Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


New York Gardens
Threatened With Destruction!

As you read down this page, you will find a variety of information which describes the ongoing situation in New York.

U r b a n O u t d o o r s
No. 87 - October 28, 2002 - East Coast Greenway Celebration


Both Attorney General Spitzer (AG) and the Mayor share credit for the recent settlement that will preserve up to 200 more community gardens in NYC. The AG clearly understood and appreciated the value of the gardens and did not buckle under pressure from some "important" politically connected interest$. Mayor Bloomberg's role was more nuanced. His goal was to lift the AG's embargo against garden destruction, for fear of losing federal aid for housing construction. He was an adversary on this issue, but unlike his predecessor a fair one, who worked for compromise, recognizing that community gardeners had a legitimate interest in the outcome.

The settlement will not end the long struggle for community garden legitimacy in NYC. Two hundred gardens are still threatened. The Parks Department parameters for acquisition of gardens will be selective and the continued interest in acquiring land and organization building by the city's land trusts is not assured. Many City Council members seem to believe that after the settlement, they have no role to play in the continuing struggle. There are yet no plans to introduce legislation to strengthen the gardener's hands in the coming negotiations or provide a mechanism for the creation of new community gardens. (More on community gardening below.)ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ

U r b a n O u t d o o r s No. 86 - September 18, 2002 - Transportation and Public Space


Today Attorney General Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg announced a negotiated settlement to a Three year-old lawsuit that had temporarily stopped the destruction of NYC community gardens. The Mayor agreed to preserve approximately 200 gardens in addition to those already granted permanent status. 38 gardens, in advanced stages in the development process will be bulldozed without additional delay. About 200 other gardens remain in limbo, but with some additional protections. The newly preserved gardens will be offered to NYC Parks or land trusts.

“The settlement provides very important new rights to gardeners.” Chris Amato of Mr. Spitzer's office told a hastily arranged briefing. “They include a garden review process that most gardens will have to go through before they can be developed and the legal right to go to court to see that this agreement is adhered to.” Community gardeners have often been denied legal standing by local courts. “Community Gardens will no longer be called empty lots”

The success of the “Garden Review Process” depends on the fairness and good faith of city officials in carrying out the review and making recommendations that include interests other than sale to developers. Details as to whom or what agencies would be included in this new process, or the extent of outreach to gardeners is not known at this time. What is known is that the battle for the gardens is not over. The hard work is just beginning. For additional information, links and things you can do to help preserve gardens visit

U r b a n O u t d o o r s
No. 82 - May 1, 2002 - Bringing People to Place in NYC


"If you want me to help you to make community gardens permanent, post a sign with open hours and keep those hours… and I don’t mean just a few hours a week." With that challenge issued by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to approximately 1000 gardeners at the GreenThumb GrowTogether, the new city administration made its first position on community garden preservation known. Commissioner Benepe was expressing concerns that closed garden gates give the wrong message about the nature of public spaces.

Although the community gardens are volunteer-operated, the gardeners have a responsibility to all the City's residents to post and provide public access to its gardens. Most of the fifty or so Parks Department gardens are believed to be in compliance with this responsibility. The situation is complicated by some gardens that are owned by private land trusts and “still threatened gardens” that have not yet reached a level of development that allows for extensive opening.


Over 400 gardens are still threatened in NYC, as the City’s Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) agency still has control of the spaces and plans to build on many of them. Since February 2000, construction has been blocked by a court temporary restraining order against bulldozing gardens, the result of a lawsuit filed by the NYS Attorney General. The Green Guerillas (GG’s) lawsuit, filed in the hope of tagging the city with violation of process in garden demolition, was dismissed last month by the judge who will rule on the NYS Attorney General’s suit. GG’s is discussing a possible appeal to a higher court. As of now, community gardens preservation legislation has not been introduced in the new City Council.

Mayor Bloomberg recently announced an effort to clear up the backlog of lawsuits against the City left over from the Giuliani administration. An article in The NY Times (April 26) indicated that the City has made a proposal that calls for the development of some gardens and the sale of others to a land trust. There is no indication that a reasonable and fair review process has been proposed to decide which gardens live and which do not. If a quick deal is made it will surely not be well thought out, but quickly done just to get the issue off the table. For expected LATE-BREAKING Community Garden news subscribe to Cybergardens in the listserv section of

U r b a n O u t d o o r s
No. 69 March 30, 2001
1999 Winner, NYC American Planning Assoc. Award for Journalism


In a report entitled Disposition Disputes, the Citizens' Housing and Planning Council notes that disposition of city land that is not being used for community gardens continues to move forward quickly. The report further states that the judicial hold won by Attorney General Elliot Spitzer against garden destruction has had the effect of excluding the green oases from the expedited land sales. (

In addition, behind the scenes negotiations between agency personnel and elected officials are taking into account the text of proposed legislation to provide a process for garden preservation, according to an agency source. This is happening, even as the proposed bill appears to be stalled in Council. While the temporary restraining order is in place that prevents gardens from being bulldozed, many gardeners believe that passing the Council legislation is an important step to provide a permanent solution to the impasse. Perhaps it is time for Community Garden supporters to call Councilman Fisher and ask his help in moving the City legislation forward. (718-875-5200)

In a related move, legislation has been reintroduced in Albany that would require stale ULURPS to be reconsidered when the land is being used for other purposes. Some gardens are on land that has been zoned for redevelopment using the city's ULURP process more than twenty years ago. At that time, before most gardens were founded, the social capital or environmental benefits of the small parks had not been considered in preparing the land for expedited disposition. A call to state elected officials asking their help in moving the legislation is also in order.

U r b a n O u t d o o r s No. 60 - August 20, 2000 - 1999 Winner, NYC American Planning Assoc. Award for Journalism


The destruction of additional NYC community gardens are currently stalled by the courts because of a suit by Attorney General Spitzer, but rumors are that upon disposition of the lawsuit NYC Department of Housing and Development (HPD) plans another wholesale onslaught on the green oases. In response to a NY Post editorial, Mr. Spitzer sent a reply, which we have edited below:

"The Post accepted without question the Giuliani administration's claim that my office is blocking development of affordable housing. This is not true. In order to convert community gardens to other uses, the city must complete an environmental review and give the public the opportunity to comment. That is the law. The city, however, ignored this process last spring and simply placed the gardens on the auction block.

A state judge rebuked the city for its actions, but City Hall refused to change its approach. To this day, the administration insists that it need not follow the established public-review procedure. I personally spoke with city officials, telling them that if they continued to ignore legal obligations, it would only lead to litigation, not to either affordable housing or maintenance of the community gardens. The administration is not only flouting the law, it is ignoring something that is vitally important to the quality of life in New York - the preservation of open space. Many of the parcels the city wants to develop are not vacant lots; they are decades-old community gardens where urban residents can experience a little bit of nature in the middle of the city.

I am a strong supporter of the gardens, but I also support affordable public housing. And there is absolutely no reason we cannot have both. That is why what is happening is such an outrage. If the administration really cared about affordable housing, why doesn't it proceed with development on any of the thousands of well-situated vacant city-owned lots that do not contain gardens?"

Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
356 Seventh Avenue New York NY 10001 212.352.9330
Fax: 212-352-9338 e-mail:

COMMUNITY GARDEN UPDATE is published periodically by the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition. It reports on the struggle to preserve Community Gardening and the work of thousands of volunteers that take an interest in the spaces. It is a companion publication to URBAN OUTDOORS. To add someone to our subscriber list: Send their e-mail address to If you wish to be removed from the list write: "unsubscribe urban outdoors" to the same address. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletters by fax, write unsubscribe on the cover sheet and fax it back to 212-352-9338.

To send an e-mail post card to Council Speaker Vallone in support of Community Garden Preservation, Go to:

To get the complete text of the latest draft of the proposed community garden preservation legislation write: It will be sent to you by e-mail.

Community Garden Update
No. 54 April 4, 2000
1999 Winner, NYC American Planning Assoc. Award for Journalism

Mayor Rudy Giuliani continued his reign of terror on community gardens last week in the form of a Request for Proposals to develop market rate housing on 137 NYC owned properties. In a city with over 11,000 truly vacant lots, to the best of our knowledge, 40 of the 137 properties chosen from the City's vast inventory were on the same sites as active Community Gardens. Over 20 more gardens would be destroyed by this initiative alone. In the few short months since the cliffhanger purchase of more than 100 gardens by the philanthropic community, over 100 additional lots with gardens have been moving through the development process and are on bulldozer watch.

Once again, the Mayor has used an administrative loophole to bypass the normal city processes, which allow Community Planning Boards to have input into their futures. Gardeners are denied the same due process that most land with existing uses must go through. The UDAAP shortcut continues to be used even after HPD Commissioner Richard Roberts promised two-years ago not to dispose of land without Board input. Once again, the City, in its press release resorts to a big lie, saying, “these sites are among the last unimproved, derelict, and vacant lots in their communities”. Once again, community gardens will be developed with no public discourse about the wisest use of city land, no planning for open space needs, and no requirement that truly vacant lots be developed first. Once again, community gardeners were not informed of the impending destruction of their green oases.

While the Department of Housing Preservation and Development continues to frame the issue as gardens vs. affordable housing, the one to four family homes to be built under this RFP will all be 'market rate'. According to HPD "There will be no income restrictions for homebuyers and no limitations on the rents which may be charged by any homebuyer for any rental"

NYC has the smallest amount of parkland per thousand people of any American city. Brooklyn and Manhattan have 1.7 and 1.8 acres per thousand. Boston, the least well-served American City outside of New York has over 4 acres per thousand. Most American cities have over 6 acres of parkland per thousand residents

At an Earth Day City Hall event, coming up on April 18 at 11 am, City Council Members will announce the introduction of city legislation to provide some protection for community gardens. Your presence that day will send a clear signal that community gardens and the urban environment are a big consideration at the ballot box.

It is anticipated that the bill will be introduced by Councilmember Ken Fisher of Brooklyn and Adolfo Carrion of the Bronx and will be supported by a broad coalition of Council members. State Senator John Sampson has introduced other legislation in Albany, but it is noted that no “sibling” bill has appeared in the State Assembly. Community gardens tend to be viewed as a “NYC issue” and thus state legislators are said to be unlikely to provide leadership, preferring the City to decide its own fate.

In the last two years, over 100 gardens have been preserved by placement in the hands of non-profit land trusts and an additional 60 have become permanent parkland. Yet, over 400 community gardens are still endangered in the Mayor's effort to privatize city owned land without consideration of its benefit to city life. It is unlikely that gardens will again become parks in the present administration. Land trusts traditionally do not spend huge sums purchasing public land, thus a repeat of the recent cliffhanger is unlikely. Meanwhile, hardly a week goes by without a garden being bulldozed, drilled for core samples, losing site control, or being brought up before a community board or the City Council for review.

Highlights of the proposed legislation include: - Recognition of community gardening as an existing use of city land. Presently, community gardens are classified as “empty lots.” - An end to the accelerated UDAP land use shortcut for community gardens, and a return to the traditional ULURP process. This simple switch could buy valuable time for existing gardens, and help assess community needs more effectively. - A requirement for environmental impact review before gardens are taken away. - A process for the development of new community gardens. Although there have been many requests for new gardens, only a few, in unbuildable locations have been approved by the city.

The legislation is a first step in recognizing the rights of garden. It requires that community gardens be referred to as such by city officials in land disposition announcements and subsequent hearings, rather than misleadingly as vacant lots or “block and lot” numbers. Referring to a garden by numbers not only demeans community efforts, but also makes it difficult for gardeners to track the labyrinthine reviews and find out when their garden might be brought up for disposal.

For a complete legislative package including the draft text of the proposed City Council bill write to: The package of documents will be e-mailed back by auto-responder.

Everyone benefits from a community garden even if it's just to walk by and witness the serenity and beauty of nature in an overbuilt city. But anyone who has spent any time in the green oases realizes that our gardens provide for many community benefits and needs. Police departments in Miami and San Antonio recognize that community gardens are a leading indicator of community cohesion and provide a positive atmosphere that helps young people stay away from bad influences, and in those cities the departments have helped organize the little parks. In other cities, including London and Toronto, Health Departments nurture the gardens in an effort to encourage healthy eating and physical activity. NYC gardeners will be reaching out for support well beyond the environmental community to civic associations, law enforcement support groups, health professionals, educators, housing advocates, architects, religious organizations, and businesses.

POSTCARDS, E-MAIL, AND INFORMATIONAL PACKETS Thousands of postcards are being sent to Council Speaker Peter Vallone and other officials. The postcards, designed by Jon Crow of Brooklyn Alliance of Neighborhood Gardens, are snappy reminders that there are 11,000 city-owned vacant lots and only 500 unprotected community gardens. The theme is "There Oughta Be a Law," which underlines the point that over 130 people have been arrested in New York in the last two years for defending the gardens. An e-mail campaign will be added to the effort at The postcards, petitions and sample letters of endorsement are being disseminated widely at public events.

An organizational support package is also being circulated in an attempt to get the formality of a “sign-on” from many of the thousands of groups organized in the city for the public benefit. Gardening support groups are looking for assistance with the outreach campaign. Volunteers can call 212-352-9330.

Although the vise continues to close on some of the best-developed and well-organized community gardens in NYC, a moratorium is in effect halting any further destruction for the time being. Attorney General Elliot Spitzer has lifted the torch on behalf of the emerald treasures and NYS Supreme Court Judge Richard Huttner has put an order in place barring the city from destroying GreenThumb gardens until the issues he has raised are addressed. The Attorney General is arguing that the gardens have legal standing as parks because they are used as parks and because the GreenThumb program is housed within the Parks Department. Mr. Spitzer's office is also arguing that the gardens are in fact an existing use of city land and thereby entitled to environmental review before new development takes place. While the Attorney General is referring to existing case law in an effort to save the gardens, it is not known how or when the case will be resolved.

GARDENS AND HEALTHY CITIES The earliest hospitals, formed as charities in Europe, included gardens, and American hospitals followed the European example until many expanded into the garden spaces. Studies have consistently shown that plants enhance an individual's psychological and physical health. In our smoggy city, gardens act as miniature oxygen tents for those who spend time in them. Recent reports about the increases in area trucking to haul trash now that the Fresh Kills landfill is closing, and the link between diesel fuel and cancer, just add to the need for green spaces in the city.

Think of community gardens as healthy living centers that provide fresh fruit and vegetables and physical activity for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. Better diet and/or moderate physical activity is the preventive medicine for many urban maladies, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and some cancers. With a significant and growing percentage of governmental budgets going toward treatment of these diseases, surely some effort should be made to fund prevention with more than pamphlets. Instead, NYC answers the preservation pleas of gardeners with bulldozers, although community gardening costs NYC government nothing.

The gardens have also functioned as nonprofessional, peer-assisted social service centers, providing a sense of worth to people at the very bottom of society's pecking order. Volunteers sometimes arrive with a history of substance abuse or with severe family problems. Gardening gives them small, but tangible successes and a consequent understanding of the fact that good things take time to happen. After they have picked themselves up, their new experience with group interaction helps them in networking access to job opportunities at the entry level.

Gardens are not only sanctuaries for people other species benefit too. A healthy bird population reduces the number of mosquitoes, which are responsible for the spread of the West Nile Encephalitis virus. Seven city residents died last year from the disease. While city residents debate the value of Malathion spraying to control the outbreak, in the gardens, an informed and environmentally-conscious citizenry works for healthy communities in a different way. The Claddagh Garden in the mosquito filled Rockaways has established a “sentinel” flock of birds, which is routinely tested for disease. The flock is housed in a mobile coop, which when moved from plot to plot in the garden, provides fertilizer!

New Yorkers remember that before the junk-filled lots became gardens, the littered spaces provided huge procreation opportunities for mosquitoes. Better monitoring of dead birds and eradicating mosquito breeding grounds is now mandatory. If a dead bird is found in a community garden, it's a good idea to turn it in. Call the Dept. of Health (212) 788-9636.

Some of the best-watched trees in America are in NYC community gardens. At a time when an imported insect is potentially endangering all of America's forests, that fact may be increasingly important to the federal and state officials that are monitoring the spread of the inch-long black insect with white spots and long, striped antennae.

