As many as 20 community gardens in New York City could be demolished to make way for the construction of affordable housing.
On February 10th, hundreds of community activists rallied at City Hall to protest the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)’s list of vacant lots to be developed. Most of the 181 lots were located in Harlem and Brooklyn, and are listed as vacant on planning maps, but 20 of the lots contain community gardens with fruit trees, chickens, and farmer’s markets.
The garden organizers had been granted use of the lots by signing an interim-use agreement, allowing them to temporarily install gardens while the lots are not in use. Some of the gardens have been growing for over 30 years, while others have begun planting more recently. The HPD asserts that gardeners will have to abide by their contracts and vacate the premises for developers to build. The gardeners’ reply is that the HPD has approximately 750 garden-free lots in its jurisdiction that it could build on instead.
“Community gardens are great because they allow neighbors to connect over gardening and making their community more beautiful,” says Don Saunders of Saunders Landscape Supply. “It’s a shame these community gardens may potentially disappear, I hope they get to stick around.”
The biggest issue in the debate seems to be a lack of communication. The HPD did not notify garden organizers directly. Instead, organizers found out about the impending developments thanks to the efforts of Paula Segal, whose nonprofit, 596 Acres, maps and advocates for public use of city land.
Garden supporters such as Antonio Reynoso, sanitation committee chairman, believe the department is not maliciously intending to remove the gardens. Instead, they believe there was an administrative oversight that allowed the gardens’ lots to be placed on the developers’ list.
Representatives from HPD and community garden support program GreenThumb have been meeting since January 30th to try to reach a compromise. GreenThumb’s executive director, Nancy Kohn, is optimistic, telling the New York Timesthat the collaboration between city agencies has been “incredibly successful.”