Our NYC Community Gardens: Still at Risk
The L Magazine
August 18, 2010
As of September 17, hundreds of community gardens could fall victim to bulldozers as the law meant to protect them expires. Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe have yet to offer firm support for their protection.
This is absurd.
That these gardens are in any jeopardy at all is embarrassing—particularly so with a mayor who has spent his tenure trying to paint himself, and the city, green. Bloomberg’s own PLANYC 2030 calls for fighting global warming, cleaning up contaminated land, improving air quality, and making sure every New Yorker lives within 10 minutes of a park.
And yet his administration has yet to support the spaces and micro-communities that do just that.
“We live in the East Village,” civil rights lawyer Namita Luthra told officials at a recent hearing. “We don’t have Central Park. Or a fancy High Line.” Those small green patches are all her family, and thousands upon thousands of other New Yorkers, including many children, have—as green spaces, as portals to nature, as catalysts for community building. They are spaces that, in many cases, gardeners saved when a bankrupt and indifferent city let neighborhoods rot and burn during the 1970s.
Concerned that that work might have been in vain, hundreds of garden supporters turned out on a muggy August morning for a public hearing on the issue, held in the third-floor gymnasium at the Chelsea Recreation Center on 25th Street. For hours, dozens waited outside, where gardeners could be seen chatting in line with their neighbors, exchanging photographs and potted plants. Some fought the humidity with crude cardboard fans, “Permanent Gardens Forever” emblazoned across their fronts.
One of Mayor Giuliani’s favorite pastimes was razing community gardens for development, but a judge stopped him in 1999; three years later, then-attorney general Eliot Spitzer hammered out a compromise with the Bloomberg Administration. In total, almost 500 gardens were saved in 2002—all but 150. “We are providing permanent protection to hundreds of community gardens throughout New York City,” Bloomberg said at the time…
According to the so-called Garden Settlement compromise, “A garden lot shall remain subject to this Agreement until… eight years have elapsed.” And now those eight years are up.
“What we want is a path to permanency,” Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said at the hearing. That’s what many thought they were getting with the 2002 compromise, and it’s what they deserve now.
“Community gardens shouldn’t be any more temporary than public parks,” one gardener testified. “Gardens should not be sacrificed for condominiums. Gardens should not be sacrificed at all.”
New Yorkers must demand that the mayor live up to the ideals he professes, and that he protect, in perpetuity, the city’s community gardens from development.