The Asian longhorned beetle kills trees by boring into them to lay eggs. When the eggs become larvae, they eat their way back out, flying away as adults and leaving their ravaged hosts pocked with perfectly round, dime-sized holes. The insects have no natural enemies in the United States. Once a tree is infected, it is doomed. Thousands of trees have been felled and ground into bits to try to check the beetles' advance. Federal and state officials have spent several million dollars and expect to spend millions more in fighting the beetle, which was first spotted in the Greenpoint, Brooklyn four years ago, and has spread to Little Neck, Harlem, Fort Greene and even Chicago. Citizens who spot Asian longhorned beetles or round, inch-wide holes in trees should call 1800-554-4501 ext.72087

Despite the enormous victory last spring in which over a hundred gardens were spared in the eleventh hour, gardens are threatened by many diverse agents. Surprisingly, a nonprofit group, church or arts organization is often the culprit, placing its needs higher than those of the present users. At La Plaza Cultural, 9th Street and Avenue C, plans have been approved by Community Board 3 to build senior housing. For the time being however, in response to the Attorney General's petition, Judge Huttner has issued a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) protecting all the gardens in the city. La Plaza, a 25-year-old park, boasts the largest outdoor amphitheater in lower Manhattan and is the host for scores of cultural activities throughout the year, including poetry readings, choreography, concerts and theater. It is also one of 15 gardens participating in The City Farms project which helps provide produce for local families.

Likewise, the 10-year-old Peach Tree Garden on East 2nd Street, named for its 3 peach trees, is the target of the Nuyorican Poets Café. The Café's director, Miguel Algarin, wants subsidized housing for retired artists to be built on the spot. Reportedly, site control has already been taken from the garden.

To make sure community gardeners are counted in both municipal and statewide elections, the Green Guerillas (GG's) have launched an effort to see that every gardener is also a voter. GG's “Plant the Vote” campaign will not only go to gardens and events to register voters, but will also enlist gardeners to conduct registration drives in their neighborhoods. For more information call 212-674-8124 ext. 100. GG's is also promoting census participation, noting the importance of a proper count to the future of NYC.

Community gardening is a volunteer activity, which provides an extensive array of services to neighborhood residents, often in the communities with the least access to NYC's sparse parkland. A volunteer presence on the streets cuts crime and policing costs. Sharing common interests brings people together across the boundaries of age, ethnicity, education, religion and income, reducing tensions and improving communications skills. Gardens serve as science labs for children, improving local education at no taxpayer cost. Local composting cuts sanitation costs. Performers benefit from using the valuable spaces for rehearsals and presentations, while the residents enjoy the shows. Some gardens such as 6th and B, actually host more cultural events than any of the nearby parks.

Community gardens have become centers of fierce local pride, with gardeners acting as advocates for many community improvements, including housing. These improvements have brought people back to formerly devastated neighborhoods. Those that followed the municipal instruction “Don't move… Improve” are now being punished with the loss of over twenty years of dedicated volunteer labor. With the passage of City Council legislation, Community gardeners will at least have a chance to take their case to the court of public opinion.

There have been many references in this newsletter to computer-based actions and information sources. We recognize that many New Yorkers are not online. We hope that the newsletter has been written in a way that does not leave them out. If you need help accessing documentation, your local library will help with the computer sources. Our phone number is 212-352-9330. During working hours the phones are usually answered by a real live person, otherwise please leave a message!

Earth Celebrations
Preserving The Gardens Of New York Through Art And Community Action. "Since 1991, Earth Celebrations has been working to preserve the network of over 50 community gardens on the Lower East Side of New York City through innovative and creative programs, pageants, and workshops."

200 Demand Return of Garden From Developer in Manhattan

February 22, 2000
New York Times

One week after 31 demonstrators were arrested protesting the razing of a community garden on the Lower East Side, nearly 200 people returned to the site yesterday to demand that the city return the space.

The Esperanza Community Garden, on East Seventh Street between Avenues B and C, was cleared to make way for housing and retail development. Yesterday, the protesters questioned the city's decision to move in on Esperanza when, they said, there are thousands of unused lots around the city where housing can be built.

The demonstrators arrived carrying bouquets of flowers, potted plants and, in one case, a jumbo-size onion. Some beat out rhythms on bongos and drums; others wore sunflower headdresses or carried papier-m‰chŽ replicas of insects; one man was dressed as a giant tomato.

But Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is unlikely to be moved by such appeals. His administration contends that such lots can fill the city's need for more lower- and middle-class housing.

Community groups plan to file a motion in court requesting that the city be barred from turning the site over to a developer or allowing any construction to take place.

Some of those taking part in yesterday's protest said that the developer for the site, Donald Capoccia, had allocated only 20 percent of the planned apartments for low-income housing.

The remaining 80 percent will be priced at market rate.

"This is not a struggle between low-income housing and gardens," said Dave Powell, a tenants' advocate for the Metropolitan Council on Housing, as he addressed the crowd. "It's a struggle between the long-term interests of community residents and the shortsighted interests of a developer."

Two dozen police officers watched as the crowd moved slowly east from Avenue B and stopped in front of a tall wooden fence erected in front of the former garden site.

There, they placed devotional candles and seed packets on the sidewalk and chalked messages on the fence, one of which read, "Free the Land." "With this kind of community spirit, there is every reason to grant the motion," said Michael Shenker, a local resident. "There's enough support to replant Esperanza in days."

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

U r b a n O u t d o o r s Extra
No. 52 February 21, 2000 1999 Winner, NYC American Planning
Association Award for Journalism

On Tuesday January 15, as platoons of police officers cordoned off the neighborhood so that people could not watch, 31 garden protesters were arrested for trying to preserve the Esperanza Garden on the lower east side of Manhattan. While the twenty-two year-old public garden was bulldozed in less than an hour, the protesters were subjected to an overnight stay in a jail cell instead of release and report to court. One protester was plucked out of the broken eye of a twenty-foot coqui (sculpture of a frog) that was erected on the site to add color in the winter months and serve as a symbol of resistance to ward off intruders.

On the day before the siege, Valentines Day, More Gardens Coalition went to court seeking a stay of execution. A disinterested Judge Rosenberger shuffled through papers as lawyers presented their case. The fate of the garden was sealed when the City won a postponement without a moratorium on destruction. As the bulldozers were tearing up the land at Esperanza, Atty General Elliot Spitzer argued successfully in a Brooklyn courtroom for a moratorium on the destruction of all GreenThumb gardens, which are now safe until the legality of their common law status as parks is established or refuted, or the need for environmental documentation before destruction is established.

After the bulldozers, the press looked for reasons for the senseless act. Low income housing, the Mayor's explanation, did not hold water on the luxury apartment building being placed at the site. Even the 20% of units being reserved for limited income families could go "market rate" in 10 years. Connections were found between the developer, selected without competitive bidding, and the Mayor's fundraising efforts. The press revealed what gardeners already knew, Donald Capoccia's company has made $46,000 in campaign contributions to the Mayor, (some $ had to be returned because it exceeded caps) and was being rewarded with the return "contribution" of city land.


NY Post February 19,2000

Developer Donald Capoccia, here last year with Mayor Giuliani, is building on the site of the now-bulldozed Esperanza Gardens. - NYP: T. Beckwith

State Democratic chief Judith Hope yesterday accused Mayor Giuliani of demolishing a community garden as a "quid pro quo" to a developer who is one of his campaign contributors.

"We see coming from this reform mayor a pattern that spells to me repeated conflict of interest, repeated cronyism, repeated favoritism to campaign contributors and close buddies of the mayor," Hope charged.

Asked if she was accusing Giuliani of being a crook, Hope backed off: "No, I'm not saying that."

But her press release was headlined: "Hope Blasts Giuliani for Selling Out His Office for Campaign Cash" -- which, if true, would be a criminal matter.

Bruce Teitelbaum, Giuliani's campaign director, fired back sharply that Hope was slinging "mud" on behalf of Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.

"Judith Hope should learn something and Mrs. Clinton should learn something right up front," said Teitelbaum. "This is a different kind of campaign. We're not going to be played for suckers. We're not going to respond to phony attacks."

At issue was the 22-year-old Esperanza Gardens on East Seventh Street, which was bulldozed by the city Tuesday to make way for a 79-unit building being developed by BFC Partners.

The company and its principals, including Donald Capoccia, have contributed $46,800 to the mayor since 1997.

Hope offered no evidence for what she described as a "quid pro quo" -- the alleged rushing of the demolition in exchange for campaign cash.

Instead, she pointed to previous questions about day-care vouchers and parking permits going to mayoral campaign contributors.

"Something very bad is going on here," she charged.

The super-heated rhetoric was another indication that the race between Giuliani and Clinton -- more than eight months from election day -- has become a no-holds-barred affair.

Richard Roberts, the city's housing commissioner, said BFC paid the city about $600,000 to develop the property in conjunction with the Gethsemane Garden Baptist Church.

Roberts said the local community board, the City Council, the City Planning Commission and Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields all gave the project the green light.

"This has gone through such an exhaustive public review process," he said. "If people didn't like the plan, it wouldn't have moved forward."

February 17, 2000
Editorial - New York Times
Death of a Garden

On Tuesday morning, Esperanza Garden, a community garden on East Seventh Street in Manhattan, was bulldozed after 22 years of existence. Its destruction marked the latest battle in the long-running war between Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and community advocates over the use of city-owned lots for community gardens. City Hall contends that many lots were only lent to the neighborhoods for gardens with the understanding that they would ultimately be taken back. Now, the mayor says, the lot on East Seventh Street should be sold to a developer to build low- and middle-income housing.

But the developer for this lot has set aside only 20 percent of the planned housing units for low-income housing. The rest will be made available as the market dictates. There are also provisions for nearly 7,000 square feet of retail space and 5,000 square feet of permanent open space. The fate of Esperanza Garden had been decided during a series of public hearings intended, in the administration's words, to balance competing interests, though it is not clear how the users of a community garden can compete with the economic clout of a developer. No city ownership right can quite absolve the mayor and his administration of insensitivity in their handling of community gardens. "If you live in an unrealistic world then you can say everything should be a community garden," the mayor said. But their defenders do not assert that everything should be a community garden. They only say that such gardens, rare as they are, bring vitality and a sense of purpose to neighborhoods.

The conflict underlying the destruction of Esperanza Garden seems more fundamental than a struggle between gardeners and developers, green space and housing. It seems to be a conflict about the expression of public will. In most cases, the mayor clearly tries to take the broad view of what is best for most New Yorkers. Not every community garden will survive in an economic climate as ebullient and a housing market as tight as this one. But the most meaningful definition of public value is not always the broadest or most economically justifiable one. A patch of green or a plot of flowers can often do more for a neighborhood than new apartments and retail establishments.

February 16, 2000
New York Times
Police Occupy Lower East Side Garden and Arrest 31

The narrow lot on East Seventh Street, wedged between two apartment buildings and showing the remains of last fall's crop of vegetables and herbs, would hardly seem capable of attracting attention in the bustle of New York.

But yesterday morning it managed to capture, for a moment, center stage in the city, encapsulating the fight that has been going on for years over the hundreds of community gardens that have sprung up on city-owned lots, many with official encouragement.

Yesterday, as the city was sending bulldozers and the police to clear out the tiny community garden known as Esperanza Garden, the state attorney general was sending lawyers to court to try to stop them, and dozens of protesters were chaining themselves to cement blocks that they had buried in the garden months ago to prepare for just this moment.

It was the latest pitched battle between the Giuliani administration, which wants to reclaim the properties to make way for low- and middle-income housing, and community advocates who see the gardens as invaluable solace and scenery in a city dominated by asphalt and concrete. The fight has been waged in the courts, the news media and the neighborhoods, and has at times even attracted celebrities like Bette Midler, who helped rescue 112 other lots last year.

Esperanza Garden has managed to draw intense devotion on the Lower East Side. Just hours before the court hearing was to begin, demonstrators who had spent the night guarding the garden were in a tense standoff with the police.

They had chained themselves to concrete blocks and fences in hopes of preventing the garden from being razed. They were chanting songs.

And as often seems to be the case when the community gardens are at stake, confusion reigned.

Before a judge could weigh in on the merits of the state's case, the city acted. The police waded into the demonstration, arresting 31 people and scattering dozens of others. A work crew with a bulldozer, backhoe and chain saws then set to destroying all traces of the garden, which had been in existence since 1977.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who hopes to sell the lot to BFC Properties, a developer, says this lot and hundreds of others like it can be used to ease a housing shortage. The lots will create housing for people who can least afford it, he said, and the city's plans are legal and sound.

"If you live in an unrealistic world then you can say everything should be a community garden," Mr. Giuliani said. "Then where would people live where they are able to get affordable housing?"

The resistance to the city's plans includes the court challenge from Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, who says that the lots, which had once fallen under the city's program to encourage community gardens, should be considered parks, which could only be sold after state environmental review or by an act of the Legislature.

"The fact of the matter is that this is a determination the courts should make," Mr. Spitzer said. "This is an unfortunate display of the mayor preventing the judicial process from operating."

The timing of yesterday's actions left some of the gardeners and sympathizers bewildered.

"It wreaks havoc on the conscience," said Joel Kupferman, a staff lawyer for the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. "I am crestfallen."

The police action also created a scene. In recent months, as it seemed sure that the city would evict the gardeners, they fortified land they had come to see as their own.

In addition to the concrete blocks they chained themselves to, the garderners erected a tripod to stand watch, and built a sculpture of a large tree frog, or coqu’, which in Puerto Rican legend is said to repel attackers. The frog had room inside for at least two people.

Yesterday, the fortifications failed to hold.

By 3:15 a.m., the police began towing away cars on the street, while the protesters gathered around a fire. By 7 a.m., the crowd of protesters had grown to 150. They chanted: "New York City has got to breathe. More gardens, more peace."

"Even if they raze this garden, we'll take it back," said Michael Shenker, a resister. "We'll take two for every one they destroy.

Giuliani, Fooliani! We're going to haunt Giuliani like the Furies from Greek mythology."

Shortly after 10 a.m. the officers converged, cutting Mr. Shenker and other protesters free and carting them off to local precincts. Although the protesters had hoped to delay the city until Mr. Spitzer's lawyers could argue their case in court, they failed.

The last of the protesters was removed by 11:30. The court did not finish hearing the state's motion until early afternoon, at which time Justice Richard D. Huttner of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn blocked the city from moving against 174 other lots until the court meets again next month.

Lawyers in the case said the judge separated Esperanza Garden from his ruling because it is the subject of a separate proceeding, filed by the neighborhood, that has been rejected by the courts and is now under appeal.

The legal distinction mattered little. By the time the order was issued, Esperanza Garden was no more.

"It's incredible to me," said Ariane Burgess. "It took 22 years to create this beautiful space, and they completely destroyed it in a couple of hours."

As Ms. Burgess spoke, the creak and rumble of the bulldozer could be heard from the lot, where all of the garden's structures and plantings were being crushed, including the frog. A woman wandered by, carrying a burlap scarecrow.

The police said the 31 protesters were charged with trespassing and would be held overnight for morning court appearances. Some were also charged with obstructing justice and resisting arrest, the police said.

Mr. Giuliani said he was unmoved by the timing of the arrests, and by Judge Huttner's temporary restraining order.

"We are considering appealing that," he said. "I would ask people to consider how hard it is to get an apartment in New York, how the vacancy rate is nonexistent. I mean, something has to give."

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

U r b a n O u t d o o r s
No. 51 - January 25, 2000
1999 Winner,NYC American Planning Association Award for Journalism


Community garden supporters are circulating a document that could become the legislation that creates a set of steps that citizens can take to preserve community gardens or start new ones. The legislation also asks for a moratorium on developing or disposing of existing community gardens, while it is being considered. Once the legislation is in effect, a garden will have to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) before it can be taken away. ULURP is a comprehensive review involving input from more than one branch of City government. If a garden is to be developed, the proposed legislation mandates that the city find a nearby, alternative site before the garden is cleared. Lastly, this legislation asks the City Council to establish a community garden fund for small grants to community garden groups. Urban Outdoors readers can help get this "garden preservation legislation" on the docket by calling their Council members and asking for support.


On a cold winter weekend NOSC visited the Esperanza Garden, where a giant sculpture of a coqui (frog) provides shelter to nightly campers while it guards the gate waiting for the expected bulldozers. About a half a dozen people were present, doing chores to keep the garden clean and warm. The stage/gazebo/casita was covered with plastic, to keep out the wind, and a kitchen has been installed inside. Tents have been set up at the rear of the garden, near the bulldozers that were working on the next lot, clearing it for construction. Although a small campfire burns in the center of the garden, the good humor of people involved in this effort provide the pervading sense of warmth.

Folks know that the act of defiance that they are engaged in is not a life and death matter, but is about public health and the ability to create community in an impersonal city. It requires walking a very narrow line to translate that message into attention-getting activities. Thanks to the folks from More Gardens and Times Up at the Esperanza Garden, the NY media are again waking up to the continuing threat to community gardening. The campers are a hardy lot, giving up the comfort of warm places to take a stand. Go on down and say hello.

