Not so long ago, there were 57 community gardens sprinkled along the streets of the East Village and Lower East Side – registered with the Parks Department’s GreenThumb program, that is; in total there were even more. Now there are 46. A coalition of gardeners, advocates and officials has just taken action to ensure that in another few years, the area is not another dozen gardens poorer.
Last week Community Board 3 backed the creation of something new in New York City, a Community Gardens District and Permanence Resolution. No template exists, but that didn’t stop the board from requesting “to have all community gardens within the boundaries of CB3 designated and mapped as parkland, designated a special Community Gardens District, and be allowed to continue with their proven and successful model of community-based volunteer management.” (For full resolution text, see p. 12 here.)
In fact, the path toward fulfillment of CB3’s request is not clear, both the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez’s office told Off the Grid this week.
But gardeners and their supporters are confident that the experts will figure it out. “Someone knows what the process is for converting city-owned land from the status of a vacant lot to parks land,” a highly protected status that is hard to undo, said Ayo Harrington, a community gardener, CB3 member, and coordinator of the Coalition to Establish a Community Gardens District. “It’s not a secret; it shouldn’t be difficult to know. What may be difficult is convincing legislators that these particular community gardens should be mapped as parkland.”
Community gardens, which now number more than 600 in New York City, were born on the Lower East Side, where the highest concentration of them still exists. (See the majority of them here.) The garden issue is a timely one for several reasons. There’s the unceasing pressure to develop; new building has already swallowed up other gardens. The first wave of gardeners from the 1970s, who rehabilitated abandoned, dirty and crime-ridden lots, are getting older and want to see their accomplishments continued, not paved over. And gardeners hope that the sought-after recognition can also engender a more dependable infrastructure for delivery of soil, water and the like.
Here at GVSHP, we began researching the question of how well the East Village gardens are protected a few months before we heard of this initiative, and were glad to meet with organizers as the ball got rolling to enact additional protections. We were happy to support the CB resolution as well.
Taking a holistic view of “neighborhood preservation” means embracing the various elements that are all essential to neighborhood character and vitality: The distinctive buildings that embody so much history, the locally born culture that feeds the spirit, the small businesses that provide essential services and connections, and the range of housing types to allow all kinds of residents to thrive.
And it means keeping the gardens – a home-grown, hard-won, world-renowned asset – right where they are.