A few weeks ago, we told you about the crisis facing Bushwick’s El Garden, one of the 17 community gardens on public land across the city at risk of being leveled to create new housing developments. At the time, El Garden had already started a petition to the Mayor’s office urging him to preserve the garden, and since then they’ve ramped up their efforts to save the year-old community green space.
On Tuesday, they’re joining the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) and the other endangered community gardens for a rally at City Hall to demand that the city remove the gardens from a list of lots slated for development.
The lots are owned by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which last month invited developers to submit proposals to build affordable housing on them under the NIHOP and NCP programs. HPD’s decision to include active community gardens in its list of development sites puts Mayor DeBlasio’s plans to build more affordable housing in conflict with those who want to preserve the community green spaces, a conflict that the gardeners view as needless.
“Everybody who is involved in this wants affordable housing,” Aziz Dehkan, Executive Director of the NYCCGC, told Bushwick Daily. But since so few of the vacant lots in HPD’s inventory are home to community gardens, the NYCCGC calls destroying the gardens “patently unnecessary.”
El Garden’s membership echoes these sentiments. “We reject this false dichotomy of community garden versus affordable housing,” garden member Sandra Nurse told us. “We need both.”
Nurse is founder and co-director of Bushwick composting organization BK ROT, which uses El Garden as its compost collection site. Nurse’s fellow co-director at BK ROT, Renée Peperone, added, “Bushwick specifically is miserably underserved in accessible green open space.” Such spaces, they argue, can be used to address a variety of social issues on the local level, such as lack of access to fresh produce, as well as provide grassroots solutions to large-scale environmental issues.
The BK ROT team at El Garden in January
Adding to the outrage of community garden groups and their supporters is how the city’s decision to build on the gardens went down–without community input or even any direct communication from HPD to the endangered gardens notifying them of its intentions. “We all got caught blindsided by this,” said the NYCCGC’s Dehkan. El Garden’s members found out about it through community garden advocacy group 596 Acres only when HPD published its list of lots it intends to develop.
This map produced by 596 Acres displays the locations of HPD-owned lots across The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, and identifies the community gardens at risk
After learning it was on the list, El Garden sought the support of City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, whose district encompasses El Garden and who serves as Chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management. Reynoso then wrote a letter to the Mayor’s office urging that all active community gardens be removed from HPD’s list, in which he cited El Garden and BK ROT as examples of the public benefits of the gardens. “Losing a site such as El Garden would eliminate open space and jobs, while decreasing the local capacity for processing organic waste,” the letter states.
El Garden’s membership has also sought the support of Bushwick’s Community Board 4, asking it to endorse a letter supporting its preservation. At last month’s CB4 meeting, Nadine Whitted, CB4’s District Manager, seemed sympathetic to El Garden’s position and directed the Board’s Housing and Land Use Committee to consider the request before the Board votes on the matter at a future meeting.
In addition to their independent efforts to preserve El Garden, the garden’s members have taken an active role in organizing for Tuesday’s rally at City Hall, hosting the Facebook event page and creating the official flyer. Nurse told us: “We are truly looking forward to talking more with HPD or the Mayor’s office to open up a dialogue around not just this garden, but others at risk.”
The rally will begin at 9:00 am on Tuesday at City Hall (280 Broadway in Manhattan).