U r b a n O u t d o o r s
No. 49 - November 29, 1999
1999 Winner, NYC American Planning Association Award for Journalism

With 11 gardens bulldozed already this year, and eviction letters to 16 last month, 400-500 gardens are still threatened.While the emotional response to the continuing danger ranges from dispirited resignation to over-my-dead-body! , on the Lower East Side expressions of defiance are often artistic expressions. The following note was edited from cyberpark:

The injunction against bulldozing Jardin Esperanza, on E. 7th between B and C, ran out; the garden could be bulldozed anytime. But gardeners are a stubborn lot, and they're digging in. Or more precisely, locking down. Over the weekend, More Gardens! Coalition working with the Esperanza gardeners completed a giant sculpture of a coqui. Coquis are a kind of Puerto Rican tree frog.They are an indicator species, which means they act on the planet like a canary in a coal mine. They're tiny, but man oh man are they loud--an apt symbol for community gardeners. This coqui shelters a tall sleeping platform. The coqui's eyes are clear domes that peek over the fence, surveying the street. People sleep under the coqui every night, despite the already cold temperatures. The platform features the latest in lock down equipment. If the police try to extract protesters from the platform, they will have one helluva time.

More Gardens asks that citizens call State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer at 212.416.8446. Thank him for support of community gardens. Ask him to assist in preservation of the remaining unprotected gardens.

Community Garden Update
November 5, 1999

While NYC works to destroy twenty years of community building, the City of Toronto moves in the other direction because they believe that community gardening saves lives and money. In Albany, Toronto's Dr. Trevor Hancock, speaking to a meeting of health professionals, noted that community gardening was critical to healthy communities, providing gathering spaces for neighborly support, green oases for psychological health and cleaner air, and opportunities for physical activity to reduce the incidence of many debilitating conditions including hypertension, heart disease, diabetics, asthma, and some cancers. (He failed to mention fresh nutritious food) As a result, he told the assembled audience, the City of Toronto Health Department was engaged in a program to expand community gardening opportunities in that city. In NYC:

Although more than 100 gardens were preserved by NYC's philanthropic community in a last minute deal, the paying of ransom to the city has not encouraged Mayor Guiliani to view the remaining gardens as worthy of preservation. Thus, development proposals put in place both before and after the sale are moving forward, placing many gardeners in the position of seeing the vise slowly close on the only "cared for" open spaces in their communities.

While parks and public spaces in affluent communities are increasingly being cared for with private donations solicited from surrounding businesses and residents, apparently sweat equity in low income neighborhoods is not put on an equal footing by a Mayor who sees an opportunity to "cash-in his chips" and leave the people that have the least public space with even less.

While Council Speaker Peter Vallone has voiced opposition to the unrestricted sale of community gardens during the height of this year's crisis, City Council has done nothing to protect the verdant spaces. Although they have had the opportunity to preserve some gardens, they have in every case in which they were part of the process allowed garden destruction to move forward. In fact, some Council members have moved to take gardens out of the recent land trust sale package so that they can be sold to developers.

While legislation has been introduced in the State Legislature to protect community gardens, City Council, which is specifically mandated to be the people's voice in local matters, has thus far chosen not to be an activist voice. The reasons for this are complex. They include financial ties to developers, fear of a vindictive Mayor, lack of instructions from the Council Speaker to move ahead, and even a genuine feeling that not all of the gardens are worthy of preservation. While it is unfair to judge community stewarded spaces by the same standards as the city-funded botanical gardens, the reality is that pending State legislation, which protects all the gardens, will probably not move forward. Thus, City Council must agree on some process to give the gardeners a chance to fight for their own permanence, even if it is not the absolute protection that many community gardeners would prefer. It would cost the city nothing to at least protect the spaces while they are in active stewardship.

When the Keap Street and Flags Gardens in Williamsburg were bulldozed early this summer, one of the founding families of the two adjacent Casita-style gardens just gave up on New York. He took his family back home to Puerto Rico, depriving NYC of the kind of bootstrap energy that this city has always admired. Brooklyn's Sunflower and Generation Gardens were also torn down around the same time. Four more Brooklyn public gardens have received vacate orders this fall, and more are expected.

In the Bronx, ten of Community Board #3's gardens are to be taken in one coordinated attack. Among the gardens that have received orders to vacate are the Peachtree and Sun Set gardens founded more than twenty years ago. In addition to frequent local gatherings, the gardeners at this twin garden have been host to a national bicycle tour to promote the concept of an East Coast Greenway, which is likely to pass this site. The South Bronx may yet get the greenway, but gardeners wonder if the City government will first kill everything that is green?

Last week, the Community Farm, one of Prospect Height's most active public spaces, held its annual Pumpkin Smash. The jack-o-lanterns are brought from around the neighborhood to the garden, where the children are waiting. They handle the next task with gusto and efficiency. The mess is brought to the compost heap, where it provides nourishment for next year's crops. This year, the faces of the adults showed a bit more concern than the carved faces on the round fruit.

A week earlier, the city's development department (HPD) made an appearance at Brooklyn's CB8 to push expedited plans to develop the garden and land around it. The gardeners had done their work well, and the Community Board was on record as supporting the space, but the HPD representative told the Board that the "farm" would not be transferred to parks. HPD Commissioner Richard Roberts is on record as saying that gardens will not be developed against the will of the community, but the gardeners fear that without the transfer-to-parks option the Board may not maintain its resolve. NOSC will be watching this face-off for hints about future development about community board supported open space.

The Trust for Public Land has announced that the community gardens purchased by their organization will be placed into three separate land trusts, one each for Bronx and Manhattan, and one combined for Brooklyn and Queens. The New York Restoration Gardens will be placed into one citywide land trust. These land trusts are expected to have boards of trustees that are representative of the communities and the gardens that they serve. They are expected to be given the authority to assist gardeners in developing the organizations necessary for continuity and those facing succession problems. It is not as yet known whether these organizations will set standards for public access to the gardens or any other aspect of daily operation.

Four of the more than one hundred gardens saved from destruction by private purchase have been removed from the bill of sale by City Council members who felt that their communities had greater needs than open space. Those gardens were in Harlem and Jamaica, Queens. The gardens removed from the sale have been informed of their again threatened status. It is understood that no other gardens will fall off the planned sale to NY Restoration and Trust for Public Land. The bill of sale will, however, have clauses that will require that the land be returned to the city if the land trusts are unable to utilize them as green space.

About fifty gardens have thus far been preserved by "transfer to parks" Garden groups are being assured by GreenThumb that they have all the substantial legislative protection of park land. Given the assurances, it would be impossible to reclaim them for development as long as they are stewarded, and they would be subject to an "alienation" court case if they are returned to HPD.

U r b a n O u t d o o r s
No. 47 September 22, 1999 1999
Winner, NYC American Planning Association Award for Journalism


According to the slick and beautiful Garden Design Magazine, community gardeners around the country are trying to learn lessons from the recent fight to preserve gardens in NYC. While there had been isolated losses in other cities, never before had a city government attempted to take so many gardens at one time. According to California activist Michael Abelman: "I can promise you that mayors all over the country will take a hard look before they decide to threaten their local gardens."

The quote was almost identical to one by a NYC Councilman after the gardens had been purchased by Trust for Public Land and NY Restoration. Councilman Ken Fisher felt that our mayor would not want to again subject himself to the media heat provided by the local gardening community. While predicting the future is an uncertain endeavor, it is doubtful that wholesale destruction of gardens will be attempted soon. To prevent losing a few at a time, we move back to an old strategy of seeking Community Board protection, while we work for legislative relief.


While Mosquitoes are in the news, the current plague of rats has escaped the front pages. Rats have a long and dishonorable history as carriers of deadly disease. A hot summer following a mild winter has led to huge increases in the population. The boldest of the rodents, the Norway Rat, is being spotted in large numbers all over town. "A cold winter will knock out 1/4 to 1/3 of the population" according to Jake Cooper at NYC Parks. Rats love green spaces, just like people, but they will go anywhere that provides them with an easy source of food -- like garbage. Unfortunately, parks have green spaces and garbage. "Garbage usually picked up daily at NYC Parks, thus education is our first priority." Mr Cooper said in a phone conversation "People have to help by cleaning up after themselves. Rodents will not eat bait unless there is nothing else.. Even then, with a ready food source, bait is only a temporary measure." People who have seen a rat explosion in their parks should phone: 201-PARKS. The call will be forwarded to local pest control units and some action should be taken within a week or two.

"Community gardeners should stop composting food for a while" said Edie Stone at GreenThumb "and compost piles should be contained with a tight wire mesh. Bird feed and bread scraps are great rodent food, so bird feeding should be avoided." Community Gardens have fewer problems with rodents than empty lots because of the heavy presence of people. But rats are burrowing animals and gardens, like parks and backyards, often provide ideal homes. Gardens can be designed to discourage rodents. Plants hanging over garden boxes provide shelter. Paths and cleared openings in the landscaping should be large and frequent. Large areas of high grasses should be avoided. Gardeners should out-think the rodents by seeing that they do not have large areas of cover.

U r b a n O u t d o o r s
No. 46 - August 26, 1999
1999 Winner, NYC American Planning Association Award for Journalism


Although a few gardens are still being bulldozed and more trouble is expected, in the midst of a record breaking heat wave, news from the gardening community is of a cooling off period. The hot news is of huge cucumber crops and garden conflict that has more to do with landscaping features or missing tomatoes than a contest of wills with a Mayor who thinks he has all the answers. (Did you know that squirrels eat tomatoes?)

NOSC has been working with Brooklyn Alliance for Neighborhood Gardens on a citywide summer survey which has again shown the difficulty of pigeonholing our passion for gardening in groups. The answers to our few questions about gardening activities were again all over the city lot. Concerts, classes, ceremonies, and cinema were some of the non-gardening activities that the gardens host. Gardeners apparently talk to one another at the gardens or by phone. Most do not have e-mail addresses. Gardens that were tied to community and social services tended to be open midweek more regularly than those that had no such ties. And workshops, community picnics and barbecues were the most common non-gardening community building activities that take place in the spaces.

This leads us to another part of our open space agenda. The State Parks that ring our city are most often used for drive-in picnics. They were built within forest groves by paving "family-sized" nooks with picnic tables, stoves, and easy access to the trunk of a car. As traffic around our city has become more congested, the trip to the state park has become more difficult. Perhaps the community gardens are filling this niche for many city residents. If so, they are reducing highway congestion, preventing air pollution, and preventing the combustion of fossil fuels, thereby preserving resources and slowing global warming. Perhaps we ought to be funding the growth of gardening with TEA21 Federal Transportation money. Gardeners instinctively knew of the need to create shady places within their gardens. The radiated heat of the concrete city demanded that gardens look and feel like oases. Little did they know they were the vanguards of a major change in transportation policy.


As some NYC gardeners await news about whether they will survive the current crisis, GreenThumb reports that the number of gardens citywide is growing again. According to Edie Kean of GreenThumb, "We are starting new gardens on existing park land, school property, and on non-profit group land such as AIDS treatment centers, women's shelters, and churches. In addition, some of the recently purchased gardens that had been abandoned have sprung back to life. We are not wilting on the vine." Edie is especially excited about a new 1-acre potential park site near a Goodwill Industries facility in Astoria, Queens which, in addition to shaded sitting areas and gardening opportunities for people with disabilities, will have wheelchair-scaled basketball courts and other sports courts for people with special needs.

Adam Purple's Last Stand
"Adam Purple, the legendary Lower East Side artist best known for creating The Garden of Eden, a world-famous "Earthwork," has been living without gas, electricity or running water for 17 years. Now he is being threatened with eviction from his home of 26 years."

Adam Purple's Legacy
"Colleen began representing Adam Purple in 1987, a year after his spectacular garden was bulldozed by the City of New York. In the 1970s Adam liberated several abandoned city lots in the Lower East Side from their debris and squalor. Bicycling to Central Park to collect horse manure for compost, Adam literally made the garden's dirt, a feat that would take Mother Earth several thousand years."

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

Urban Outdoors Bulletin No. 44 ¥ July 1, 1999 ¥ Garden Preservation Extra

Not a month after over 100 gardens were purchased and preserved in a cliff hanger negotiation with the Mayor, the greening community has been issued its formal thank you in the form of an order to bulldoze up to 15 gardens. In a Monday blitzkrieg, dozers swept through the neighborhood to erase decades of work by people who believed the civics lessons they had learned in school. Included was half of Project Harmony's one remaining site, with mature fruiting trees that attract scores of songbirds. Children flock there to learn about the feathered critters. The Worley's had hoped to work a deal with the City that would exchange the developer-owned land, across from a day-care center, for a truly vacant Harlem lot. "We have plenty of land to build on," Cynthia said. The bulldozing was timed to proceed a court action by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and was stopped by a judicial restraining order with about half the gardens destroyed.

After the assault on the Project Harmony Garden, Cynthia left this note on Cyberpark: "Thank you all who were with us yesterday--especially Ben who risked his sweet life; thanks also to those cops who had tears in their eyes, who said, "I feel for you; I'd do anything not to be here.... I love gardens"...and to the sanitation guy who said, "This isn't what I thought my job would ever be ; I'm heartbroken"... The birds still sing this morning. All spring the robins' call has been: "Oh! Oh! Danger! Danger!" They know."

Cyberpark is NOSC's early warning system for park activists. To subscribe write: "subscribe" in the subject line of a message to


Rumors persist that NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) plans to move ahead to develop community gardens into housing. At least two garden disposals have slipped though City Council in UDAAP packages. But it is rumored that gardens will NOT be placed on fall auction lists. With about 500 community gardens still threatened, it is now up to activists to convince NYC governmental leaders that alternatives exist to taking gardens in order to provide housing. Gardeners and their supporters will again be asked to pay attention to city lists of unidentified Block and Lot numbers, attend an endless string of City Council hearings and be alert to what is happening on the neighborhood level at Community Boards. While HPD promised an orderly process for land disposition which respected the wishes of local communities, no such process has been developed, and no assurances exist that local communities will be informed of threats to gardens.

Because the issues brought to Court relate to the future of all community gardens, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer will go ahead and press his claims. As a statewide elected official the Attorney General has legal standing in the court and subpoena powers that are not readily available to the representatives of special interest groups. It was apparent as the auction compromise was formulated that the Mayor wanted the court cases dropped. Instead, Mr. Spitzer's case will move ahead and perhaps provide relief to some of the other threatened gardens.

While most New Yorkers credit the NYC Partnership and Nehemiah Housing programs with bringing renewed life to devastated local communities, recent persistent complaints about the quality of the homes have led to a reevaluation of the housing construction programs by the Mayor's office. City Limits Magazine has reported that in interviews with 134 Partnership homeowners, there were complaints about leaky roofs, crooked staircases, balky heating systems, improperly installed pipes, and backyards that looked like junkyards.

In response to these complaints and to decreasing amounts of buildable land, the Giuliani administration is developing guidelines for increased population densities in four to seven story buildings, instead of cheaply built row houses. In addition, the Partnership and HPD plan changes in design criteria, mandating larger rooms and amenities like wrought iron gates.

While the pendulum may be swinging to planners that favor "apartment house" type construction, many New Yorkers have responded positively to the human scale of the new neighborhoods, if not the housing quality. Home ownership was promoted in these programs over investment housing because people tend not to destroy homes they "own and live" in. History also shows that neighborhoods built to a human scale, like Fort Greene in Brooklyn, fared better in the disinvestment era than dense apartment house communities, like those in the Bronx. In New York City, communities that saw the most disinvestment were those with the least public open space.

Join your Community Board's land use committee. Fight for quality affordable housing and open space.

Community gardens that look best still have the best chance of preservation. Among decision makers, housing or commercial construction often takes precedence over open space preservation. However, the condition of the open space may be given great weight among those who decide. Our gardening community, including the citywide greening groups, the citywide and local preservation committees, and now even some broader-based urban environmental groups are each working in their own ways to preserve as many gardens as possible. Gardeners are helping by fighting hard in a political way and by trying to make their gardens as public and beautiful as they can. Dominoes and card playing in community gardens are a great thing, but the "practical people" who will decide will be looking for flowers, landscaping, game courts for children, and open hours as measures of community support.

There is a diversity of opinion among NYC citizens as to whether all community gardens are worthy of preservation. NOSC has long recognized that New York is unique among American cities for its lack of public open space, and thus almost any community maintained public space fills an important function. Our view is not likely to prevail in the continuing preservation campaign. For those "gardeners" who create community in other ways, we suggest you start by growing thousands of easy to grow marigolds, then begin to mix them up with perennials, shrubbery, fruits, berries, and a diverse assortment of other plants that will beautify the neighborhood. The greening groups will help. Call: Council on the Environment (212-788-7900) Green Guerillas (212-674-8124) Brooklyn GreenBridge (718-622-4433) or Bx GreenUp (718-817-8018) or GreenThumb (212-788-8059)

It is not surprising that New York City's community gardens have become national and international tourist destinations. The verdant oases in the concrete desert are antithetical to the perceived image of the city. Like the side-show in the circus, the gardens attract attention because they display oddities. However, rather than the discomfort we feel when people are on display, it puts city dwellers and visitors at ease when a break in the intensively built environment of the most densely populated city in America yields to a space that offers a respite of ponds, shade and picnic tables, or just farm crops instead of a hyper-paced urban lifestyle.

