Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Community Gardens Threatened Under Proposed NYC Rules - Push To Preserve All Gardens

More Gardens, Less Asthma - August 16, 2000. A young girl walks down E. 137th Street in the South Bronx, the asthma capital of America.  Photo: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates (Click image to enlarge)

New rules written by the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development omits language that guarantees the protection of gardens preserved by the existing 2002 Spitzer agreement.  Since that agreement, over 130 gardens have been bulldozed (over 250 gardens have been destroyed since 1998) and 20 gardens are in imminent danger of development, according to garden activists. With the agreement set to expire on September 17, community garden, open space, public health activists are pushing to preserve all gardens. Currently, only 282 gardens are protected under the Parks Department. A public hearing on the proposed rules is being held on August 10, at the Chelsea Recreation Center in Manhattan and a number of events are being planned.  

Hearing: August 10, 2010, 11 a.m. Proposed Garden Rules Public Hearing
Chelsea Recreation Center, 430 West 25th Street, Manhattan,10001 (between 9 and 10 ave) To testify at the hearing, notify Associate Counsel, Ms. Laura LaVelle via telephone at 212-360-1335 or email at by August 9.


By Geoffrey Croft

According to garden activists the City has not complied with a number of stipulations contained in the original settlement agreement, these include: 

1. 198 gardens be preserved by offering them to parks or land trusts 2. A SEQRA review be performed. 3. All gardens subject to development go through Garden Review and ULURP. As the terms of this agreement stands, even after Sept. 17, 2010 the proposed rules would violate the terms of the agreement.

Critics also point out the new rules offer the option of alternate sites when the City is aware that there are few, if any, alternate sites available. They contend this language is inaccurate and misleading. 
They point out that Attorney General Spitzer's suit made it clear that not only was the City violating SEQRA by changing their policy of creating gardens and supporting Greenthumb, but that many of the gardens qualified as Dedicated Parkland under the law of Implied Dedication. The proposed rule would ignore the gardens parkland status, the contend.

Critics also contend that the lawsuit made it clear that community gardens were not standing in the way of affordable housing, as few, if any units of affordable housing have been created as a result, and there are numerous other avenues for the City to do so including renovating abandoned buildings city wide.

"This is worse than what (Rudy) Giuliani tried to do ten years ago," said Harry Bubbins, a veteran of the community garden movement and founder of Friends of Brook Park in the South Bronx.

 "The garden movement was undercut then by private organizations that bought over a hundred gardens. Although the auction was stopped the rest of the gardens remained vulnerable as many of us pointed out at the time.  Only a law that fully protects them will ensure that the gardens which our communities desperately need will be preserved."

Community Board 3.

Last night Manhattan CB 3's  Parks, Recreation, Cultural Affairs, Landmarks, & Waterfront Committee voted unanimously to update and amend their District Needs Statement.  The statement Included strong support to protect its community gardens, and pointed out the lack of open space in the community. 

"Community Board 3, like most districts in the City, does not meet the City Planning Commission's guidelines for per capita open space. The open space/population ratio is approximately 0.7 acres per 1000 people. By comparison, the Governor's Open Space Report recommended 2.5 acres per 1000, and New York City averages 1.5 acres. The open space that we do have is not evenly distributed throughout the district. The area west of Avenue A and the Chinatown area lack adequate open space. 


A few community gardens have been transferred to the Parks Department, but at the same time, the fate of many others is still uncertain. For sites not being transferred to the Parks Department, the City should consider transferring them to local community organizations that can maintain the locations as permanent open community space. Once open space is lost to development, it is very unlikely that it will ever be replaced." 


The community board also issued a strong statement regarding the lack of park maintenance and the need for increased spending:

"It is one thing to have land set aside as a park, but our parks also need constant maintenance by trained DPR professionals. The number of park workers is at a 30-year low and funding for park maintenance is equally scarce. Many of the parks in our district have suffered from years of neglect and deferred maintenance, and now are experiencing increasing levels of usage. Increasing the number of full time, permanent park workers and staffed playgrounds will allow for fuller use of our parks and play areas." 

Press Release: For Immediate Release 


“Green Means Gardens: Preserve., Preserve, Preserve.”
Time’s Up! Statement on New Garden Rules
Benjamin Shepard – 917 586-7952
Bill DiPaolo – 917-577-5621


With the new Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Housing Preservation and Development rules the city has taken a huge step backward. Community gardens in New York have thrived since the 2002 Spitzer Agreement which preserved these precious green spaces (“2002 Preservation Agreement”).  Yet, with the Preservation Agreement expiring on September 17, 2010, the city appears to have abandoned its efforts to preserve green spaces.  With the new rules, all the gardens may now be legally transferred for development, rather than preserved.


