New Yorkers Protest City Plan to Destroy Community Gardens

from Hundreds rallied at the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to protest the
Department of Housing Preservation Development’s plan to build
affordable housing on seventeen community gardens.

Community activists and elected representatives alike gathered in the
hope of removing the gardens off the HPD’s list of properties to be
made available for development, the argument being that one social
benefit—spurring affordable housing construction—should not come at the
cost of destroying another.

Among those in attendance was Paula Segal, Executive Director of 596
Acres, a land-access advocacy group based in the city. “We would like
them to evaluate whether the current position is the best use of public
land,” she said. “I feel strongly about New Yorkers having a say on what
happens to their land.”

Ms. Segal’s organization–which is co-ran with the New York City
Community Garden Coalition–has put a map together outlining the 181
city-owned properties included in the Request for Qualifications for
developers and the over 750 sites not included by the HPD.
With so many vacant lots under the HPD’s jurisdiction, Ms. Segal is not
the only one questioning the city’s allocation process.

“It seems like they have over 1,000 vacant lots. There should be 15
they can swap out, I know there’s lots in the vicinity,”
said Greg Todd,
who helps manage the Imani Garden in Brooklyn. “You can clearly see
there are lots of options available, they don’t have to pick on the few

The Imani Garden II is one of 11 Brooklyn gardens in danger of falling prey to Mayor de Blasio’s ten-year plan to
build and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units in the city, a
category that Patches Community Square on Putnam Avenue also falls into. 

“It’s really a space that all kinds of residents come [to]. The old
residents, the new residents, it’s really amazing to see, because
everyone interacts and learns from each other,” said Putnam manager
Alison Iven. “I suspect that the HPD didn’t quite realize that they were
gardens, or that they weren’t quite the vibrant community space that
they’ve become.”

Along with being a designated location for community events and
interaction, many of these gardens have environmental benefits as well.
The gardens provide sustainable methods for food production as they
often provide fertile land for fruit trees, and space for chicken coops.
In addition they provide a good location for locals to recycle their
waste—for example, Patches Community Square has a compost bin.

In support of the gardens, council member’s Mark Levine, and Antonio
Reynoso wrote letters to city officials calling for the preservation of
the gardens.

In face of criticism, the HPD has not given any indication that it
intends to back away from the plan. 

“We understand the pride and work
people put into the gardens and how meaningful they are to our
Our city is also in the midst of an affordable housing
crisis where more than 50 percent of renters are suffocating under the
pressure of rent burden,” an spokesperson wrote to the Observer:
“Our remaining land and resources are needed to create affordable homes
for New York families who are paying higher rents than they can afford
at the expense of getting medical care, paying down debt, or buying
healthy food for their kids.”

The HPD added that these gardens are not designed as NYC Parks
Department permanent community gardens, but rather “interim gardens” on
HPD development sites. [emphasis added]

Still, with so much land at the HPD’s disposal, many of
those affiliated with community gardens are hopeful the two sides can
come to a resolution. Lawrence Terry of Electric Lady Bug Community
Garden in Harlem, sees no reason why the two ventures can’t coexist.

“We’re not attacking affordable housing,” said Mr. Terry. “We need
both of them, why not choose the right land to make that happen.”


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