Urban Outdoors Bulletin
No. 42 May 21, 1999


Twenty-four hours before 112 community gardens were to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, a collaborative of funders purchased the green oases in order to protect them as green spaces in perpetuity. More than 600 gardens remain threatened, with the Mayor having absolute power to destroy 62 of them, as they have already passed through the ULURP process.

Community gardeners celebrated and breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that these will be the last gardens that will have to be rescued in this way. Historically, private funding has been used to purchase private land to hand over to the public sector. This action was analogous to the government selling Yosemite to private funders in order to protect it. The funders who contributed to the rescue included: LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust; a fund of the NY Community Trust, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Frances & Benjamin Benenson Foundation, Geoffrey C. Hughes Foundation, Dorothy and Lewis Cullman, Rose and Sherle Wagner Foundation and NY Restoration.

Trust for Public Land (TPL) and New York Restoration will now need time to develop the entities that will permanently manage the gardens. A few gardeners, fearful of change, seek a future in which there will be little accountability and few standards. Others recognize the danger of developing a system of private parks which exclude the general public. Andy Stone of TPL reports that "urban land trusts and government entities around the country have similar standards for public access and programming." The change in status of the gardens can provide an opportunity to attempt to understand and overcome the legitimate criticism of some of our opponents.


It would have been great fiction! A self-centered unhearing villain wanted to wipe out 20 years of community service by thousands of New Yorkers. The mean spirited Mayor considered the gardens little more than vestiges of the unstable "communist" sixties to be erased from our civic memory. The contest to save the community gardens assembled a huge and diverse constituency of gardeners, good government types, church people, environmentalists, social justice groups, philanthropists, and colorfully dressed activists. Together, they exposed the lie of the Mayor's "gardens versus housing" arguments and woke up almost the entire populace to the threat to their quality-of-life posed by the plan to sell the spaces.

The comedy climax was the "Earth Shaking Protest" where almost 1000 New Yorkers assembled, some dressed as fruits or insects, to watch 62 New York heroes get arrested to the sound of a festive brass band. At one point hundreds of flowers were being tossed into the ring where the sit down strikers were located. The "strikers" threw them back to the chanting crowd so that they could be tossed again. As the protesters were handcuffed by smiling police officers, they stood up in the paddy wagon and joined the chant, shaking the police van up and down like a child's toy.

While months of letter writing, demonstrations, public testimony and legislative initiatives failed to move the Mayor, a cliff hanger court injunction stalled the auction and opened the way for renewed negotiation with Trust for Public Land. In the end it was NY's own bath-house angel, Bette Midler, who provided the extra money needed to save ALL the gardens. While the city celebrated the rescue of over 100 verdant green spaces from certain doom, over six hundred gardens still have questionable futures, and the Mayor has shown no evidence that he cares about the gardeners' work.


The issues brought before the courts relate to the future of all community gardens and thus, at least some of the litigants will go ahead and press their claims in court. The entry of State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into the fray is especially significant. As an elected official he represents all the people of the State. He has legal standing in the court and subpoena powers that are not readily available to the representatives of special interest groups. It was apparent as the cliffhanger compromise was formulated that the Mayor wanted the court cases dropped. Instead, they will move ahead and perhaps provide relief to some of the 600 other threatened gardens.


A faulty (ULURP) process for disposing of city owned land made it possible for the Mayor to put mature community gardens on the auction block. Changing that process requires the acquiescence of the State Government and thus the next staging ground for garden preservation becomes Albany and our State's Governor and Legislature.

While several pieces of garden preservation legislation have been introduced in the State Legislature, it is not yet clear which will move forward. Please call your state Assembly Members and Senators and ask them to support Community Garden Preservation Legislation. To find out who your representatives are please call the League of Women Voters at 212-674-8484


It begins with the biggest bluebird you've ever seen jumping from a tree and ends with a long aerial flight from the top of a lower east side tenement. The twelve hour Earth Celebrations Pageant is part carnival, part theater, and part ritual ceremony. Join on Saturday May 22 1999, at 10 am at Broome and Delancey to get your costume, or just dress up in your own floral outfit. Come down to Tompkins Square Park at any time during the day and begin your search for the parade which winds around the surrounding streets. This is New York's most original and least commercial big parade, and it celebrates our thriving community gardens. (See Calendar for more about gardens)

GARDENS OR GARBAGE: MORE EVIDENCE It was Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden's report that helped the media understand the destructive nature of unrestricted auction of gardens. He presented statistical evidence that lots purchased at auction stay blighted for years. Even land given to builders for immediate construction often stays fallow. In Coney Island, gardens bulldozed years ago again attract drug dealing and crime. Sometimes developers get control of sites long before financing is in place to build the promised homes.

Cynthia and Haja Worley, the Harlem gardeners who have been working citywide for preservation, have brought us additional evidence that gardens once bulldozed often become empty lots. "The George Brown Garden, bulldozed six months ago is now a huge cavern. The site of the ex-129th Street Community Garden is now being used as the launching place for a series of burglaries as the garbage piles up." Cynthia told us. Their Project Harmony' s one remaining site has mature fruiting trees that attract scores of songbirds, and children flock there to learn about the feathered critters. The Worley's would like to work a deal with the City that would exchange the developer-owned land for a truly vacant Harlem lot. "We have plenty of land to build on," Cynthia said. "The developer has told us that he is willing to deal".

Garden Preservation Update
EXTRA May 1 1999

An "Urban Outdoors" special report on the citywide garden preservation campaign compiled by Neighborhood Open Space Coalition with the support of the City-wide greening organizations, local gardens and neighborhood support groups.

Rejecting a $2 million Trust for Public Land (TPL) offer to buy community gardens if the scheduled May auction was delayed, Mayor Rudolf Giuliani's office said that funders can purchase the spaces at the auction if they wish. However, TPL and its partner funders were looking for the kind of public/private partnership that exists in other cities and were clearly disappointed with the City's response.

Two independent reports from city staffers indicate that the Mayor wants to destroy community gardening because two lower east side activists unfurled a garden preservation banner at his inaugural.

New York's City Council passed a resolution in support of community gardening in it's April 28th full Council meeting. A companion bill (Assembly No A-8124) has been introduced in Albany that will require an additional home- rule message from City Council. It will also require Senate passage, and that would be more certain with a Republican sponsor. Upon passage of the bill and the home rule message a complicated puzzle of legislation will be in place that can put an end to the unilateral sale and destruction of gardens in New York City. While this action is not expected to stop the May auction it will slow or stop future garden sales and it will send a strong message of support for community gardening to the Mayor. Readers should call State Legislators and ask for their support.

An organized attempt to get Governor Pataki to assist with garden preservation is being spearheaded by the League of Conservation Voters and Natural Resources Defense Council. Short phone calls to his NYC office (212-681-4580) could be of help now to get the Governor to step in. Governor Pataki has long been a supporter of open space preservation in NY State, and might welcome an opportunity to work for urban open space protection.

A number of city agencies have received requests for information from law firms that are representing community gardeners, garden supporters, and even elected officials. The Freedom of Information requests are a preliminary step that will gather facts necessary to proceed with litigation to protect gardens from auction. Legal experts are pursuing the city on a number of different grounds, including discrimination against minority communities, and failure to follow due process before disposing of gardens. It is expected that lawsuits will be filed next week. It is hoped that the planned May auction of gardens will be delayed in order to consider the legal issues.

It may sound angry but it isn't. It will include a brass band and, as usual, people in costume. This will be the last opportunity before the scheduled auction to show that large numbers of people support community gardening. We will be there in force. We hope to see all of the readers of Urban Outdoors.

Wednesday, May 5 at 5:00PM
Borough of Manhattan Community College
199 Chambers Street
(Subway to Chambers or City Hall & walk west)
For more information, contact:
Brooklyn Alliance of Neighborhood Gardens (718) 399- 9425
Lower East Side Collective (212) 529-1590
More Gardens! Coalition (212) 330-6851

We note that some people will choose to participate in a ritual arrest at this demonstration. Those people will be engaged in a separate action and participants in the larger demonstration need not be part of the arrest action.

NOSC got a call from a NYC police officer last week in reference to one of our organized walks. In conversation, the issue of community gardens came up. The officer noted that he began his career on the lower east side, at a time when the place was completely devastated. "I didn't know what I was doing there" he said. "Slowly", he reported, "the gardens started to replace the garbage. The flowers seemed to sap the meanness out of the streets. If the Mayor understood what these gardens meant to the communities, he would not be doing this terrible thing."

Please Help Save Community Gardening.
Call Councilman Vallone at 718-274-4500:. Then call YOUR City Council member.

Neighborhood Open Space Coalition
Rm 508 71 W.23rd St.
New York, NY 10010


For Up-to-date information on the Garden Crisis Join Cyberpark. Write "subscribe cyberpark" to:

"Robert Moses' public appeal had always been based largely on his identification with the magic word Ôparks' .. Now in a single dramatic tableau, he had been shown to be utterly, unmistakably wrong..." Bringing bulldozers to a small corner of Central Park "was such an insignificant thing" Moses' staffer Sid Shapiro would say "but it was never the same after that..."
-Excerpted slightly out of context from the Power Broker by Robert Caro, Chapter 42, The Loss of Power.

Margot Adler's story "The Garden Wars" aired on NPR's "All Things Considered" on Thursday, April 22, 1999 at 5:50 PM

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announces land temporarily used for urban gardening to be auctioned off.


Today is Earth Day, an occasion marked by various official declarations of the need to protect and cherish the environment, and that includes the urban environment. Last spring, New York City announced that more than 100 community gardens would go on the auction block this coming May. New York City's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says there's a need for development and that the gardens were always temporary. Now as NPR's Margot Adler reports, city gardeners are organizing to save their plots of land.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

On a beautiful April day, Mary Jones--who will not tell me her age, only that she is not yet 65--shows me around the Bainbridge Street community garden in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

Ms. MARY JONES (Gardener):

That tree behind you here--look at this tree. That's a mulberry tree. They are so delicious, but they fall all over everything. We grow tomatoes, we grow some string beans, green beans, we grow okra.

ADLER: Oh, the strawberries are already beginning.

JONES: Move your shadow back a little bit.

ADLER: Yeah, you can already see the...

JONES: You can see the strawberries coming up.

ADLER: There are about 20 individual boxes for planting inside a padlocked iron fence. Around the perimeter are benches and chairs for people to sit and relax. This garden is tended mostly by elderly African-Americans; the oldest is 89.

JONES: This lady who has this box, she's 85. The lady that has the box that has the strawberries, she's about 87 or 88. Did you sign our petition?

Unidentified Woman: Huh?

JONES: You know the mayor's trying to get these gardens away from us, right?

ADLER: Mary Jones has successfully planted cotton and peanuts in this garden. Children from the surrounding public schools have visited. Many had never before seen cotton on the bush.

For decades, many hundreds of community gardens have flourished in New York, as in other cities, many of them blooming in abandoned vacant lots. For years, communities could lease these gardens temporarily under the Green Thumb program. Through the program, they could obtain plants, soil, manure and tools. While the gardens were always seen as temporary, to be bulldozed should housing to be built on those spots, many gardens became institutions over the years, symbols of neighborhood involvement and community pride. Gardeners argue that they raise food for the homeless, they provide nature education for city children and occupations for the elderly, that the gardens increase safety and create a sense of community.

There have been several public hearings about the gardens. At the last of these, this woman, Elsie Richardson, spoke for many.

Ms. ELSIE RICHARDSON (Gardeners' Spokesperson):

I say to you that I was born in this city in a tenement 77 years ago today. I could be spe...

(Soundbite of people cheering)

Ms. RICHARDSON: I could be spending my time dancing a jig somewhere, but I feel that it's important to be here to say to this city, `Save our gardens.' Thank you.

ADLER: There have been demonstrations, rallies, even a sit-in where 30 people got arrested at City Hall. At the most recent rally, adjacent to the New York Public Library, even Pete Seger lent a hand.

Mr. PETE SEGER (Singer):

I'll sing that last top line again. (Singing) `The Bedford may be dirty now, but she's gettin' cleaner every day.' We are going to have tens of thousands of gardens in New York in a few decades.

(Soundbite of people cheering)

ADLER: But Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has a different point of view. He has repeatedly said the land could be better used for economic development. At a news conference, Mayor Giuliani said those who insist the gardens remain are unwilling to keep a deal, and they're the kind of people who believe in failed economic systems.

Mayor RUDOLPH GIULIANI (New York City):

The deal here was you get it for a temporary period of time. Well, temporary is over now and now we're trying to find housing for people, we're trying to create commercial development and I think you see a lot more economic development in communities that never had it before.

ADLER: The gardeners argue that the housing authority doesn't consider most of their lots appropriate for housing and that the history of such lots sold at auction is they remain vacant and become dumping grounds. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who expanded the Green Thumb program under his administration, says it's one thing if you require that anyone who buys a lot create housing or development, but otherwise, he says...

Former Mayor ED KOCH (New York City):

It's speculation. And then the mayor's attitude, which reflects his usual attitude at critics, is to demean them and demonize them.

ADLER: Back in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Mary Jones says she's mystified why anyone would want to take away the gardens of what she calls `poor city farmers.'

Ms. JONES: Somehow, whether you feel good or whether you feel bad, we come down here and we don't know when we get tired and we work together. We have not had one harsh word with each other over the years.

ADLER: In recent days, the city has given several gardens reprieves, but the auction is still set for May. Some city officials are introducing legislation to protect the gardens, but at this point, no one knows how many gardens will be auctioned nor how decisions to sell or not sell will be made.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

Urban Outdoors Bulletin
No. 41 April 16, 1999

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

With the auction of over 100 community gardens to speculators scheduled for early May information often stays current only for hours. The best place for up-to-the- minute details is Cyberpark, NOSC's interactive listserv. To subscribe write: "subscribe cyberpark" to

Thanks to a huge outpouring of public support and an increasing amount of national and local media attention that is being focused on the plight of NYC's community gardeners, City Council legislation posted to preserve gardens is expected to be passed out of committee to go to full Council on Monday, April 19. If Council acts quickly the bills could be passed in the April 28 full Council session. While the legislation in itself would probably not stop the planned auction of gardens, new wording makes clear that that is the intent of Council. This legislation would send a message to the Mayor of broad support for the green oases. Council supporters include Council Members Fisher, Carrion, and DiBrienza. State legislation to preserve gardens has also been introduced in the Albany Legislature by a block of members including Senators Montgomery and Sampson and Assembly members Brennon and Millman. A vote of support for gardens from NYC Council would also be helpful in getting Albany legislation passed.

Write or call Councilman Vallone and your Council Member. Ask them to fast track garden preservation legislation. Also ask your state legislators to fast track State protective efforts. Support legislation and see your City Council in action. Observe the proceedings on either meeting day.

In a letter to Attorney General Mark Spitzer, Brooklyn's State Senator John Sampson has urged that the legality of selling community gardens at auction be investigated. It is illegal to sell park lands without approval of the State Legislature, and the case-law sometimes does not require that a park agency hold title to the land. Rather use and recognition of the use are the common law standards for the establishment of park lands. The NYC Department of Parks administers the GreenThumb Program and has administered the land for a period over the last several years. The gardens have provided needed recreational facilities to communities that are critically short of park space.

Please Thank Senator Sampson for his continuing efforts on behalf of community gardening. Write Attorney General Spitzer and ask him to prevent "alienation" of community gardens.

With the success of the "Standing our Ground" Conference and Rally on April 9th and 10th, followed by a guerrilla action by an activist group blocking traffic on Sunday April 11th, garden groups are seeking other creative ways to get their story out. Over 1000 people took part in one or another of the weekends events. Organizers of the on-the-street actions include NYC Garden Coalition, NY Environmental Justice Alliance, NYC Sierra Club and Reclaim the Streets.

Another major demonstration is planned for May 5, the date that the final auction plans are announced. The organizers stress that while people are expected to be arrested at the demonstration, an opportunty to leave will be presented to those who don't wish to be detained. The text below is from the organizers of the event:

Wednesday, May 5 at 5:00PM
Borough of Manhattan Community College 199 Chambers Street
(Subway to Chambers or City Hall & walk west)
For more information, contact: Brooklyn Alliance of Neighborhood Gardens (718) 399- 9425

Lower East Side Collective (212) 529-1590
More Gardens! Coalition (212) 330-6851

While negotiations with the Mayor have not yet been broken off, there is no news of a compromise in sight, and once the gardens are auctioned, most gardeners believe nothing can be done to save them. Therefore legal actions by Green Guerillas, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund are also contemplated.

