New Yorkers Ride Bikes to Connect Gardens Under Threat
For Immediate Release
April 13, 2015
Saturday, April 18, 2015, 2-6pm (detailed schedule below)
Join Public Space Party and 596 Acres to ride to small gardens and community parks that add essential depth to New York City’s open space network and are in danger of losing their land to private development: Maple Street, Roger That, Eldert Street, Children's Magical, Siempre Verde, and Elizabeth Street. These gardens need community support in asking the city to move their land from the private market into the public inventory where they belong. They are small, community spaces that serve as multi-purpose community living rooms year round.
The ride begins under the arch at Grand Army plaza at 2pm. The first stop is at Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect-Lefferts. Maple Street garden was formed in 2012 by the Maple 3 Block Association and community members who transformed a trash-strewn vacant lot into a multipurpose garden and community space. The lot had been vacant and collecting trash for over a decade since its most recent resident and owner passed away and her home burned down.
As Ali Jacobs, 31, an active member who lives on Sterling Street stated, “Our neighborhood is beautiful, but very short on public land. Our garden has no gate nor lock, it is accessible by the entire neighborhood, and is used heavily by children and adults as a common outdoor space.”
The Maple Street Community Garden is being threatened with demolition by Housing Urban Development LLC, a private development corporation with a history of subprime lending and irregular title transfers. Gardeners are resisting eviction by appearing in Housing Court and urging the City to condemn the property and transfer it to the Parks Department (next court appearance is May 4, 2015 at 10:30am at 141 Livingston Street, Brooklyn in room 603).
The next stop is Roger That garden, a community space in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that stewards native plants, grows edibles, and maintains community compost. Roger That garden is currently under threat of development by a real estate developer who purchased the deed to the land, subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax debt liens, for $10 from the man who used to own and operate a hardware store on this lot before abandoning the buildings. The developers have attempted to illegally evict the garden through a lock-out.
Roger That can be saved if the City invokes eminent domain and buys the property to preserve it as a Parks Department garden. Eminent domain has been used to create New York’s parks and open spaces dating at least back to 1807. Prospect Park, Central Park, the Ocean Parkway Greenway and Astor place are just a few of the over 350 condemnations for the creation or preservation of parks and open spaces that have been recorded in New York’s county courts.
The ride will then move on to Eldert Street Garden in Bushwick, a space that was established on vacant lot in 2009. Elder Street offers vegetable plots, educational programming for kids and adults, composting, and a welcoming public space where folks can relax and connect with the natural world.
Kim Anderson, one Eldert Street garden steward, says, “For those of us without a private garden to grow in, or a forest to walk in, community gardens are all we have. When we work in our community gardens, we take back our fundamental right to work the land, and call a piece of earth our own, no matter how small. And we do it together.”
The lot that the garden was on was donated to a local charity organization for use as a children’s garden; its recent transfer to a private for-profit corporation is under investigation by the New York State Office of the Attorney General. The gardeners are asserting their rights as tenants under New York City law and continuing to grow in the face of bullying by the developer. They are asking that the City halt all construction permits to the property and acquire it for transfer to the Parks Department.
From Bushwick riders venture into Manhattan to visit Siempre Verde garden, 2 small parcels of public land on Attorney and Stanton Streets that were reinvigorated by neighbors in 2012 who responded to signs posted by 596 Acres. The garden parcels are divided by an 18-foot parcel owned by a private developer who has put forward a proposal to purchase the City-owned properties and use all three as primarily luxury housing. The gardeners are asking that the City transfer the existing garden lots to the Parks Department for preservation and acquire the private parcel to make the garden whole.
"We are essentially animals so having access to nature provides creature comforts, soothes the savage soul and regenerates the weary spirit,” says Ann Lee, of Siempre Verde Community Garden. “Gardens are a place to pause and respite from the grind of concrete cities. Gardens are the future for urban people."
The fifth stop on the ride will be Children’s Magical garden, founded in 1982 by community activists with the mission to create a safe space for the neighborhood’s children to play in and learn about nature. They have been tirelessly serving their community for 30 years, and have been fighting development since May 2013, when a portion of their garden was destroyed by a developer who claims to own the land despite doing nothing with the property for decades.
Finally, riders visit Elizabeth Street Garden, located on city-owned land on Little Italy’s Elizabeth Street. The Garden, open to the public by local volunteers, provides a sanctuary for residents in an otherwise dense and tightly packed neighborhood. The site has a long history as a public school, gathering place, and playground, before it was transformed into a garden by Elizabeth Street Gallery in 1991. In June 2013, neighbors started a campaign to permanently preserve the Garden as a New York City park but the City has not yet transferred the land or indicated that preservation is a priority. The garden continues to operate with a revocable lease and has been suggested by elected officials as a site for private housing development.
“As cities become more dense and our economy shifts toward sharing, gardens serve as 21st century community centers where neighbors get to know each other the old-fashioned way while enjoying shared backyards,” says Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden President Jeannine Kiely. “Neighborhood green spaces have great value and make cities livable.”
“The social rate of return for community gardens takes place in countless forms,” noted Benjamin Shepard, of Public Space Party. “We call for the city to support open space, recognizing the multiple benefits of green space in world facing increasing temperatures and climate chaos.”
“The City needs to take a more active interest in the fates of these properties and affirmatively act to preserve the institutions that New Yorkers love,” says Paula Z. Segal, director of 596 Acres and attorney for the Maple Street, Roger That and Eldert Street gardens. “This isn't about housing versus gardens. This is about living in a City that places the needs of people who live in neighborhoods above the potential for others to make money off those neighborhoods.”
Riders will meet under the arch at Grand Army Plaza at 2, leaving at 2:10 PM sharp.
Maple Street Community Garden
237 Maple Street between Rogers and Nostrand, Prospect-Lefferts, Brooklyn
Contact: Tom La Forge, (917) 400-2187
98 Rogers Avenue at Park Place, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Contact: David Vigil, (646) 643-9623
Eldert Street Garden
315 Elder Street between Knickerbocker and Irving, Bushwick, Brooklyn
Contact: Kim Anderson, (917) 623-6408
Siempre Verde Garden
189 Stanton Street, Lower East Side, New York
Contact: John Donahue, firstname.lastname@example.org
Children’s Magical Garden
129 Stanton St, Lower East Side, New York
Elizabeth Street Garden
204-208 Elizabeth Street, Little Italy/Soho, New York Contact: Jeannine Kiely, (917) 297-4475
For Public Space Party, contact Benjamin Shepard: (917) 586-7952 facebook.com/PublicSpaceParty
For 596 Acres, contact Paula Z. Segal, (718) 316-6092 x2 596acres.org
A long time activist and social worker, Benjamin Shepard’s scholarship is based on the ethnographic study of social services and social movements. He has worked on campaigns around public space, including community gardens, bike lanes, and public welfare issues ranging from education to AIDS services. For more info or to contact him visit:
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