All images: Matthew McDermott
A quick update on the status of new proposed rules covering New York City's community gardens: Scores of garden supporters turned out for a public hearing, alongside activists and the City Council Speaker, all saying they want the gardens to be permanently protected. What that exactly means and how to get there remains open to interpretation, and the ultimate fate of hundreds of green spaces, providing respite and food for neighborhoods through the five boroughs, remains in the balance.
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Gardens Lose Reprieve From Development Next Month
On September 17, 2010 the agreement between then New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and then-and-now Mayor Bloomberg which had granted the City's community gardens an eight-year reprieve from the organized destruction and commercial development of them under the Giuliani administration expires.
Under newly proposed rules from the Parks & Rec Department, which currently manages many of the gardens under the Green Thumb program, and the Housing & Preservation Department, whose jurisdiction a smaller number fall, community gardens would specifically not be protected from future development in the same manner as city parks. However, should it be decided a plot of land should be put up for development, an alternate locations should (not must) be provided.
For its part, the City has indicated that there are no current plans to hand over any community gardens for commercial development.
Activists Say More Hearings Aren't Needed, Mayor Can Protect Gardens
None of that sits well with activists such as those from Time's Up! and the New York Community Gardens Coalition, who have been dogging the City on this issue for the past several months.
Speaking outside the public hearing, held at the Chelsea Rec Center on 25th Street, Ben Shepard from Time's Up! called the whole event a "dog and pony show," adding that if the Mayor wanted he could just sign a memo making the gardens permanent.
"The public hearing is a sham and useless," Shepard noted in the organization's official press statement. "We don't need more hearings, we need more gardens. The city needs to support more Community Gardens and more green spaces."
That's a sentiment no doubt widely held by the scores of people, a sweaty cross-section of the City's communities, who stood in the near 90° heat and humidity for up to an hour to make it inside to testify.
City Council Speaker Favors Permanency, Changing Proposed Rules
As the line stretched from mid-block all the way towards 10th Avenue, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn arrived, taking a place at the back of the line, much to the surprise of many waiting who assumed she'd simply enter, testify and leave.
Quinn told the impromptu press conference she fully supported making community gardens permanent "in the strongest way we can." She noted however that she couldn't guarantee that each garden would be permanently protected, "We may only get 95%."
Asked about what was the greatest impediment to permanency, Quinn redirected, noting that permanency is something that can be achieved and that the current rules allow the City to avoid a "crisis" when the Spitzer agreement expires.
Inside, Quinn urged revision of the proposed regulations so that garden licenses would be automatically renewed, provide that the space was in full compliance with Parks Dept. rules. She also called for the inclusion of a 180 day grace period to find new licensees should a garden be abandoned by the current caretakers.
Loss of Gardens Devastating to Neighborhoods
Quoted in NY1, Peggy Morales of the El Gallo Community Garden described the fear of losing her garden as "very real."
"It was a very, very hard-fought battle in order to keep it here in perpetuity. To learn now that there's a possibility that this garden could be lost to development would be really devastating to this community."
Neither the Parks Department nor HPD have said when the new rules will go into effect post-September 17th.
More on Community Gardens:
New York's Community Gardens Lose Protected Status, Threatened With Development
Solar Panels & Wind Turbines Power NYC Community Garden
The Bronx's Urban Farm is a Community Effort