Urban Outdoors Extra
Annual Review Preview
March 25, 1999

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

Nosc Pushes Hard To Preserve Community Gardening

It was evident early in this Mayoral administration that a pushing match was possible on the issue of garden preservation. Mayor Guiliani was committed to selling off City assets, and in NYC, land is oil. With the sale of WNYC to a private foundation and a commercial entity, and the failure of the attempt to sell our water supply, focus was changed to selling off the City's land portfolio. Selling a radio and television station turned out to be an easy matter compared to the City's scattered land holdings which were controlled by an overlapping collection of agencies with "plans" to use the land. Apparently, things did not move fast enough for the Mayor.

In Spring of 1998, NOSC announced in a Garden Preservation Update headline that was to be quoted all over town: "Mayor Issues Death Certificate to Community Gardening." The action that led to the headline was the consolidation of all undeveloped land into NYC's development agency. In the Mayors mind, community gardens were undeveloped city land.

In NYC, it takes a village to raise a storm, and the outcry for garden preservation has come from all quarters. Of course, a collection of ad hoc and not-so-ad-hoc groups were formed around the issue. Greening Groups including NOSC, Green Guerillas, and Trust for Public Land took a lead role in the advocacy campaign. Civic associations, Community Boards, Local Development corporations, national environmental groups etc. have all chimed in for garden preservation. While at times there has been conflict between approaches of the disparate groups, the truth is that all roads need to be traveled and the new generation "flower people", "suits", and everyone in- between have important roles to play in the ongoing struggle to save community gardens.

Now, many of NYC's elected leaders are joining the fight for garden preservation. Legislation to save gardens has been introduced in both Albany and City Hall, and efforts have been made to negotiate with the Mayor. In Washington, a presidential initiative to save both urban and rural open space was announced in the State of the Union message. As this is written the Mayors Office is on a collision course with most responsible governmental officials, but unfortunately has sole power to determine the fate of many of our City's green oases.

"Community gardens are places where people come together across lines of race and class, where generations mingle. Places where people learn about nature and each other, refuges from the pollution and noise of the city. They are non-commercial spaces in a city whose every surface is being sold to make a buck. They are community centers that are truly community controlled. Jayne Doe invites you to take action against the forces of greed and order who are working to privatize these unruly, vital, public spaces."

Urban Outdoors Bulletin No. 39 - March 3, 1999

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

Preemptive Strike Against Gardens?
Say It Isn'T So Mr. Mayor:

Officials both within and outside city government have reported that Mayor Guiliani plans a preemptive strike which will bulldoze 130 community gardens before the planned May auction that will sell them to the highest bidder with no requirement that the land be put to other uses. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden, whose borough contains more community gardens and less parkland than any other, has released a carefully researched report that indicates that city land sold without requirement to build most often is used for automotive uses and reverts back into junk-filled lots. As the vise tightens on community gardening in the only city in the United States that does not value the spaces, gardeners are turning to City Council to assume its role as check and balance on the Mayor.

City Council Introduces Garden Preservation Legislation

A complicated package of garden preservation measures has been introduced in City Council by Council members Adolfo Carrion of the Bronx and Ken Fisher of Brooklyn. The legislation includes measures to prohibit unrestricted auction of gardens, and proposes to amend the City Charter to put a sunset clause on old "ULURPs". Land Okayed for sale by the ULURP process more than fifteen years ago is the source of the Mayor's ability to sell community gardens without the approval of Council or Community Boards. "We are also pursuing legislation in Albany" Mr. Fisher told a gathering of gardeners and civic association members at the Municipal Art Society "City government is answerable to the State government and it is possible that Albany will have the last word." While it is doubtful that this legislation can stop the May auction, passage can create another "broad-based" point of pressure on the Mayor in the form of a coalition of elected leaders.

Gardeners and New Yorkers who wish to retain the spaces now have the responsibility to inform their Council Members of their support for the measures (If you do not know who your Council Member is, call League of Women Voters at: 212-674-8484). Also, ask your councilperson to call Deputy-Mayor Lhotta's office and ask him to remove gardens from the auction list. Only elected officials should call Mr Lhotta, for too many calls may hurt our cause.

It is also important that citizens call Council Speaker Vallone ( 718-274-4500) and ask him to "fast-track" the legislation, as it is possible that the Council process may move more slowly than Mayoral initiatives.

Garden Activists Arrested In City Hall

The young people of the More Gardens Coalition have appeared at each of the four recent rump hearings aimed at meeting the legal requirements for sale of the property that the gardens are using. They were not hard to recognize, dressed as brightly colored flowers, insects and fruits. While the handcrafted paper signs of school children were confiscated by the Mayor's heightened security forces, the removal of "More's" very visible show of support for community gardening would require an instruction to undress, and apparently the police were unwilling to order that action.

This property disposition process has highlighted conditions at City Hall Park, where a $25 million "historic" reconstruction has been joined by the installation of pedestrian-inhibiting concrete barricades. Citizens now have to approach an armed police officer, sitting in a marked police car for permission to enter the park or the seat of government, and only get that permission if they have "business" in the building. The front stairs of City Hall, designed as an inviting entrance to one of the most beautiful public buildings in America, are no longer open to entrants. Instead citizens are required to enter a dingy basement to be electronically frisked.

Considering the calm in the state of American democracy compared to other periods in history, the amount of time and money invested in protecting the government from the people must be off-putting to the most genteel of citizens. To the rest of us, including the exuberant young people of "More" it is cause for rebellion. It is not surprising that More, upon leaving the last of the series of "phony" hearings burst out into a chant of "More Gardens, More Democracy" that echoed throughout the building. The chant was a signal to police, who locked the building, awaited reinforcements, and arrested the flowers and vegetables. To reach More Gardens! Coalition: (212) 330- 6851.

"Stand Our Ground" Conference And Demonstration

Hold the Dates:
April 9th and 10th Gardeners and supporters will be gathering for a garden preservation rally and conference being organized by the NYC Garden Coalition, NY Environmental Justice Alliance, The Sierra Club and with the support of other groups. For information Call 212-420-8651

Rudy Garden Plan Doesn't Hold Water

By Lisa Rein
NY Daily News Staff Writer

Mayor Giuliani promised yesterday that affordable housing will be built on many of the community garden plots headed for the auction block this spring but the city's housing agency nixed the idea months ago.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which builds low and middle-income housing in abandoned buildings and on vacant lots, declined to develop the 126 city-owned lots that neighborhoods have converted to community gardens.

"They've decided the properties should be passed off to us to be auctioned off to the public," said Patrick Muldowney, spokesman for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which sells off abandoned city property.

A recent study of city property auctioned in Brooklyn showed 17 of 440 lots were developed after five years.

As 30 gardeners arrested Wednesday for protesting the May auction were arraigned yesterday in Manhattan Criminal Court, Giuliani said returning vacant lots to the tax rolls will promote economic development in poor neighborhoods.

"The reality is, we need more housing in the city," he said. "If you keep these properties tied up, [minority neighborhoods] will never move to a higher level of more housing, more commercial development, more jobs."

All but one of the protesters charged with misdemeanors for staging a sit-in at City Hall declined an offer to have their records wiped clean in six months if they don't get arrested again. They are due back in court April 5.

Officials from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development declined comment.

Garden-Lovers Arrested at City Hall Sit-In

The New York Times
February 25, 1999
By Dan Barry

With some wearing insect outfits, flower-bedecked hats and mischievous grins, two dozen people staged a sit-in on the marble floor of the City Hall lobby Wednesday to protest the Giuliani administration's decision to auction off more than 100 city-owned lots that neighborhood groups throughout the city had converted into community gardens.

Thirty people were arrested in an odd encounter between protesters carrying kazoos and police officers wearing riot gear. When the officers realized that the only physical threat would be to their backs -- from lifting limp bodies off the floor -- they removed their helmets and began carrying the protesters out a back door to a waiting police van.

Calling themselves the More Gardens! Coalition, the protesters went to City Hall -- ostensibly to attend a public hearing on the issue -- with packets of information for the press, protest songbooks and an orchestrated plan to fax announcements of the protest to the news media at the very moment the demonstration began.

The demonstrators left the Council hearing en masse and walked down City Hall's circular stairwell to the first floor, with intentions of staging a sit-in on the steps of City Hall -- a place the Police Department has declared generally off limits, alleging a concern for security. Police officers locked the front entrance to the building to thwart the protesters, then pointed to a back exit. Instead, the demonstrators plopped on the lobby floor to sing and rail against the Mayor.

When the demonstrators ignored orders to leave, the police began the arrests, on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration.

The first to be arrested wore a multicolored hat worthy of Dr. Seuss. The second had hair dyed blue. The third was dressed like a ladybug.

The protesters also carried an idiosyncratic interpretation of the law: namely, that it was illegal for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani not to attend the hearing at which they planned to voice their grievances. When they learned that the Mayor was in Washington and not on the premises, they threatened to stay put until Giuliani returned.

A frisson of nervous energy ran through the 45-minute confrontation at times, with people giggling, shouting encouragement to one another and singing of the glories of gardens to the melody of "We Shall Overcome." But the protest reflected the deep-rooted anger engendered by the administration's plan to sell off the properties. Where some neighborhoods see abandoned lots transformed into verdant symbols of community pride, the city sees excess public property that might be sold to promote economic development.

More than two decades ago, the city agreed to allow local groups to convert the lots into gardens, with the understanding that the arrangement was temporary. "When these parcels of land were given to the community for the purposes of gardening, it was well known to them" that the city would someday reclaim the properties, said Colleen Roche, the Mayor's press secretary. "This doesn't come as a surprise."

In some neighborhoods the lots sprouted weeds and little else; in others, they became miniature Edens. But whatever serenity they created evaporated when the city recently announced plans to auction 480 parcels in May, including 112 that had been converted into gardens. Yesterday's hearing was the fourth and last opportunity for city residents to voice their feelings on the matter; city officials said yesterday that they would consider the public response in determining whethjuer to remove some of the lots from the auction list.

"The purpose of the auction is to create economic development in neighborhoods, to create housing," Ms. Roche said. "The people protesting today would be the first to protest the lack of affordable housing or jobs in the city."

But spokesmen for several organizations that champion the virtues of open space, from Greenthumb to the Trust for Public Land, have denounced the decision as insensitive and shortsighted, while the Bronx Borough President, Fernando Ferrer, has dismissed it as a "cake sale."

City Councilman Adolfo Carri—n Jr., of the Bronx, plans to propose a bill that would prohibit the sale of community gardens unless they are to be used for low- and moderate-income housing.

Gardens Flap Growing - Giuliani to auction 126 plots

By David Lefer
Daily News Staff Writer
From the Daily News
February 21, 1999

One hundred twenty-six community gardens across the city face destruction if the Giuliani administration carries out its plan to auction them off in May as part of a package of city-owned land parcels.

In response, a burgeoning, citywide grass-roots movement, supported by national environmental groups, has sprung up to oppose the plan. The anti- Giuliani sentiment has united community gardeners, neighborhood activists and local politicians who are gearing up to make their voices heard in the city's final public hearing on the auction this week at City Hall.

"We want as many people to come out for the Feb. 24 meeting as possible," said Gerard Lordahl of the New York-based Council for the Environment. "It's a last-ditch effort."

Mayor Giuliani has dismissed his opponents as stuck in "the era of communism."

In all five boroughs, community garden supporters are holding late-night strategy meetings, signing petitions, planning rallies and talking of civil disobedience, if necessary. Local elected officials, especially in Brooklyn, are outraged that the Giuliani administration did not consult them about which local parcels would go on the block. In the past, the city had sought community advice on property transfers or sales.

"In 1998, community boards and gardeners were basically taken out of the oop," said Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6 in Brooklyn. "No notice. No consultation."

Even officials who support auctioning some of the gardens were galled by the unannounced policy shift. Community Board 6 had reached an agreement with the city last fall to turn its 12th St. garden into a Sisters of Mercy hospice for developmentally disabled teens. The plot now is slated to goto the highest bidder.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Queens) wrote Mayor Giuliani that his plan "does not suggest a well-thought-outpolicy direction."

City Hall says low-income housing will be built on many of the sites. Officials say there is no guarantee that will happen.

Howard Golden, the Brooklyn borough president, recently released a report showing that lots sold by the city usually remain garbage-strewn eyesores for years.

"Based on my study, once auctioned, most vacant lots not only remain underdeveloped, but become dumping grounds for unauthorized vehicles and garbage," said Golden.

Brooklyn officials worry that the loss of 56 of the borough's 250-odd community gardens - about twice as many as listed for auction in the Bronx, with 31 - will contribute to an already acute lack of green space. Brooklyn has 1.7 acres of open space for every 1,000 people, according to figures prepared by the citywide Neighborhood Open Space Coalition.

That's less than in any other urban environment in America. Boston has four acres per 1,000 people. Philadelphia has more than six.

City officials say the sale is an opportunity to expand the tax base and cash in on the city's surging real estate market. According to a Daily News analysis of city records, the least the city could make from sales of the 126 gardens is $3,620,000.

A fair-market value for all of the properties, say land-use experts, would be at least twice that amount. In other words, the city stands to make at least $7 million.

"Is $6 million to $7 million a lot of money? Yes, but what are the other costs?" asked City Councilman Stephen DiBrienza (D-Brooklyn). "The gardens have enormous community value that should not be discounted."

Last week, the Community Board 6 Parks and Housing committees voted unanimously to to ask the city not to auction the Gil Hodges Memorial Garden, which is used by nearby Public School 372 for writing projects and science experiments, as well as four other gardens in the area.

All of Board 6's gardens are on the auction block. Their sale, say advocates, would fundamentally alter the face of the community.

"This land is valuable, there's no doubt about it," said the Rev. Roderick Crispo of Our Lady of Peace Church, which cares for the Gil Hodges Memorial Garden and pays for its maintenance. "But this is important, too."

Whether any of the gardens up for auction can be saved remains uncertain.

"Don't put your faith in the courts," said Leslie Lowe, executive director of the New York Environmental Justice Alliance. "This is a political issue. We have to bring the political pressure to bear."

The City Council has vowed to oppose any moves by the mayor to auction the city's remaining 600 community gardens without local feedback. According to sources, a motion to protect community gardens is planned at Thursday's City Council meeting.

State legislators also are trying to save as many gardens as possible. State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery is introducing a bill with Assemblywoman Joan Millman, a fellow Brooklyn Democrat, that would allow not-for-profit groups to purchase gardens using state funds.

"The ruination of community gardens will destroy more than flowers, trees and branches," Montgomery said. "It will repress a community spirit that compels neighbors to do good for one another with a hoe, a trowel and a great deal of tender, loving care."

The following are copies of correspondence (sent to me February 11/99) between a concerned citizen and the Mayor's office.

Original Message:

"I can not believe, as I sit here and read this on the website,, that you are destroying gardens in your city. History will recall your leaving office as the mayor who destroyed many of the city gardens. What a way to go down in history. Ken Hargesheimer, Lubbock, TX"

"Dear Mr. Hargesheimer:
I write on behalf of Mayor Giuliani in response to your E-mail concerning community gardens. Please know that these gardens were created under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development's Greenthumb Garden Program. This program provides for the temporary use of City-owned vacant property. At the same time, the City is committed to developing affordable housing for homeless, low, and middle-income families. Unfortunately, issues involving the use of open space have engendered a polarized debate that often pits the need for affordable housing against community gardens. The goal of this administration is to build a balanced policy that recognizes the need to develop more affordable housing and to create more permanent open space. The City often works to make alternate sites available to community gardens that have been slated for development. In fact, since 1994, this administration has converted 1,487 acres to permanent parkland. Thank you for writing and sharing your views with us at NYCLink. Sincerely,
Cristyne F. Lategano
Director of Communications"

If you would like to send another message to the Mayor, You may either send another message to GIULIANI@WWW.CI.NYC.NY.US or click on the feedback link on the Mayor's home page at

Garden Preservation Update
February 11, 1999

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

Urban Outdoors Bulletin No. 38 - February 11, 1999

The State Of The Gardens: Thorny

The Daily News noted that the Mayor's "State of the City" address called for six new sports stadiums for NYC. (Urban Outdoors wrote about the Mayor's stadium obsession in May 1998, when only four fields were planned.) The commentary noted that if you gave a little boy enough lego blocks to build his ideal city, it would probably contain six stadiums and no community gardens. When asked about gardens in a press conference, the Mayor was quoted as saying "Welcome to the free-market economy, this is the post-Communist era". As the Mayor's plan to auction 130 of the City's gardens in May 1999 moves forward, the press has begun to note the unilateral nature of the affair, and how the Mayor is perfectly willing to be flexible for his "friends". In a page one story about a nepotistic lobbying effort which provided privileged parking for limousines for wall street bankers the News noted that "while the era of communism may be over... the era of influence peddling has just begun."

Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Vallone may be taking action to prevent future garden dispositions, while Council members have been telling garden advocates that they do not have the power to save the gardens that are presently planned for auction. Increasing numbers of people are suggesting that gardens be purchased and placed into a land trust. However, gardens in this auction alone could cost over $8 million, and there are doubts that kind of money could be raised. Gardeners are talking about mounting a conference/ demonstration that could bring in National supporters, and call attention to the garden's plight. Some greening groups are trying to strengthen Albany based legislative action, and still others are trying to reach the Mayor through influential "friends and supporters". Please help save community gardening. Call Councilman Vallone at 718-274-4500:. Then call YOUR City Council member.

Plan to Kill Gardens Has Kids in Full Bloom

Daily News 2/3/99

Our mayor has closed the front steps to the public, so the police officer directed Adrianne Murray and her 17 second-graders to a side door leading to the basement of City Hall. A second officer directed them through a metal detector.

"The girls thought their earrings would set it off, so they started grabbing their ears," Murray recalls.

The officer did not fail to notice that the teacher was carrying a large garbage bag.

"He said, 'Do you have signs?' " Murray recalls. "I said, 'Signs?' I thought I was in trouble right there. Finally, he stuck his head in the bag."

The officer beheld 17 small signs bearing such messages as "We Want to Keep Our Garden" and "We Don't Want Anyone to Sell our Garden" in tempera paint.

"He said 'No,' we absolutely could not bring them there," Murray says. "I said, 'But this is children's work.' "

Murray then asked the officer to stick his head back in the bag so she could take his picture.

"He said, 'Why?' " she recalls. "I said, 'So we can put it on the bulletin board and discuss why signs are not allowed in.' He said, 'How would you like it if somebody took your picture?' I said, 'If it was for teaching, I'd say yes.' "

Their signs impounded, the youngsters from Brooklyn's Public School 287 followed Murray up to a chamber on the second floor. A man sat at a huge table behind a nameplate reading MAYOR, but he was only a stand-in from the public hearings unit. He remained as impassive as one of the chamber's marble busts as citizens spoke with impassioned eloquence against the mayor's plan to auction dozens of city-owned lots that have become community gardens.

Then, the second-graders got their turn. Seven-year-old Jatima Floyd offered two reasons against the sale of Block 2099, Lot 43, the 105-by-24-foot garden in Fort Greene her class hopes to plant and tend come spring.

"When Mother's Day comes, I can give all of the mothers in Brooklyn a flower and my class can make the neighborhood look very nice," she said.

The mayoral stand-in actually smiled. Jatima was followed by her twin sister, Jatina, who had her own reason the garden was vital.

"So the neighborhood homeless people can have some food," she said.

The stand-in smiled again, and yet again when 8-year-old Mark Edwards testified. Had the man behind the MAYOR sign actually been the mayor, the class might have accomplished its mission. The youngsters left the chamber as perfectly behaved as when arrived, and only the sternest adult would not have been charmed when the airy splendor of the main staircase made them a touch giddy.

"We get to go down the stairs," one exclaimed.

The youngsters reached the first floor sounding like merry sprites, and the main front doors seemed to invite them to dash out and go laughing down the front steps. The mayor's new security procedures dictated otherwise.

"We have to go to the basement," Murray said.

The youngsters grew silent as they filed down into the basement and back out past the metal detector. Murray reclaimed the black plastic bag, and once outside she decided she could at least get a picture of the children with their signs.

"When I hold up your sign, come forward," she said.

That done, she led the youngsters to the obvious place for such a photo. The youngsters scampered around to the front and mounted the restricted steps. They held up their signs and chanted "We want our garden!" as Murray raised a camera.

"One, two, three!" Murray said.

"Cheese!" the youngsters said.

An officer emerged from City Hall, looking not at all sure what to do about a crowd of spirited second-graders.

"What, are you just taking a picture? Okay," he said.

The youngsters soon came down off the steps, but they were still carrying their signs and chanting as they went back out past the police car that bars the way to City Hall. Passersby grinned and called out encouragement.

"You get that garden!" one passerby said.

"Kids, be careful with the signs, one of you just poked Shaquasia in the eye," Murray said.

The class soon neared the subway.

"All right, everyone, protest signs in the bag," Murray said. "Let me do a head count. Protesting is great, but not if you lose people."

Then, reminding them to hold hands and stay away from the platform edge, Murray led the class down steps that are still open to everyone. They returned to school to await the fate of their garden in a year when all the groundhogs are auguring an early planting season.

Folks Seeing Red Over Losing Green

Dennis Duggan
Newsday 1/19/99
Copyright 1999, Newsday Inc
pp A06.

They are tiny swatches of green in a city that pays homage to the skyscrapers and their taxpaying owners. Some of them aren't as big as the stretch limousines that dart from one trendy night club to another. But all of them bear the stamp of pride and self-respect.

Now, though, the city wants to auction 75 of these community-tended vegetable and flower gardens to the highest bidders.

It's the city's version of a garage sale, and Mayor Rudy Giuliani has little sympathy for the people who have transformed junkyard lots and eyesores into gardens and community meeting places.

The mayor, whose name appears on the bulletin boards of the gardens, said the volunteers who tend the gardens just don't understand how the free-market economy works. "They are stuck in the era of Communism," he said.

One of his lackeys said the flower-power people were the same protesters who would be the first to protest the fact that there is not enough low- or middle-income housing in their neighborhoods. "They can't have it both ways," this same moron said.

It's hard to keep up with this lame-duck mayor's daily jihads. One day he is against a medically accepted treatment for addicts. Next, he is saying that out-of-towners who buy tickets to "Ragtime" or partake of other cultural niceties of the town can expect New York City's trash to be dumped on their doorstep.

He has become a perpetual motion machine, turning City Hall into an armed encampment area while he plans a bunker-in-the-sky for top city officials. He also wants to build a billion-dollar sports complex on the West Side of Manhattan which has Gov. Pataki's aides nonplussed by its vagueness.

And now he has turned Ella and Percy Heron into enemies because one of these tiny gardens he has ticketed for destruction is the acclaimed Garden of Eden in South Jamaica that the Herons literally built from the ground up.

"Its just wicked," said Ella Heron from her neat, two-story home on Lakeland Avenue, two doors away from the garden she, her husband and then eventually the rest of the community built.

"We called it the Garden of Eden because that's where civilization began," said Ella Heron who has lived on her block for a half century. She is a religious woman and, like her husband, Percy, values her privacy.

More than that though, the Herons value their neighborhood and the people who live in it even if South Jamaica is one of the poorest parts of a city that sometimes seems nothing more than Donald Trump's private playground.

They began work on the garden, which was profiled in the National Geographic magazine three years ago, following Percy Heron's retirement from a life insurance company.

"We had to chase out the rats," says Ella, who, when asked about her age, says, "I am getting up there and it is none of your business."

I stood outside the garden yesterday, a 25-by-83-foot lot. A windy rain kept the American flag at the front of the lot waving. Two young girls asked me why I was there and said they were from PS 160 a few blocks away. They said they often worked in the garden learning about the mysteries of gardening and working with the soil.

A sign on a bulletin board read, "It's my park and I want to make it better." In the middle of the now winterized garden was a well-built shed for community gatherings and at the rear, a tool shed. You couldn't miss the glow of neighborliness there, even under an overcast sky.

"This neighborhood has changed for the better ever since the garden was built," said Ella. "This is mostly a colored neighborhood and it brought people here together."

"I think this is the worst thing that has happened in this neighborhood. For the city to want to tear down a thing of beauty is beyond me. The city should appreciate what has been done here."

"Please Mr. Duggan," she added, "don't give us credit for the garden. It was the people in the neighborhood who did it. I think the garden being there inspired some of them to start their own gardens and to fix their homes."

Percy Heron, who suffers from arthritis, and especially so on the kind of rain-soaked day we had yesterday, said he and Ella moved into their home in Queens after his release from the Navy following World War II.

"If you write about us be sure to mention [Borough President] Claire Shulman. She is an old friend and a good girl. She gave us a citation for the garden a few years ago and we keep it on our porch."

Both seemed undaunted by the mayor's plan to sell off the lots under what the New York Times in an editorial called a "process that has been abysmally secretive even by this administration's standards."

"I don't know what they're doing," said Percy Heron.

"I don't know either," said his wife, who was born in North Carolina but regards New York as the greatest city in the world "because of its culture, its ethnic culture."

And Ella delivered this warning to a mayor who says that the more people protest his policies, the more he is determined to see them through:

"I'm hanging on to our garden."

NYTimes Editorial

For Sale: The Garden of Eden

Thursday, January 14, 1999
Copyright 1999 The New YorkTimes

Winter is not such a good time to show a community garden. It can easily look like a field of dirt, suitable for sale to anybody who wants to buy it and is willing to pay New York City's taxes. That may be why Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his administration have launched plans to sell more than 118 lots including a number of neighborhood gardens, all now empty of the noisy eco- protesters who would certainly be there in high summer.

The city has about 11,000 vacant or abandoned lots in all five boroughs. Some are oddly shaped, unsuited for communal space; some are genuinely vacant; others are trash heaps and eyesores. About 700 sites are considered gardens by their communities, a loose definition that could mean anything from a few rows of rangy marigolds to the Garden of Eden in South Jamaica, Queens. Eden, featured three years ago in National Geographic, is a 25-by-83-foot lot that two elderly residents helped convert from a neighborhood junkyard to a busy outdoor community center.

For some time now, these city gardens have come with a caveat. They were on loan from the city with the understanding that the land might be used for low- income housing. Last spring the city shifted control of most gardens to its housing department as a first step toward this conversion.

Now, however, in a process that has been abysmally secretive even by this administration's standards, most of these plots have shifted again to an agency that can put them up for sale to the highest bidder. Because they have already been through the land review process, these parcels can now be sold for any use within the zoning laws.

Civic leaders, from Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer to various community boards, are understandably alarmed by the possibility of wholesale auctioning of open spaces in this densely populated city. Too often these auctions have resulted in nothing better than a paved parking lot.

The city should re-examine the lots, parcel by parcel, looking at the need for open space and possibly running some gardens as community projects. A proposal by the Trust for Public Land to convert the true gardens into private land trusts is worth exploring. Selling off the surplus lots may be fiscally prudent for City Hall, but bulldozing a working garden is an act of neighborhood violence.

Auction Plan for Gardens Stirs Tensions

From the New York Times
January 11, 1999
By Anne Raver

In its latest move to get vacant land back on the tax rolls, the Giuliani administration has announced plans to auction off more than 100 of the abandoned lots that have been reclaimed as gardens by community groups throughout the city. Notice of the auction appeared in three recent issues of The City Record, the city's daily journal of public transactions.

The planned sale of the properties, expected in May, has renewed tensions between the city and community gardeners, who protested last fall when the city began razing some gardens to make way for housing developments.

Unlike those gardens, the ones to be auctioned in the spring are to be sold to the highest bidder, for any use allowed by zoning.

An official with the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the agency that oversees community gardens, confirmed Sunday that 112 lots were on the auction block. They are among more than 300 vacant lots that the city wants to sell.

"The Giuliani administration is trying to dispose of property not slated for housing development, economic development and so forth," said Hector Batista, first deputy commissioner at the agency. "We are trying to privatize as many city-owned properties as we can."

Batista said community gardeners had known all along that they would have only temporary access to these public plots. "People are there on an interim basis," he said. "People that administer the gardens know that at some point or another, the city is going to take some sort of action."

Of the more than 500 city lots that are now used as community gardens, only 36 have been designated as permanent gardens, he said.

The Mayor's office at first denied the intention to sell. "They're on the list of properties being assessed," Jake Menges, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Joseph Lhota, said when reached on Dec. 29. "It doesn't mean they're being sold." Menges said the Mayor's office had asked "every single agency to give us a rundown of their properties." He added that "it's an asset evaluation program."

Lhota and Menges were not available for comment Sunday, the Mayor's office said.

The list of lots for sale includes 20-year-old gardens like Parque de Tranquilidad and the All People's Garden, on the Lower East Side, which are graced with mature trees and wrought-iron fences. Another is the Garden of Eden, started by Lucy and Percy Heron, on a troubled block in Queens. It was featured three years ago in National Geographic magazine in an article celebrating the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.

"It's unbelievable," said Andrew Stone, the director of the New York chapter of Trust for Public Land, a land conservancy and open-space advocacy group. "That garden is a source of stability for a neighborhood that has experienced a lot of problems. It's a model for a small community garden that functions as a community center. They run a children's program there every summer."

The city's community gardening agency, Greenthumb, which was set up in the early 1970's to lease vacant spaces to gardeners on a temporary basis, would not comment on the planned sale. The director referred all questions to the Parks Department.

The gardens for sale are listed in the Jan. 8, Dec. 21 and Dec. 9 issues of The City Record. There are to be public hearings on Wednesday at 10 A.M. at 22 Reade Street, and on Jan. 27 and Feb. 10 at 10 A.M. in City Hall. There is also to be a hearing on Friday at 10 A.M. in the City Council chambers of City Hall to discuss the proposed sale, sponsored by the Committee on Parks, Recreation, Cultural Affairs and International Intergroup Relations.

In addition, 23 gardens were listed last fall on the city's request for development qualifications sent out to developers to participate in the Partnership for New Homes and Neighborhood Builder Programs.

The city is required to give community boards notice of requests for development qualifications, in order to review the properties in question, but none was given.

The city has repeatedly said the formerly vacant lots were for interim use only, but over the years, the Greenthumb program started more than 750 gardens. Of those, 37 have been given permanent status by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Some of the others were bulldozed this fall, sometimes without notice.

Over the last three months, about 20 community gardens have been bulldozed to make way for housing and commercial development. And an additional 58 are scheduled for destruction.

Since all of these lots have been through the Uniform Land Use Review Process, the city can dispose of them as it sees fit, regardless of how long ago they underwent the review process.

Steven Frillman, executive director of the Green Guerrillas, a group that has organized and tended hundreds of community gardens since 1973, said more than half of the gardens to be auctioned went through the review process more than 15 years ago. "If the sites haven't been reviewed on the local level for 10 years," he asked, "doesn't the city have an obligation to go back and review these sites?"

Borough presidents have also protested the sale of the gardens. "They said these lots were for housing, and it's a lie," said the Bronx Borough President, Fernando Ferrer, whose borough has 19 gardens on the auction list. "What they're having is a cake sale."

"They're trying to sell out from under the community some of the award-winning gardens of this city," he said. "And they'll end up being parking lots, or flat-fix shops. It doesn't deal with housing needs, and worse than that, it just degrades the neighborhoods they insist they want to protect. And it returns next to nothing for the city."

Brooklyn has 36 gardens on the auction list.

"Did anybody go out to these sites and look at them before determining the sale, or did somebody just say, 'Here's the first batch,'" asked Greg Brooks, chief of staff for the Brooklyn Borough President, Howard Golden. "When the portfolio of property is as large as this city has, one would hope there would be planning before there are land sales."

Manhattan has 21 gardens on the list.

Its Borough President, C. Virginia Fields, also called on the city to reopen the review process. "So many things change in a community, it would be worthwhile to reconsider those sites," she said.

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services has about 11,000 vacant lots in its inventory, and the Giuliani administration has vowed to get any nonrevenue producing properties on the auction block.

The office of the City Council Speaker, Peter F. Vallone, said it would review the remaining 600 gardens "on an individual basis, and determine the appropriate disposition."

The Trust for Public Land has lobbied city agencies for two years now to have gardens worthy of permanent status released to a private land trust. "We'll take the gardens and find the appropriate stewards for them," Stone said. "We have proposed that to the city and never gotten an answer."

Gardeners have been nervous since last April, when community gardens were transferred from the Parks Department to the housing agency.

"We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop," Frillman said.

"But this feels like the whole shoe store. The entire inventory of gardens could be auctioned off."

Links to many New York City Community Gardens

Copyright 1999 The New York Times In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.

Garden Preservation Update
January 11, 1999

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

Garden Preservation Update January 11, 1999

Trading Fresh Herbs For Turkeys
The Precious Village Community Garden in East Harlem hosts seasonal parties for neighborhood residents, presents performances from NYC cultural institutions like "Dancing in the Street" and organizes trips for children to museums and the zoo. Gardener and Community Board member Frances Nastrota called us for information, but we asked questions about the garden:

"This is a community with many needs, and the garden decided a few years ago to organize a turkey give-away for Thanksgiving. We traded fresh herbs for credit slips with local merchants, which were turned in for turkeys in the fall, knowing full well that we were getting the better of the deal" Dr. Nastrota told us, "then we went door-to-door to deliver the birds to people who could use them. We found unlit and unheated buildings with people living in the halls, as well as the apartments. We realized that the people we were trying to reach did not have the ability to cook the birds. The next year the gardeners cooked turkeys and delivered them hot with all the fixings." These "garden angels" give away much of what they grow and have become minor manufacturers of home grown tomato sauce, (Watch out Paul Newman!!!) which they also give away. "We bring people into the garden so that they can grow their own food as a first step to self-sufficiency" Dr. Nastrota added. "In the Precious Village Community Garden we have a 24 hour candle, made out of an aluminum can. It is always aglow. We call it hope."

