At a meeting on Wednesday December 30, 2015 the NYCCGC community gardeners, and greening groups meet at City Hall to hear the final decision made by the Mayor regarding the issuing of an RFQ to developers to build affordable housing on "vacant" lots throughout the 5 boroughs.
Nearly one year ago a large number of sites listed in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s were offered via RFQ for the New Infill Home Ownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP) and Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP) to build affordable housing units. Over 17 of these sites are disproportionally thriving, active community gardens.
Under the disguise of “transparency” we learned that HPD will be destroying 9 community gardens while transferring 34 amount of gardens into Parks Department, a move that will potentially keep them safe from destruction.
City Hall, The Parks Department and HPD and others want to hail this as a victory. NYCCGC views this as a tremendous loss to neighborhoods and the City. After nearly one year the City which after repeated denied requests to meet with HPD has developed a plan that lacks transparency and input from neighborhoods. Any loss of even one community garden is a bitter defeat.
The city handled this poorly and insensitively: coming up with sub-par solutions. Gardens and their communities are being sacrificed for HPD's lack of creativity. Some of these gardens are 25 years old. Some of them have been fighting off development successfully for years. Some of these gardens were badly hit by Superstorm Sandy and have been rebuilding only to be torn down yet again. Some of these gardens are efforts where neighbors came together to create community determined spaces in a neighborhood being devoured by outside developers of luxury housing, making residents strangers in their own neighborhood. Many are on environmentally vulnerable flood prone land. The city’s housing solutions are working against its other initiatives. Communities deserve better.
Most distressing is that there is no path that will allow for the replacement of these community gardens. There is no consideration that any vacant lots in the City will become anything but a giveaway to developers.
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. We advocate for more gardens and more housing.
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.
We ask once again that Mayor de Blasio give all community members a place at the table to make NYC livable. In a speech this past January, he said: "We have a duty to protect and preserve the culture and character of our neighborhoods, and we will do so." Today the Mayor failed to honor his sentiment and words.
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 patently unnecessary.
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 in the City represent a truly holistic, resilient, cost-effective neighborhood-based source of sustainable food production, increasing people’s access to locally grown fresh produce, while negating effects of climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
Open, vacant lots should be prioritized as buildable over those with active uses such as community gardens. The Mayor should pursue policies to create community garden while at the same time creating affordable housing units in New York City for our children and future generations.
NYCCGC remains vigilant and will be organizing for a massive community stakeholder response to the City's program to seize community gardens within this coming month.