The benefits of gardens are many.  “Community gardening is a way to fight the systemic injustice of poverty and other forms of structural oppression.  Most of the gardens are in poor areas of the city, with much higher rates of asthma and lower rates of open space equity.  From an indigenous/community perspective, gardens offer a way for our community to heal itself and to recover a humanizing sense of itself - its dignity - in an otherwise very hard city," explained Friends of Brook Park gardener Ray Figueroa.   For New Yorkers of all walks of life, the gardens provide much needed green space (particularly in low-income communities of color). 


“Don’t destroy our gardens.  Don’t destroy our communities,” declared long time Lower East Side activist Paul Bartlett.   “Gardens helps us connect with both the earth and our communities, in ways which parking lots, coffee shops, and other urban spaces fail to.” 


“In the midst of a fiscal crisis, the city could only dream of having such unique spaces which help the city so much, yet cost so little,” explained Benjamin Shepard. “Gardens help stabilize communities and reduce crime.  They are also places where people of all walks of life come together.  They are places of education about the environment and the city, as well as the world ecology.  These are precious public spaces, which should not be privatized.”


“This is the hottest summer on record,” explained Lower East Side gardener JK Canepa.  “Community gardens help cool Manhattan.  If you allow the gardens to be turned into concrete spaces, the city only gets hotter.”  After all, gardens promote health and the reduction of heat throughout the five boroughs. 


Sharon S., a community gardener in East New York, said he wants to ask the mayor, "What kind of green are you preserving? In Plan 2030, you say you want this to be a green city. Being a green city does not mean catering to developers. To be truly green, Mr. Mayor, we need you to expand green space in every neighborhood, not just the wealthy ones. Community gardens are the only open green spaces that many low income neighborhoods have. Yet you're replacing the good 2002 Preservation Agreement with rules that will bulldoze gardens one by one."


“In a time of fiscal crisis when New Yorkers have seen reduction in services and increases in costs across the board, why cut something people love and that costs the city almost nothing?” asked Lower East Side environmental activist Bill DiPaulo. 


“Most other cities consider the gardens something to cherish.  This is an opportunity for Bloomberg to demonstrate he appreciates green space is a resource for global cooling and community development,” explained Times Up! Director Bill DiPaulo.  “Why should the mayor sell this space off to developers when there is such an opportunity to create a different kind of green, more forward leaning New York?  Making gardens permanent could be Bloomberg’s legacy.”


In the end, those involved with Times Up! and the garden movement urge the city to reject these rules and makes a final commitment to a green city by making all the gardens permanent once and for all. The group plans to organize to defend these precious spaces using a wide range of means, from legal advocacy to direct action.  The group plans to stage a “Paul Revere” Group Bike Ride to the gardens next week to sound the alarm that the gardens are in danger.  

Baltic Street Community Garden
July 2008 - The Baltic Street Community Garden in Park Slope. The 30-year-old community garden, located in Councilman David Yassky's district, was destroyed in 2009 by the NYC Department of Education.  
Read More:

Cyclists' advocacy group Times Up! plans to protest outside Mayor Bloomberg's townhouse    New York Daily News - July 29, 2010 - By  Simone Weichselbaum

Paul Revere,  Rat Zoos and the GTL Index

New York Times - City Room Blog  -  July 28, 2010 - By J. David Goodman

Flatbush  Gardener - July 27, 2010

A Walk In The Park - July 6, 2010

A Walk In the Park - April 19, 2010 - By Jennifer Riveraton

Warren /St. Marks Community Garden

New York Daily News -  May 23 1999 - By David Lefer


  1. great piece, important issue, where are the action alerts?

  2. all too true! Why has our green Mayor continued to destroy
    gardens instead of cultivating them? This new proposed rule
    would allow the city to destroy what's left of our gardens, when
    they are by far the most cost efficient and effective
    resources the city has. Gardens are volunteer run, provide
    food, cultural events, educational programing, environmental research;
    gardens clean the air, cool the city and provide a haven for
    new yorkers, visitors and most of all, nature!
    we need more gardens!, not less. Organize, agitate and Save Our Gardens!

  3. bloomberg and the whole group at city hall want to paint themselves as green, and yet they propose rules that set up for these precious green spaces to be transferred to developers. it's very simple - make them permanent.