Meanwhile, in City Hall, the Mayor's Office prepares over 100 gardens for sale to speculators for pennies in a hastily assembled process that assures that some gardeners will never have the opportunity to defend themselves even in a rump hearing, and yet, some representatives of the media call only to ask when they can take pictures of the bulldozers.

Public Hearings on behalf of Gardens on the auction block will begin this week.

Bring 30 copies of any testimony that you wish to present for distribution to City Council. Bring photo-ID to City Hall. Testimony may be limited tightly to the issue of transfer of parks from DCAS to HPD.

Garden Preservation Update December 21, 1998

An "Urban Outdoors" special report on the citywide garden preservation campaign compiled by Neighborhood Open Space Coalition with the support of the City-wide greening organizations, local gardens and neighborhood support groups.

City Council Hearing On City Auctions
Wed January 13 1999, 10 am, Call to Confirm, BE THERE..

City Dooms 100+ Public Gardens As 2nd "Death Watch" Garden Falls
In an apparent effort to sacrifice community gardens before he leaves office, the Giuliani administration plans to sell over 100 gardens scattered throughout the five boroughs at a May auction. This latest present to the real estate industry will leave low income neighborhoods poorer, and recovering communities without the relief of occasional green space in a city with less parkland and fewer backyards per capita than any American city. The Mayor will again frame the issue as gardens vs. housing, but the sale of city land is often just a speculative matter, and no regulations are in place in New York that requires privately owned land to be built on. The gardens, which have given hope to their communities and often serve children, people with disabilities, and folks that need to grow some of their own food, will be destroyed so that investors can "play monopoly" and speculate in land. In addition to the 111 gardens slated for sale, about fifty other gardens are facing destruction through other city actions.

As Bombs Fly Bulldozers Land In Harlem
Once again bulldozers launched a surprise attack in Harlem on a heavy news day. Bombs were flying in Iraq, and impeachment charges were flying in DC. The Childrens' Garden of Love, the first Harlem Garden of 11 expected to be bulldozed was hit on the day before elections. This time the target was the George W Brown Memorial Garden which held regular jazz concerts, organized outings for seniors, block patrols and general street cleanups. As in the Garden of Love, children learned how food grows in the Brown Garden. "It is painful to watch something that you helped give life to be destroyed, said Haja Worley of Project Harmony, the garden sponsor, They bulldozed mature pines and spruces...They did not give us a chance to move them. "We planned to sing carols in the garden on Christmas Eve" added Cynthia Worley, "This will make us stronger, and more determined to save the rest."

A Panicked Phone Call At Nosc
"Can you help me?" asked Molly Golden, a soft spoken woman with a pleasant lilt to her voice. "Our garden is over twenty years old; there are no parks for our children here." She informed us that the John the Baptist Community Center Garden is in a borderline Brooklyn neighborhood between Bedford Stuyvesant, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. The garden is constantly active, with areas for children and hand-painted raised beds for individual gardeners' vegetables. "A stage was built so that the children can put on shows. The Pfizer Company built swings and slides. The adults plant beautiful flowers and there are trees here." Ms. Golden added. Ms. Golden has worked for 32 years for the children of her community and believes that community gardening is among the neighborhood's great success stories. "Every year the garden has a parade, and a street fair. We have a summer day camp in the garden -- it is so unfair."

One Of Hundreds Of Stories
The John the Baptist Community Center Garden is one of the gardens to be sold to the highest bidder in May 1999. 23 additional gardens are to be given away to builders, on condition that housing is built. Ten Harlem Gardens are still on "Death Watch" NYC has lost scores of other gardens over the last few years. Who is to measure the value of this land to the City of New York? Are the needs of children to be weighed against the needs of speculators? There are over 10,000 empty city-owned lots in the five boroughs of NY. There are additional tens of thousands of privately owned lots and boarded up buildings. It is a frequently expressed historical fact that the "practical people" who have governed New York have almost always put the expressed needs of a few business people ahead of the needs for open space. That is why Brooklyn has only 1.7 acres of parkland per thousand residents and Manhattan has 1.8. Most American cities have 3-10 times that amount. Need history repeat itself once again with the destruction of this community stewarded park system?

As the City closes the vise on the quality of life of the 20,000 New Yorkers who engage in community gardening and the hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people who get enjoyment from the new form of parkland, it is apparent to some gardeners that our Mayor loves power more than he loves parks and people. The City Council, which provides a check on the powers of the Mayor, can provide relief to the City. In City Council, the majority leader often chooses what issues to act on. Gardeners are wondering if Council will continue to fiddle while Nero burns the City's gardens?

Information on the impending sale of gardens was revealed by community garden activists from the NYC Garden Coalition, who spent days calling the garden leaders to warn them. Included on the list are gardens that Community Boards are seeking to transfer to the Parks Department. The list includes mature gardens and gardens that have been leased to organizations that serve special populations. For a copy of the list or more information call:

Mayor Giuliani's e-address: giuliani@
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition: 212-352-9330
Green Guerillas: 212-674-8124
NYC Community Garden Coalition: 212-777-7969
NY Environmental Justice Alliance: 212- 866-4120

Please Make a wake up call to Council. Call Councilman Vallone at 718-274-4500:
Then call YOUR City Council member.

November 10, 1998

Children's Garden Of Love Bulldozed; Death Watch At 11 More Harlem Gardens

We are advised that 11 more Harlem community gardens will be bulldozed, probably within the next two weeks. The destruction is slated to go ahead even though City Council has delayed action on housing proposals for some of the spaces in order to get more information about activities that presently take place in the green oases. Since it is doubtful that construction can begin before Spring, as no plans have been filed and Council approvals seem not to have passed, some gardeners believe that the Mayor is thwarting the will of City Council and Community Boards in a preemptive strike against garden preservation efforts.

Last week, bulldozers tore apart Harlem's "Children's Garden of Love" without warning. The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), stung by criticism of the action, now apologizes for their "mistake", but has made no move to correct the "error". That officials would pick the day prior to election day, when the media would not pay much attention, is regarded as a measure of the "level of cynicism in the highest levels of government toward Harlem gardeners" according to Haja Worley of the NYC Garden Coalition. HPD has consistently stated that the consolidation of the city's gardens into their hands was to "improve communications" with the gardeners, and on garden administration. The NYC Council had passed specific legislation preserving the Children's Garden of Love, but that did not stop the bulldozers.

New Yorkers know of the critical shortage of open space in the city's poorest communities. And they know that children can learn more in a shorter period of time in a garden than in a classroom. With the bulldozing of the Children's Garden of Love, the students of the Public School 76, who tended the garden and used it a a laboratory for science education, have learned something about Social Studies. They learned about the lack of power that children have in our society and how their needs are ignored, and they learned how "power" shields itself from the consequences of its actions in the most cowardly way.

The anticipated destruction of about 700 of the Cities community gardens poisons the quality of life not only of the estimated 20-30 thousand citizens and residents directly engaged in recreational or subsistence agriculture, but hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use the spaces for refuge from the stress of city life, and additional thousands who receive part of their food, educational or recreational opportunities from these spaces. The gardens serve as neighborhood meeting places, adding watchful eyes to city streets, and bringing neighbors together across the barriers of age and ethnicity.

Cyberpark: An Early Warning System

Cyberpark, a computer discussion group sponsored by Neighborhood Open Space Coalition and has been serving as an up-to-the-minute information source on this latest garden crisis. It includes information on which gardens are targeted and possible responses by members of the public. We urge interested individuals to subscribe by writing the message: "subscribe cyberpark" and e-mailing it to: A welcome message will be returned within 24 hours, followed by additional communications about open space issues, as members choose to post them.

Working For Garden Preservation

NOSC has been working for the preservation of New York's community gardens along with many of the City's greening groups, including Green Guerillas, NYC Garden Coalition, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and thousands of local gardeners. For more than fifty years, the city's good government groups have recognized that small community open spaces are needed, to alleviate neighborhood overcrowding. Robert Moses avoided building "small parks" because he felt that the cost of upkeep was greater than the cost of large spaces. Among the many contributions of the City's gardeners to public life has been to show how the small spaces could be maintained at almost no cost to government by using local stewards.

Gardens decrease violence in the neighborhoods by providing restful cooling-off space, and by putting eyes on the street to observe and protect against crime. They improve public health by providing healthy food, clean air and asthma relief, and opportunities for physical activity. They provide supervised recreational opportunities for children, food for food banks, and waste reduction services through composting. They have actually helped bring NYC back, by making their neighborhoods attractive places to live. Perhaps all this sweat equity should be taken seriously by our government instead of being bulldozed without comprehensive planning that can bring housing, gardens and new parkland to NYC.

But gardens are considered empty land by some builders, and city-owned empty land, which is often given away or sold at bargain basement prices, is especially prized by the well-connected developers. Although there are more than 10,000 truly vacant city-owned lots, the builders want to build in select neighborhoods and those are the areas that now need to hold on to what open space they have left.

In addition to the Cyberpark early warning system NOSC publishes Garden Preservation Update and Urban Outdoors electronic newsletters. Write: "subscribe gardener to and we will put you on the mailing list to receive these regular updates.

October, 1998

City To Grab 23 More Gardens

While many will probably have one more growing season, The NYC Housing Partnership, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) have asked developers to come forward to build on 23 gardens sites, as well as other properties, in the Bronx, and Brooklyn. The gardens will be taken using either the ULURP or the accelerated UDAAP process. In ULURP, Community Boards (CB's) and the Department of City Planning have an advisory role before a final decision is made by City Council. UDAAP assumes CB agreement based on information gathered, sometimes years before. UDAAP does require a vote of City Council for land disposition, and Council committees have recently delayed the process for fact finding.

A letter has been sent to the threatened gardens by Green Guerillas, and phone follow-up is anticipated. The sites include mature gardens, over 20 years old, gardens with widely recognized educational and cultural programs, as well as food gardens and casita gardens. Garden support organizations have been assured in meetings with HPD staff that CB's will have input into development decisions, but calls to some CB's indicate that they have received no notice of plans to build on gardens. Newly threatened gardens will have to appeal to both their CB's and their City Council people to stop the process that will end in their destruction.

In a related development, The Villager Newspaper reports that the NYC Housing Partnership will no longer seek to develop Lower East Side properties, citing local opposition to their work. It is assumed that other developers will jump in, as the neighborhood now commands high prices and rents.

Attention All Gardeners:
Its Time To Get To Your Community CB

Since April 24th, when the City consolidated control of most of its unbuilt lots into its development agency, the growth of community gardening has been at a stand-still. People who want to garden on city-owned lots tell us that they cannot get licenses. Several organizations report that HPD has been inspecting gardens, presumably to make decisions about their future. We are informed that notes are taken if the spaces are being used for non- recreational purposes, like parking or auto repair.

HPD Officials, including Commissioner Richard Roberts, have consistently stated that CB's will be consulted on development of community gardening sites, although the process of "consulting" has not yet included informing the boards of the presence of gardens on the proposed development locations. (City Council members are also not informed of what is on the lots they are voting to dispose of in the present City disposition process)

Although 36 gardens were marked for preservation before the recent HPD land consolidation, several CB's have gone further, requesting the transfer to the Parks Department of additional gardens within their districts. This fall, community gardeners from around the city are planning to attend CB meetings to request preservation and "transfer to parks" in a campaign for preservation to be launched by NYC Green and coordinated by Green Guerillas.

A Five Step Plan To Save Your Garden

Green Guerilla's, in a fall mailing, has sent out a fact sheet outlining in greater detail the following five steps that gardeners must take to preserve gardens:

  1. Plan a small event in your garden
  2. Invite Community Board and City Council representatives
  3. Identify a garden spokesperson and get a fall Community Board Agenda
  4. Create a one page garden information sheet to share at the meeting.
  5. Keep your gardens BEAUTIFUL and decorate them for winter.

Neighborhood Open Space Coalition, NY Environmental Justice Alliance and other organizations will work with GG's on parts of this campaign. If you have not received the mailing, call GG's at: 212-674-8124 If you need help with fact sheets: (#4) call NOSC at 212-352-9330

Gardens And Housing: Building Well For New York

Around America, there is increased attention being paid to the joint development of housing and public space. Providers of affordable housing are recognizing that communities offering opportunities for little league ball, community gatherings, learning about nature, and gardening develop a neighborhood support system that assures community stewardship of many aspects of neighborhood life. Pride in place assures stable neighborhoods.

In Philadelphia, the West Poplar Nehemiah housing is receiving national attention as a model for community building. It includes front porches and a village green, to support the social life of the community. In Boston, new housing often includes new public gardens, with the recognition of the community galvanizing effects of the spaces. The South End Lower Roxbury Land Trust was set up by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, with the help of local developers in the intensively redeveloping neighborhood to preserve the existing gardens as community assets. Additional gardens were placed within a greenway built into the community on a platform over a rail-road cut. NOSC has read reports coming from many cities, including Chicago, Seattle, and Washington DC, of similar attempts to integrate public spaces into newly developed neighborhoods.

This contrasts with New York, where Mayor Giuliani has pitted housing developers and advocates against gardeners in a move to divest the city of ownership of buildable property that serves the common good. In our city, some builders will destroy the assets that make a neighborhood attractive to investors, rather than search out land in neighborhoods that are in dire need of new investment.

Will It Be Named For For What Is Destroyed: "Melrose Commons" Targets 16 Gardens

While the pre-Giuliani plans for Bronx's Melrose Commons follow the trend of planning with open space, they don't preserve the existing 16 community gardens. These gardens have offered safe outdoor havens for neighbors to socialize and work together for the benefit of their neighborhood for many years. With 61 units of housing planned in phase one, and a belief that 81 more phase two units can be built without destroying gardens, Gardeners will be approaching the two CB's to move planned construction to non-garden sites.

The goal of Nos Quedamos is to rebuild Melrose as a sustainable community, physically, socially and environmentally with an appropriate balance between the various forms of open space and types of buildings. They have led a lengthy public planning process resulting in the present plans " I cannot overstate the importance of community gardens within our community today," notes Eulanda Garcia of Nos Quedamos, "I also cannot overstate the need for decent, affordable housing. Hopefully, we can accommodate everybody" In Bronx's CB3 almost every community garden is now a proposed development site. In the 1970's residents were asked to improve, not move. Now the gardeners who followed that advise are being told to get out of the way.

A Note To The Media: When The Bulldozers Come, Its Too Late

It seems that not a week goes by when one of the groups that are working to preserve community gardens does not get a call from a representative of the media asking for pictures of gardens being bulldozed. The greening groups have been trying to get the media to pay attention to all the good things that happen in gardens. This summer there have been concerts, theater, poetry readings, art and sculpture exhibitions, children's events, walking tours, neighborhood cookouts, seminars, arts and crafts programs, games and tournaments, neighborhood improvement projects, movies, composting and neighborhood recycling efforts, intercultural and intergenerational exchange of ideas, and of course lots of healthy food grown and sometimes given away to people in need. Any one of these activities and the scores of others that happen in community gardens would make a good human interest story. When the bulldozers arrive it will be too late to get the "scoop".

(After this piece was written, The New York Times published an essay by David Gonzalez which profiled some Melrose gardeners in the Bronx in a way that cut through to the emotional heart of what community gardens are about. If you did not see it give us a call, or e-mail us and we will see that a copy is sent.)

Crickets: One Story That Made The News

The following is an edited translation of the El Diario Story by Maria Vega. The event was covered by every major NY daily. A veritable wave of crickets was unleashed yesterday during the auction organized by the City government to sell a Hispanic cultural center and various community gardens. People opposed to the sale interrupted the auction at least four times. To start with, when the moment arrived for the first of the Lower East Side community gardens to be auctioned off, someone released hundreds of crickets in the middle of the auditorium, which was filled with people. [Translator's note: Actually, it was 10,000 crickets.] The auctioneer appealed in vain for the public to remain in their seats. People began standing on the chairs or exiting the room, while the crickets ran across the floor.

Since the auction took place inside police headquarters, it was uniformed officers who intervened to kill the crickets and sweep part of the floor. But the cleaning job was not complete, so that when the auction began again, there were crickets walking around on the floor for the rest of the morning. The insects and the interruptions didn't stop the City from selling the community gardens or the building that for two decades has housed the Hispanic cultural center CHARAS/El Bohio, on 9th Street in the Lower East Side.

Some Gardeners Call For A Moratorium On Land Sales

A few gardening organizations, led mostly by lower east side gardeners, have called for a moratorium on the sale of city land. The East Side is one of a group of neighborhoods that are about as developed as they should get. The remaining open spaces provide light, air, and refuge to the inhabitants.

