This is an open letter to the injustices that continue to plague low-income neighborhoods.
Many times it has been said that history has a tendency to repeat itself. Recently a developer in Brooklyn was given the rights to develop an amphitheater on the grounds where a community garden stood. Politics as usual, the community had no say in this amphitheater. In fact, most of the residents were against it— not against the fact that such construction would produce jobs and generate income; but that it was the wrong place for it. The developer tried to place the amphitheater in an affluent neighborhood nearby but was turned away after objections from that community and its religious leaders.
Time and time again, we see this played out in this city, and most cities, as the coffers of rich developers are placated over the objections of low-income residents. New York City has indeed become the tale of two cities; the rich and the poor.
Through this turbulent time, we discovered that meetings, hearings, and negotiations about the amphitheater were being carried out behind closed doors without community involvement. The community garden was said to be not a community garden but an abandoned one, one that was not registered under GreenThumb, and as a result was not entitled to community garden review process. But the truth of the matter was, this was indeed a striving community garden that was in the midst of rebuilding as it struggled along with other Coney Island residents and businesses to come back bigger and better after the ravages of hurricane Sandy. After a Public Hearing, residents hoped for a town hall meeting with the developer and community residents to discuss the matter. Where was the transparency that we were told would happen between the city‑— its elected officials—and community gardeners when it came time to displace a community garden?
In our span of fighting for community garden preservation, the one thing that we have asked for is transparency. However, deals with developers are being made every day without community approval; and the stench of NYC politics is alive and present. So you try to play by their rules, asking as a community to be heard at several hearings, only to see that our elected officials had already made up their minds in favor of the developer.
These are supposed to be our elected officials, who are supposed to represent our communities’ interest, not an outside developer’s interest. We asked for a delay so that all parties could be heard; not knowing what the long term environmental and social effect this amphitheater will have on this particular neighborhood. The final vote again was in favor of the developer. What made matters even worse was the fact that we sat there and heard each councilperson state how great community gardens are and their importance to the health and well-being of the city. What a joke and a slap in the face! Condescending, betrayal, and patronizing: this is how it all felt.
I sat back thinking how much change I have seen in so many neighborhoods that I have lived in and visited. From the Lower East Side and Harlem where I grew up to Red Hook, Brooklyn where I learned how to skate, the displacement of people of people of color is prevalent. It is dangerous when one only sees that change and economic expansion in low-income neighborhoods are beneficial. What good is it when lifelong families are forced to leave because they can no longer afford the rents? Or when a community garden that once thrived in a neighborhood that had different nationalities, cultures and languages is turned into an edifice which will cater to those who can only afford those hundred-dollar ticket prices.
To add salt on an open wound, the Boardwalk community gardeners and its residents had to watch in horror as the developer came at the brink of dawn without warning, to bulldoze the Community garden.
History does have a tendency to repeat itself. Our community gardens are not safe, preserved or protected as long as we don’t have a law in place to protect them. I urge you, Senator Klein and Mayor Bill de Blasio, for your support in with legislation that will designate community gardens as parkland, protected under law governed by the State of New York.
We as citizens of New York City and the State cannot and will not sit back and have outside development come in and destroy our neighborhoods. We, as low-income residents, have the same right as all New Yorkers to live in communities that have parks, open space and community gardens. We will do everything in our power to make sure that Boardwalk Community Garden is compensated for this illegal act of violence and betrayal felt by all community gardeners throughout New York City.
NYCCGC Board Member