Affordable Housing and Community Gardens: Can They Co-Exist? Three Events Tonight Address The Future of Each

From Adam Purple, Community Facebook Page

With news of the death of Adam Purple this past Monday, September 14, the New York City community gardening community feels both the tragic loss of a champion and “godfather” of New York City’s urban garden movement and the bitter reminder of the historic loss to one of our city’s most unusual and treasured community gardens to Section 8 housing in 1986. It also harks to the continued tension between gardeners and housing advocates and the “zero-sum-gain” mentality and politics of land use and affordable housing development in New York City.

Two events tonight demonstrate this continued tension while providing New Yorkers interested in a city with both ample community gardens and affordable housing for residents an opportunity to: 1) help save a specific community garden under immediate threat, 2) continue to advocate for preservation of our city’s precious garden resources, and 3) examine developers’ future plans for affordable housing in New York City and whether gardens and sustainability in general play any role in their vision.

Children’s Garden at Campos


Community Gardens Still at Risk to Affordable Housing Development  

As NYC Foodscape posted this past winter, the New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has created a plan 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. See, e.g., NYC Foodscape’s February 8, 2015 post, “Protect Vital New York City Community Gardens from Redevelopment.” In that article, we gave you a list of almost 20 community gardens directly in the crosshairs of HPD’s redevelopment plan and steps you can take to help protect them, including supporting an effort to create a community garden district in the East Village and Lower East Side. 

1483361_1385336701688767_1719788663_nAnother Manhattan garden not on that list is suddenly at immediate risk of loss to development. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LDMC) is considering a grant to NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) for an affordable housing project at 21 Spring Street. This project would destroy Elizabeth Street Garden, a heavily-used and much loved green oasis in Little Italy and SoHo. According to the Friends of Elizabeth Street Gardens (FESG) and Community Board 2 (CB2), which both oppose the project, Elizabeth Street Garden provides a heavily-used and much loved green oasis for local residents, workers and visitors to Little Italy and SoHo, a neighborhood:

  • With only three square feet of open space per resident, and virtually all of this parkland is paved;
  • With an open space ratio of just 0.07 acre per 1,000 residents as compared with New York City’s planning goal of 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents (109 square feet per resident), and this includes the planted medians on Houston Street;
  • That is part of the only downtown Manhattan neighborhood that the New York City Parks Department identifies as “underserved” by open space in its City Environmental Quality Review Technical Manual;
  • That is part of the broader neighborhood of Community Board 2 that also lacks adequate open space with an 0.58 acre of parkland per 1,000 residents (25 square fee per person), one of the lowest ratios of public open space in the City; and
  • That is characterized by long blocks with narrow streets, small apartments that depend on air shafts for light and air, and none of the small neighborhood squares and green spaces that provide respite in other parts of the CB 2, where much of the district’s open space is concentrated in Hudson River Park and Washington Square Park, 1.2 miles and 0.9 miles respectively from the Garden.

This evening, LDMC is holding a hearing and garden supporters are encouraged to attend:

LMDC Hearing, Thursday, September 17 from 4:30-7 p.m.
Wear GREEN and arrive by 6 p.m. to make a difference.

Borough of Manhattan Community College Fiterman Hall
245 Greenwich St., 13th Floor
(Barclay Street side entrance, two blocks north of World Trade Center)
Click here for a map.

A, C, E to Chambers Street. Walk 3 blocks South on Church Street and turn right on Park Place. Walk two blocks and enter Fiterman at 245 Greenwich Street.
1, 2, or 3 to Chambers Street. Walk 3 blocks South on West Broadway and turn right on Park Place. Walk one block and enter Fiterman at 245 Greenwich Street

Photo of Elizabeth Street Garden, from ESG Facebook Page

FESG have already taken several steps to protect their garden space:

Sending letters to LMDC and HPD: Because the overwhelming sentiment in our community favors creation of a City park at this location, this proposal should not be funded because it cannot meet the first mandatory guideline for LMDC funding, that the proposal has a “high level of community interest and support.” See attached summary of the high level of community interest and support for the Garden. We also have written to HPD asking that they withdraw this funding request.
Securing Additional CB2 Support: Including seeking and getting a CB2 resolution against the LMDC funding and in support of ESG, passed unanimously in August.
Finding Shared Housing and Park Alternatives: FESG has identified an alternative city-owned site within Community Board 2 that can provide five times more housing in a preferable location without destroying a cherished and needed public open space. Before Thursday, FESG also will submit a funding proposal to make the Garden a NYC Park.
Collecting 1,100+ Letters of Support: FESG has collected more than 1,100 handwritten and electronic letters of support for the Garden, over just 10 days! To submit a letter electronically, please visit (And thank you to Charles and LUNGS for sharing this information with your mailing list!)

FESG welcomes your support. For more information, contact:

Jeannine Kiely
President, Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden

Why Community Gardens Matter
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. 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
  • Beautifying communities
  • Increasing overall area property value
Children’s Garden at Campos


There are numerous reasons to support preserving community gardens in general and opposing permanently destroying existing and lively gardens to development, even if the builder is promising affordable units in the space. Among the reasons to support their preservation:


1) Community gardens are an essential component of a healthy urban food system.

2) Community gardens are outdoor classrooms for children to learn about food and the environment.

Boys Club camper at Children’s Garden at Campos
Children’s Garden at Campos

3) Community gardens are places of refuge for residents and youth and part of the community’s fabric.

4) Community gardens are a limited resource lost forever when building goes up in its place.















Join New York City Community Gardening Coalition 
If you want to learn more about community gardens in New York City, you can also attend one of tonight’s two New York City Community Gardening Coalition (NYCCGC) meetings. Founded in 1996, The New York City Community Garden Coalition promote the preservation, creation, and empowerment of community gardens through education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing.

Tonight’s monthly meeting take place in two locations. Please pick the garden most convenient to you:

Powell Street Community Garden
410 Livonia Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11212
Metro: 3 to Junius Street or L train to Livonia Avenue


Carrie McCracken TRUCE Community Garden
143-145 W 117th St, New York, NY 10026

Click here to become a member of NYCCGC.


Affordable Housing and Sustainability: Creating Homes for People to Lead Healthy Lives 

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. For more information about how affordable housing sites are using community gardens for residents, see, NYC Foodscape’s story in the Assisted Housing Management Insider, September 2013 issue, Take 10 Steps To Create a Successful Community Garden for Residents.

Campos Community Garden

NYC Foodscape has written several other stories for the Assisted Housing Management Insider encouraging owners and managers of affordable housing to consider environmental, health and sustainability impacts and programs when creating and managing housing for low-income residents. For example, see, Healthy Food Access: Improve Resident Health, Save Site Money,  Seven Tips for a Successful Food Waste Collection and Composting Program, and Creating Sustainability Plans. 

The future of affordable housing must focus on creating housing that minimizes the environmental impact of housing, improves air and water quality, preserves and even creates open space and community gardens and improves the overall quality of life and health of residents. NYC Foodscape will examine these and other issues in more detail in an upcoming book for publication in 2016 that focuses on creating environmental sustainability in affordable housing. We’ll give you more details on the book’s release date and any related online events with publisher Vendome Group, LLC in a future post.

Tonight, another event at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) gives New Yorkers the chance to learn more about the future of affordable housing in New York City.

Affordable Housing: What about the Future? A Symposium
Thursday, September 17 at 5:30 pm at the New York Academy of Medicine

At this symposium on affordable housing, Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank keynotes and a panelist of developers and architects answer questions from moderator, New York Times Urban Affairs Correspondent Sam Roberts. NYC Foodscape will be there to find out what vision for sustainability, creation and preservation of gardens, and other resident engagement in outdoor green space the panelists include in creating new housing in New York City, and specifically, whether the future and preservation of our cherished community gardens are being considered when planning for our city’s housing future.

The symposium kicks off the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibit, Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy, beginning tonight with a reception at the museum next door to NYAM after the panel.

Here are the details for the NYAM symposium and reception that follows at the Museum of the City of New York:

For over a century New York, the most expensive city in the nation, has also been a leading provider of affordable housing and a laboratory for innovative housing initiatives. In fact, more than 2,000,000 New Yorkers have market rate protection of some kind for their housing — an estimated total that approaches the size of the population of Houston. Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan seeks to add or preserve 200,000 units. How, in the broadest terms, can New York City’s century old legacy of affordable housing be sustained? What will tomorrow’s solutions be and who will fund them? This symposium will bring together housing advocates, developers, community leaders, and city officials. They will discuss how to embrace subsidized housing as a way to achieve diversity and neighborhood stability, and, not least, as a critical investment in the city’s workforce into the 21st century. “Affordable Housing: What about the Future?” is the kick-off symposium of our upcoming exhibition Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy.

Introductory Remarks
Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York
Hon. Alicia Glen, NYC Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development

Opening Keynote
Barney Frank, Former Congressman, D-MA

John Banks, President, The Real Estate Board of New York
Rafael E. Cestero, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Community Preservation Corporation
Ron Moelis, CEO and Chairman of L+M Development Partners Inc.
Richard Roberts, Managing Director of Acquisitions, Red Stone Equity Partners, LLC
Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director, Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY)
Saky Yakas, AIA, Partner, SLCE Architects
Sam Roberts (moderator), New York Times Urban Affairs Correspondent

Ticket Info
Museum Members $20

Students/Seniors $25
General Admission $35
Price includes admission to the opening reception for Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy.
For tickets: Click here.

5:30–7:30 pm: Symposium at the New York Academy of Medicine (1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street)
7:00–9:00 pm: Opening Reception at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street).

RIP Adam Purple

Adam Purple, photo from Community Facebook page

Adam Purple was born David Wilkie in Independence, Mo.  84 years ago and moved to New York City in 1968, taking on several colorful monikers, such as  “the Rev. Les Ego,” “John Peter Zenger 2nd” and “General Zen of the Headquarters Intergalactic of Psychic Police of Uranus,” until becoming known most famously as Adam Purple, the man who battled New York city for ten years over a five-lot, 15,000-square-foot garden he created amid the rubble of the Lower East Side’s abandoned lots called the Garden of Eden.

From his New York Times’ obituary: 

It was a meticulously planted 15,000-square-foot collection of fruit trees, plants and flowering shrubs that emanated in circles from the garden’s center, a yin-yang symbol. Publications including National Geographic published photographs of the garden, which drew admiring comparisons to works by Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria and Agnes Denes.

Adam died on Monday while riding his bike across the Williamsburg Bridge, a daily activity for both transportation and lifetime renunciation of the internal combustion engine.

Bowery Boogie describes the fate of the garden: “On January 8, 1986, the massive Garden of Eden “earthwork” was bulldozed by the city to make way for federal housing. Purple had spearheaded the guerrilla undertaking eleven years earlier while a resident of 184 Forsyth Street, and it spanned five city lots. His inspiration was simple enough – watching neighborhood children play in the garbage and filth of his rubble-strewn backyard. It was a “hell of a way to raise children,” and Purple decided the land could be of greater benefit to the community as a fully-functional garden. At its peak, the zen-tastically circular Eden boasted 15,000 square-feet of virgin soil, and yielded fruit, nuts, asparagus, and corn. Purple’s blood, sweat, and tears are now buried beneath Section 8 housing units that occupy the block.”

Here is a beautiful short film about Adam and his Garden of Eden by Emmy-winning filmmaker and photographer, Harvey Wang.



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