In other neighborhoods, the disinvestment of the past few decades has left even more holes in the built environment, but builders are less eager to build. In the most devastated neighborhoods, which happen to have many gardens that are not as well developed as lower east side gardens, any housing would be welcomed. Thus, there is less interest in moratorium. Consensus is that investment is the highest priority of the community, and that delay would increase the cost of construction and make housing even less affordable.

There is also significant federal and private money available to subsidize housing. There is little money available to subsidize parks and open space. The lack of parks and gardens will be felt later with statistics about increased violence, heart disease, asthma, and social malaise. Like second hand cigarette smoke, a link between lack of public space and the public health would be hard to prove, thus funds are only minimally available to preserve open spaces.

Greenest Block In Bklyn Trashed Is It Govt. Malfeasance?

The Howard Avenue Garden in Brownsville was certifiably part of the "Greenest Block in Brooklyn" having won that honor in the Brooklyn Borough President's annual contest. But a recently added part of this garden, that served as the organizing fulcrum for all the positive energy on the block, was sold at auction by an uncaring City government. Neither the gardeners or the Howard Avenue Block Association were informed of the impending sale. The gardeners found out when a truck arrived one day with a load of Manhattan construction rubble, which was one of two loads dumped on the "Greenest Block in Brooklyn".

"The sale was supposed to be for housing construction," said Betty Young of the Block Association", the dumping of skyscraper rubble seems to be incompatible with that use."

Summing Up The Big Dig

Gardeners from around the city will gather on Saturday, October 17, 12-4 pm to evaluate the Big Dig, the NYC Greening groups' first effort at creating a citywide event in support of community gardening. The Big Dig event, which took place on May 30th, was a coordinated effort to get as many gardens open on the same day as possible, encourage public events in those gardens, and provide publicity outreach for the event. The agenda for the meeting will include:

  1. Introduction of NYC Green member organizations
  2. A Big Dig Roundup including slides and descriptions of local events.
  3. A Discussion of the event and future plans.
  4. Break-out sessions on garden preservation strategies.
  5. A citywide gardeners social

The place for the meeting has not yet been set. Call NOSC or GG's for more information

Plan Now For A Beautiful Winter Garden

One of the persistent complaints of people who would rather use our gardens for other purposes is "they are only used for 5 months a year, then they again become empty lots." The criticism is often self-serving and clearly does not recognize that some crops like broccoli and collard greens are growing in the gardens most of the year, and that composting is also a year-round program. It also fails to recognize the impromptu mid-winter gatherings on those "warm" days, activities within the casitas, and the renewing of friendships that the gatherings represent. Nonetheless, it is probably a good idea to react to the criticism, by redoubling our efforts to make the gardens beautiful 12 months a year. Below are some tips:

Jac Smit Comments on the Crisis
September 18, 1998

Special to Urban Agriculuture Notes
Jac Smit
E-Mail: jac smit

The current crisis in NYC concerning community gardens contains a global message: urban agriculture [producing food and fuel] is not perceived/understood as appropriate or important by urban professional administrators and managers, elite citizens, or politicians worldwide, with some exceptions [beginning in China]. The greatest barrier/hurdle to the spread and improvement of community gardens, and other forms of urban agriculture, is attitudes and lack of information. And that's what's causing the crisis in NYC.

There are between 1,500 and 2,000 community gardens in NYC depending on the definition, about half at relatively secure public housing and school sites. The city administration, and its professional cadres, do not recognize the public benefits of community gardens because community gardens are not in their operating manuals and were not in their college courses.

The appropriate question is: "What did we do wrong, or leave out of our plan and program?" Here are some partial answers to begin the discussion:

In sum we are guilty of incomplete planning and have got our comeuppance.

What to do? Perhaps it would be well to search for 'best practice', to discover who has done it better where? and ask them to teach us. Examples that have crossed my desk include Berlin and Singapore. East Coast examples include Newark, Philadelphia and Boston.

This is a global problem. Solving it in NYC will benefit us all.

Destruction Update
January 22, 1997

By Felicia Young

It is a fact that many of the gardens in New York City are currently threatened by development plans. Almost all of the 50 gardens on the Lower East Side of New York City, 25 gardens in Harlem and Coney Island, and 20 gardens in Brooklyn and the Bronx are slated to be bulldozed. Many of the 750 community gardens in New York City are now under threat of destruction as the City sells off 11,000 lots. These gardens are now threatened by city auctions and the HPD (cross-subsidy) plan for market- rate (luxury) development, that will destroy the gardens, as well as displace the low-income population of these neighborhoods.

On January 7, 1986, the City destroyed Adam Purple's Garden of Eden known world-wide for its spectacular design of colorful concentric circles of flowers, plants, and trees, with a yin/yang central design. Since the destruction of the Garden of Eden, the movement of community gardens has continued to grow, but always under the impending doom of the bulldozer. The destruction of the Dome Garden on May 24, 1994, and the Pegassus Garden in November 1996, on the Upper West Side, as well as the demolition of the ABC Garden on the Lower East Side in January 1996, again signaled the increasing threat to these vital green spaces.

The City has failed to acknowledge that after 20 years, these gardens have become more than temporary use of vacant land. These gardens have totally transformed neighborhoods riddled with abandoned buildings and neglected rubble-strewn vacant lots that had become dens of crime, drugs, and toxic waste. People worked together out of their own volunteer initiative to improve their neighborhood, clearing away the rubble and planting trees, flowers and vegetable gardens.

Over the past quarter of a century these gardens have also grown into more than needed green open space, they have become living multi-cultural community centers bringing people from diverse backgrounds together in a neighborhoods that are often divided racially and culturally. The gardens have also become outdoor theaters and art centers providing numerous cultural programs including, concerts, performance, arts and crafts, and poetry to the community for free, as well as outdoor environmental science classrooms for schools who have gardening plots and have woven these activities into their curriculum.

The gardens, have also served as healing centers for the elderly, and those struggling with AIDS, and as sacred churches for weddings, funerals, and the practice of native religions, festivals, and ceremonies. These gardens have directly cut down on drug trafficking and crime, and engaged children who might otherwise get involved with drugs and crime, in this positive and life affirming activity. These gardens are more than open space, they are the pride and soul of the people and the neighborhood.

To destroy the gardens, would have more far reaching effects on the entire neighborhood, than the loss of open space. The gardens are an exemplary model of urban improvisation that should become an urban plan for a future ecological city in the 21st century. The gardens of New York City are our ecological treasures that must be preserved for generations to come.

What Is The New York City Coalition For The Preservation Of Gardens?

The New York City Coalition For The Preservation Gardens is a city-wide network of gardeners, community members, local schools, religious institutions, community centers and organizations working together to preserve the community gardens located throughout the 5 boroughs of New York City. The New York City Garden Preservation Coalition was recently formed in November 1996, in response to the bulldozing of several gardens throughout New York City and the threat of destruction to numerous other gardens by development plans.

This city-wide coalition grew out of the work of the Lower East Side Garden Preservation Coalition, which was founded in November 1994, to explore the possibility of forming a Land Trust and other preservation options, such as Permanent Site Status for the Lower East Side gardens. The New York City Coalition For The Preservation Of Gardens, has joined together as a unified voice of diverse gardens and people from the five boroughs of New York City, with various approaches to preserving the gardens, provides the necessary powerful constituency of thousands of people that is needed to preserve the gardens and the ecological and cultural heritage of neighborhoods throughout New York City.

March 1998

E-Mail: dave lutz
Together with Urban Outdoors Bulletin, NOSC's monthly electronic newsletter, and Garden Preservation Update, New Yorkers can keep informed about the citywide effort to preserve and maintain our public space.
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010
Phone: 212-352-9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
See bottom of page for more information about joining.

HPD To City: "Gardens Are Good"

In December 12th 1997 letter to Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, Richard Roberts, Commissioner of NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) said that he recognized that successful gardens are assets to their communities and should have an opportunity to prove their value before their benefits are taken away. Thus he is willing to give the Community Boards final say on allowing some gardens to be transferred to Parks prior to developing most of the sites in his jurisdiction. While this represents a significant change in department policy, which formerly did not even recognize the existence of gardens in its decision making process, it will only affect the fate of 30 -50 of the most threatened gardens in the city.

In empowering the Community Boards, the Commissioner's decision now forces greening groups and gardeners to concentrate on reaching Community Board members with the gardening message. Board members tend to be active community leaders with the economic interests of their neighborhoods in mind. Thus their goals are overlapping, but Board members do not always understand the economic or community building value of the gardens. It will now be up to this vanguard group of gardeners, who can save their gardens now, to get the point across in their local communities.

You Must Attend A Meeting To Preserve Your Garden

A series of meetings entitled "The Roots of Sustainable Gardens" are being sponsored by GreenThumb, some in the boroughs and some in Manhattan. They are intended to inform community gardeners of steps necessary for garden preservation under the City preservation mechanism: transfer to Parks. While greening groups are hoping that other preservation initiatives may be opened up as a result of the current campaign, the lessons learned at the current sessions will be applicable to future widening of the preservation window. GreenThumb is also using the meetings to help measure the desire of gardeners around the city to preserve their gardens. Call GreenThumb at 212-788-8059 for meeting dates or see calender p3, 4 for March/April Dates.

With Empty Lots Across The Street Hpd Goes After Garden For The Handicapped

Steve McNutt arrived at the Bishop House Residence in Harlem, lethargic, angry and embittered, but community gardening changed his life. With his self-esteem shot, gardening taught him about working and waiting for rewards. The garden made him feel productive and helped him regain his confidence. He is now growing at Manhattan Community College studying computer science, but he has not given up his place at the Bishop House garden where he works with other gardeners who have special needs.

The Bishop House garden is among several community gardens whose destruction has been delayed by City Council because of insufficient information on its UDAAP request. The garden is sponsored by Weston United Community Renewal Inc. and serves a special constituency of people with handicaps from several Harlem institutions including the Olivera Dempsey Center which is a treatment program for the mentally ill, Renas Residence, which houses homeless adults, and the Council of Smaller Churches.

Now, HPD, under orders to dispose of its property as fast as possible, is using the UDAAP process to avoid community planning and sell the garden, even though a lot large enough to build on is just across the street. HPD claims that because there is one private lot on that block, they cannot build and thus they must destroy this program.

6BC Botanical Garden First To Be Preserved Under New Transfer To Parks Mechanism

The 6BC Botanical Gardens won the unanimous vote of the Lower East Sides Community Board #3 on a transfer to Parks resolution. In South Brooklyn, four Columbia waterfront gardens are being reviewed for transfer and will probably see action by the board by the end of March. In all 23 gardens may be preserved over the next six months, using the transfer to parks option.

20 Gardens Dismantled, 17 Saved As Parks In First Year Of City Program To Sell Gardens For Development

(Editors note: In our last issue we were a bit hasty in saying that 20 gardens had been saved in 1997. We correct the record in the above headline.)

Of the almost 750 GreenThumb gardens that the city had in its inventory at the beginning of 1997 there are approximately 730 left. About 5 are scheduled to be dismantled this spring, including the Harlem gardens that are undergoing UDAAP review (See City Council Delays Garden Demolition: p3). Eighteen more have been excluded from eligibility for the transfer to parks option and thus are in imminent danger of destruction. That leaves about 300 additional gardens that are in danger of being sold in the next 4 years unless they come forward and identify themselves and work for their preservation. Approximately 350 gardens are not under HPD jurisdiction and are not threatened at this time. Only 28 new gardens were approved on open land, a record low figure.

Press Heats Up For Garden Preservation: But Does Ny Understand What's Happening?

For out-of-towners and even for many city residents, the recent spate of television and newspaper pictures of bulldozers tearing down gardens while people picket to protest is hard to understand. It is probably dismissed as yet another example of those crazy New Yorkers. Even suburban and rural New Yorkers who enjoy gardening themselves would be hard put to explain what the fuss is about. When Mayor Giuliani announced plans to dispose of the gardens last year, his office framed it in the black and white terms of Gardens vs. Housing. The Mayors Office did not understand the education, health, and security by street presence services that gardeners provide the city, the critical shortage of urban open space that gardens help to alleviate, or the sense of community that the twenty year old gardening movement has brought to the city. Nor did they understand that gardeners know that there is plenty of room in this city for community gardens and housing and that sensible priorities would call for build-out on other empty lots and conversion of the upper floors of unused factory buildings before allowing the gardeners contributions to New York to be destroyed.

While it is easy for people who garden around their home to understand the joy that comes from making something beautiful or growing their own food, they have to be reminded that City dwellers, who live mostly in apartments dont easily find those pleasures. Even harder to fathom is the cultural phenomenon of gardening in groups. With an average of 20 gardeners sharing a community garden, proximity turns strangers into friends, across the artificial bounds of age and ethnicity. The Gardens welcome everybody: brown thumb, green thumb, native, immigrant and people with special needs, who usually find the activity especially rewarding. These friends begin to create neighborhood picnics, movie screenings, children's craft sessions and many other activities inside the gardens. New Yorks community gardens have become social centers for many people who dont even care about the act of gardening.

In a city park, conversation between strangers is a rare event. Upon entering a community garden, strangers are generally welcomed and a conversation begins. You dont even need a dog as a social lubricant. Given the opening up of peoples lives that community gardening has produced, the picket signs and mock funerals become understandable and the black and white pallet of government officials pronouncements begins to be replaced by a garden of vibrant colors.

City Council Delays UDAAP Application

With City Councilman Tom Duane now a member of the Councils Land-Use Committee, issues relating to the way that the Citys legislature disposes of surplus property could receive greater scrutiny. Already, a vote approving plans to sell several Harlem gardens has been delayed twice, because the Council was not adequately informed of their present uses. This is the first time in memory that an accelerated UDAAP application was questioned within the City Council. Councilman Duane is now working to have rules changed so that more information than the Block and Lot numbers are required before Council is asked to dispose of City owned property.

Brooklyn Legislators Sign-On To Save The Gardens Bill

After an impassioned plea by Brooklyn gardeners including Jon Crow, Edie Stone, Suzanne Chambers, and Marc Leger, several elected officials expressed support for garden preservation.The occasion was an Environmental Summit co-sponsored by Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. Assemblyman Jim Brennan, State Senator Marty Markowitz, Councilman Angel Rodriguez, and Senator Montgomery were present and most endorsed State Senator John Sampsons garden preservation legislation. The Legislation was introduced in the NYS Senate last year and was awaiting Assembly co-sponsors. With Mr. Brennan on-board that step has now been achieved.

Greening Groups Dub Effort NYC Green Plans Save The Gardens Week

In an effort to speak with one voice on items on which there is consensus during the present crises, the greening directors have dubbed themselves "NYC Green". That name will be used on all materials produced by the collaborative. The "greening directors" have met regularly since late 1996 and include Brooklyn Botanic Gardens- Brooklyn GreenBridge, Citizens Committee for NYC, Council on the Environment of NYC, Green Guerrillas, Horticultural Society of NY, The NY Botanical Gardens-Bronx GreenUp, Neighborhood Open Space Coalition, Parks Council, and Trust for Public Land (which chairs the effort).

Plans for the group include a continuing effort to influence public policy, and an outreach effort that helps local gardeners in their own garden preservation efforts. This spring NYC Green will establish a citywide community gardening week, with public activities in many gardens across the city.

Court Challenge For Gardens Denied

A court challenge to the destruction of gardens was dismissed on the grounds that the NYC Coalition for the Preservation of Gardens had no legal standing to bring the suit. The court determined that the Coalition had no legally cognizable interest because the gardeners either lacked license or had licenses revoked before the court challenge. An Environmental Impact Statement was not required, the court said, because the housing planned for the site was a replacement in kind.

Balanced Journalism?

Caption in the New York Times:" The community garden was one of four to be bulldozed as the need for affordable housing prevailed over a desire for open space." Gardeners must help them understand that there is plenty of room for gardens and housing.

Getting Into Community Board Needs Assessments

Each year local Community Boards contribute to an annual report entitled "Community District Needs". The report helps set spending priorities for the City of New York. While "open space" consistently scores highly in the local needs assessments, the connection between community gardens and increased open space has not yet been made by the local boards.

Getting the need for garden preservation into the reports could be a long-term project in some districts. In other districts, where Community Board leaders know and understand the value of the gardens, it could be as easy as going to a "needs assessment" public meeting and bringing the subject to the attention of the board. Whether or not the local boards jump quickly onto the bandwagon of garden preservation, the process of creating the "needs assessments" could be an important forum to raise the issue of long term garden preservation. Gardeners should call their Community Board and ask how to proceed.

Join Now!
I'd like to be a member of Neighborhood Open Space Coalition ( $35)
I'd like to join Friends of Gateway (Membership $35)
I'd like to be a member of both NOSC and FoG (Joint Membership $50)
I'd like to make an additional contribution. $...................
Fax (........)......................
Phone (..........)..................
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition / Friends of Gateway
71 W. 23 St. New York NY 10010 212.352.9330
Fax: 212-352-9338
e-mail: dave lutz

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Revised November 10, 2002
Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture