UPDATE: Send Letter and Attend Thursday’s CB3 Meeting in Support of Community Gardens District

 

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Photo courtesy of Siempre Verde Garden

 

As we told you in November (“Support a Community Gardens District in New York City’s Historic East Village/Lower East Side“), East Village and Lower East Side gardeners have started a proposal afoot to create a Community Gardens District for their neighborhood to preserve gardens as an important resource for the community. This week, the Parks Committee for Community Board 3 will be voting on the proposal. (For complete text of proposal, see heading below, “Coalition to Establish a Community Gardens District Proposal.”

This is the first very important step in a long process to insure permanence for all 46 of the neighborhood’s gardens. If the committee approves the proposal, it will then go before the entire Community Board by the end of January. If Community Board 3 votes in favor, Councilmember Rosie Mendez will introduce a similar bill in the City Council.

Support and momentum have been building for a Community Gardens District and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has said she would support the proposal if Community Board 3 votes in favor. So Thursday’s vote is key to getting the City to formally protect community gardens and to recognize the significance they play in the historic birthplace of community gardens, and part of what makes the East Village and Lower East Side such a unique community.

How to Show Your Support
You can show your support in three ways:

1) Attend the Thursday January 15 Parks, Recreation, Cultural Affairs, Landmarks, & Waterfront Committee meeting at BRC Senior Services Center – 30 Delancey Street (btwn Chrystie & Forsyth Sts). Meeting starts at 6:30;

2) Sign Petition on Change.org and share it with your network on Facebook and Twitter; and

3) Write a Letter of Support (see model below) for creating the Community Gardens District. If you haven’t written a letter yet there is still time. Send your letters to Ayo Harrington at ayoharrington@aol.com.

You can address your letter in support of a Community Gardens District to any or all of the following:

To:
Mayor De Blasio
City Hall
New York, New York 10007

Community Board 3
59 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10009

Coalition to establish a Community Gardens District
336 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10009

Here’s a model letter you can adapt/paraphrase and send to show your support:

Dear Community Board 3 Members:

I am writing in support of the creation of a Community Gardens District to include all community gardens located within the boundaries of Community Board 3 (CB3), in Manhattan. Under this plan, these gardens would be mapped and designated as parks land, named a special district and continue to be managed by community based volunteers.

The East Village and Lower East Side is the birthplace of community gardening in New York and is part of what makes this neighborhood so unique. Demand for gardening in New York has exploded and community gardens are now seen as important tools in improving not only the local communities in which they are located, but as essential tools for making our city a greener, more livable, healthier place for all. But community gardens remain at constant at risk of development until they are made permanent, and particularly so here in CB#3, where we’ve lost numerous gardens to bulldozers. Despite a “Memorandum of Agreement” signed by Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in September 2002, calling for preservation of a number of gardens, over 100 gardens were classified as “subject to development following the garden review process.” The city—and its gardeners—have lost over 40 gardens since then, including several important and cherished children’s gardens, and many remain classified as “Subject to Development.” Many of these gardens are in our neighborhood and many are threatened with development pressure.

Making community gardens in our community permanent would provide numerous health and other benefits to gardeners, to fellow residents and the City overall by [INCLUDE WHATEVER OTHER VIRTUES YOU SEE GARDENS HAVING]:

> Giving residents access to fresh, healthy food
> Reducing gardeners’ monthly food costs
> Improving resident health through healthier eating and physical activity
> Creating social activities for isolated seniors
> Reducing crime and drug activity in the vicinity
> Teaching basic vocational skills
> Empowering youth and disabled residents
> Creating income opportunities for entrepreneurial gardeners
> Encouraging water conservation, waste reduction and recycling
> Beautifying communities
> Increasing overall area property value

[INSERT YOUR PERSONAL ROLE IN COMMUNITY AND INTERACTION WITH GARDENS, E.G, AS A GARDENER, PARENT, CHEF, STUDENT, YOUNG PERSON, ETC.], local gardens have become an important refuge for residents and youth and are part of the community’s fabric. The gardeners work hard to make it a place for area residents to visit, enjoy and feel safe. Even residents who don’t garden become part of the garden community and feel a sense of ownership and stewardship over a green space. [DESCRIBE YOUR GARDEN/YOUR ATTENDANCE] We attend garden events and volunteer at times of need and crisis, including post-Sandy cleanup and restoration, places to eat when there was no food, gathering spots for workshops, festivals and events for the public, from Earth Day and harvest festivals, Dias de los Muertos celebrations, and holiday barbecues.

I cannot imagine our community without this important and vital—indeed, truly alive—asset. Please support this important proposal and protect our community’s precious and diminishing resource—our gardens from permanent loss by creating a Community Garden district in CB3.

Thank you for your consideration.

Very Truly Yours,

Name

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Below is the text of the proposal being introduced before the Parks Committee of Community Board 3 on Thursday, January, 15.

Coalition to Establish a Community Gardens District Proposal

We seek to establish a Community Gardens District to include all community gardens located within the boundaries of Community Board 3 (CB3), in Manhattan. These gardens would be mapped and designated as parks land, named a special district and continue to be managed by community based volunteers.

Background
CB3 is the birthplace of community gardens in New York City and New York State. The very first one was established in CB3, in 1973, by local resident and artist, Liz Christy. Working to reverse years of decline and neglect by public and private property owners, Christy began seed bombing (mud balls filled with seeds) abandoned, rubble strewn lots in an effort to improve her own environment and create public green spaces. Not satisfied with just seed bombing, Christy gathered friends and fellow artists to reclaim and clear one such lot on East Houston Street – between Bowery and Second Avenue – to turn into a community garden. Originally named “Bowery-Houston Farm and Community Garden”, after her death in 1985 it was renamed in her honor as the “Liz Christy Bowery-Houston Garden.”

Christy and her fellow activists founded the urban gardening group, Green Guerillas, and Christy went on to become the first Director of the Council on the Environment of New York City’s Open Space Greening Program which is named now and branded as Grow NYC. Today, the Green Guerillas remain the City’s oldest gardening organization and continues to “cultivate partnerships between people who care about the earth and believe in the power of community gardening to transform neighborhoods.”

At one time, there were fifty seven registered community gardens in CB3 and dozens more operating on their own. However, as the neighborhood evolved, gardeners were forced to fight for the very land they spent incalculable hours and resources developing as real estate speculators were handed lots for practically nothing. Sadly, gardens were bulldozed, one by one.

Status
There are still forty-six community gardens located in CB3 giving CB3 the distinction of having the highest density and concentration of community gardens in New York City, New York State and perhaps the country. The City-owned community gardens are mostly housed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks and Recreation giving the illusion that they are permanent. They are not. Whether housed under Parks, Sanitation or HPD, as some are, no CB3, City-owned community garden is mapped as parks land or otherwise designated as being permanent. Even with the storied history and widely acknowledged benefits of community gardens, all City-owned community gardens are still documented in City records as vacant lots and are subject to revocation at any time.

Conclusion
Community Board 3 has been strengthened by the history of its community gardens which hold the distinction of having a forty one year old, deep rooted history solidly ingrained in the fabric of our community. Today, the Liz Christy Bowery-Houston Garden and its history are studied and known worldwide. It and other CB3 community gardens have become New York City destinations. Year after year the soil is worked, flowers are planted, food is grown, events are planned, meetings take place, neighbors interact, memories are made, and our community is strengthened.

Given the significance of the gardening movement history that is particular to CB3, along the uniqueness of highly concentrated gardens, these community gardens should be mapped and designated as parks land, named a special district and continue to be managed by community based volunteers.

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