Use Model Letter to Ask Mayor to Preserve NYC Community Gardens

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As we reported in our February 8 post, “Protect Vital New York City Community Gardens from Redevelopment,”  New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) invited housing developers to submit qualifications “for the design and construction of high-quality, new construction, affordable housing development projects on public sites located in neighborhoods across the City of New York.” HPD’s request for qualifications includes a list of 181 city-owned sites that developers can have for free in exchange for building “affordable” homes for ownership and rental. Much to the shock of New York City community gardeners, a number of these sites include active and popular community gardens in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

According to 596 Acres, a land access advocacy and mapping organization, 17 active gardens are targeted for bulldozing and development.

Indeed, instead of destroying active community gardens, HPD should be asking affordable housing providers to preserve existing and even add new community gardens to their affordable housing plans. All around the country, affordable housing providers have seen the benefits of having community gardening programs for residents and have started these programs at their sites. And many new construction have included community gardens in their sites’ design plans in exchange for financing incentives and tax credits.

Write Letter to Mayor De Blasio

Among the steps we suggested in our previous post that you can take to defend gardens from bulldozing, you can write a letter to Mayor De Blasio to let him know that you support affordable housing for all, but don’t want to trade vital community food access and security, open green space, youth gardening programs and public land for citizens for a few marginally affordable housing units. Here is a model letter you can adapt and use to ask Mayor De Blasio to stop HPD from selling 17 active community gardens for development and instead use the dozens of vacant lots that HPD has in its roster. 

Dear Mayor De Blasio:

As ____ , [INSERT SENTENCE WITH NAME/AFFILIATION/MISSION], I am writing you in response to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)’s most recent Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the New Infill Home Ownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP) and Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP). Appearing on the list of sites available for redevelopment are a disproportionate number of thriving, active community gardens.

These community gardens were a direct result of sweat equity that neighbors used to improve their neighborhoods. And it seems undeniably wrong to destroy the very asset that makes neighborhoods livable and a place where developers subsequently seek to build. HPD has an abundance of potential sites on which it can develop affordable housing. Less than 10% of HPD’s vacant lots contain flourishing community gardens. Given these numbers it is clear that destroying community gardens forever is not only wrong, it is unnecessary. HPD can—and should—prioritize open, vacant lots over those with active uses, such as community gardens.

Make no mistake, we are all in favor of affordable housing. Many of us would have a direct benefit from this proposal. Affordable housing and community gardens are compatible. As an organization and as citizens, we advocate for more gardens and more housing and applaud the efforts of numerous affordable housing providers around the country and in our own City, who have recognized the benefits of community gardens and have incorporated gardens and gardening programs for residents into their new or existing housing sites. And to this same end, the City should pursue policies to that encourage more community gardens and that permanently protect every existing community garden, while at the same time creating affordable housing units in New York City for our children and future generations.

Why Community Gardens Matter
Community gardens have for decades been an integral part of the fabric of New York City. These gardens are living symbols of unity built by neighbors who joined together to turn abandoned, trash-strewn lots into vibrant community oases. Community gardens are 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. In short, community gardens provide numerous health and other benefits to gardeners, to fellow residents and the New York City overall by:

  • 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
  • Negating effects of carbon emissions
  • Beautifying communities
  • Increasing overall area property value

As a food organization, Slow Food NYC believes strongly in the right to food sovereignty and to a good, clean and fair food for everyone. Protecting not only the economic, but also the environmental, social and cultural aspects of food traditions is an underlying principle in all Slow Food chapters. Slow Food NYC views community gardens as places for citizens to slow down and seek refuge, enjoy and learn about food and break bread together. To underscore a few of the benefits of community gardens:

1) Community gardens are an essential component of a healthy urban food system. Growing food in the community is a valuable showcase for highlighting the need for a healthy food system and a way to engage citizens to start to demand more good, clean, food they can trust. Additionally, for many low-income gardeners, their summer vegetables are a vital supplement to their food budget. Having a garden during the summer can provide much of the produce needs of the household and losing their gardens would be a devastating loss to their well-being.

2) Community gardens are outdoor classrooms for children to learn about food and the environment. A garden is a great place to grow food, but they are also living classrooms for youth to learn about where their food comes from, taste new flavors, learn about the environment, science, sustainability and conservation practices. Each stage of a garden presents an opportunity for children to learn and develop a sense of personal food sovereignty: digging methods, soil health, seed starting, planting, mulching, composting, watering, plant identification, pest management, harvesting, cooking, preserving, etc. The destruction of gardens would also put an end to youth programs in those gardens where outdoor learning and growing happen right in the youth’s own community.

3) Community gardens are places of refuge for residents and youth and part of the community’s fabric. The local gardeners work very hard to make the garden a place for area residents to visit, enjoy and feel safe. Many residents who don’t even garden have become part of the gardening community and feel a sense of stewardship over a green space. They attend garden events and volunteer at times of need and crisis, including post-Hurricane Sandy cleanup and restoration. Indeed, after Hurricane Sandy, gardens sometimes became a places to eat when there was no food. They are gathering spots for workshops, festivals and events for the public, from Earth Day and harvest festivals, Dias de los Muertos celebrations, and holiday barbecues.

4) Community gardens are a limited resource lost forever when building goes up in its place. Once lost, a community forever loses an important and vital—indeed, truly alive—asset that cannot be replaced. New York City surely needs more affordable housing for its citizens, but the solution to creating this does not lie in destroying this valuable and unique resource. It truly is a zero-sum gain, where once a building goes up, the garden will be gone forever. One more green space is lost, one more place for the community to grow food is gone, one more public gathering spot where people can slow down and talk to their neighbors is erased from the community.

We ask that you give all New York City citizens a place at the table to make NYC more livable. In a speech this past January, you said: “We have a duty to protect and preserve the culture and character of our neighborhoods, and we will do so.” We ask that you honor this moving pledge by permanently preserving our precious community gardens and directing HPD to remove not only these affected community gardens but all community gardens under current HPD jurisdiction and offer them permanent protection as a New York City Parks Department GreenThumbNYC garden.

Very Truly Yours,

 

Jane Voter

 

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