbed a tree near City Hall.
Some gardeners said the ride was the first in a series of events meant to sway opinion in favor of explicitly preserving the gardens. Members of a citywide gardening group are encouraging people to bring signs and banners on Aug. 10 to a public comment session for the new rules. Some gardeners said they would deliver fruit and vegetables from gardens to the mayor and members of the City Council on Monday.
The bicyclists found a mainly sympathetic audience on the streets of the East Village, where intense conflicts took place a decade ago when some gardens were destroyed. Outside the Generation X garden on East Fourth Street, a rider, Paul Bartlett, handed a flier describing the proposed rules to a local resident, Brad Keller, who pronounced himself aghast at the possibility of gardens losing protected status.
“A few years ago, when we heard that all these gardens were saved, I thought that meant forever,” said Mr. Keller, 49. “I thought these would be oases that we’d always have.”
After visiting gardens in the East Village, the riders went north, accompanied by police in cars and on scooters. A speaker lashed to the back of a bike blared songs by the Clash, James Brown and David Bowie.
At East 79th Street, the group turned west. Outside the mayor’s home, near Central Park, the group was met by more police officers, including two chiefs. There, the cyclists delivered a few flowers and a placard that read, “Dear mayor, please preserve the community gardens,” before turning around and heading back downtown.